Sea(ing) a Change in the Demographics of Oceanographic Research in South Africa

Katye Altieri, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, Isabelle Jane Ansorge, university of Cape Town, Department of Oceanography, Cape Town, South Africa, Fawcett Sarah, University of Cape Town, Oceanography, Cape Town, South Africa and Juliet Hermes, South African Environmental Observation Network, Pretoria, South Africa
Black womxn account for 46% of South Africa’s population, yet remain disproportionately under-represented in scientific research, particularly field-based and quantitative oceanography. Only 16% of the graduate students in the University of Cape Town (UCT) Oceanography Dept. are black womxn South Africans. As in many countries, inadequate funding and a lack of mentors have contributed to slow transformation in the higher education sector in South Africa. The demands of field research present an added layer of complexity for womxn with regards to personal safety, a lack of childcare, and the perception that boat-based activities are for men. Here, we present the Advancing Womxn Fellowship Program (AWFP), a prestigious research and leadership training program for black womxn, funded by UCT, that aims to recruit and nurture a new generation of black womxn oceanographers. Central to the AWFP is the creation of a student cohort, as well as a structured training program that provides the bespoke support necessary for the womxn to graduate. The current paucity of black womxn in oceanography means that black womxn students often feel isolated; thus, the AWFP also includes networking and mentoring. AWFP activities focus on removing the barriers preventing black womxn from pursuing or succeeding in field-based oceanography and/or modelling. Activities include monthly lunches with black womxn scientists (nominated by the cohort) from around the country, an annual retreat with black womxn professionals from across the continent, orientation to boat-based field work, swimming and scuba lessons, overseas travel and training, and chief scientist training on South Africa’s ice breaker, the R/V SA Agulhas II. In addition, we are working with professional, transformation-focused consultants to transform the culture of oceanographic research at UCT. Aspects of the AWFP are unique to the South African context, but many speak to general challenges of minority under-representation in oceanography. As such, this submission primarily addresses session goal 2, with some contribution to goal 3.