Supporting women in paleo

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    Eleanor Gardner

    I’ll start off this forum with a question –

    What barriers to advancement in paleo do women tend to experience?

    Here is an interesting blog post from 2013 examining the distribution of women members of the Paleontological Society:

    What do you think @taorminalepore, @michelle-barboza, @sue-hirschfeld, @jbauer, @laura-cotton, @gretchen-gurtler, @gwen-daley, @carlie-pietsch, @chelsea-korpanty, @laura-soul, @sholte, @dmitchell, @rnarducci, @dserratos, @susan-butts?

    And of course others like @gsantos are welcome to join in on the conversation too! 😉

    Jennifer Bauer

    Hi @egardner and others!

    Great forum and great first post! I think many of the barriers were mentioned in that article/flow chart. But I think one of the largest issues I faced was that I lacked confidence in my own abilities. I ended up with a fantastic undergraduate mentor (male) who threw complex problems at me and expected me to take my own path to a solution. When I messed up or accidentally burned a hole in the table with my soldering gun, he wasn’t upset but glad I was experimenting and testing my skills. He also pushed me to complete tasks that I knew I wasn’t skilled at, such as sketching reconstructions of crinoids and the like. I also was very active in the Women in Science and Engineering group on campus, which helped immensely. My M.S. advisor is a fantastic mentor, researcher, and mother. She was the perfect next step in my academic career and alongside several of her peers have shown my generation that you can in fact have it all – as long as you are hyper organized and fight for what you deserve. I also have a very caring Ph.D. advisor, who makes sure that my lab mate and I get the credit we deserve. Supportive mentors have been absolutely paramount in my academic career and I likely wouldn’t have made it this far without my growing support system.

    Here is another good article: Evolution of paleontology: Long-term gender trends in an earth-science discipline It also points out potential strategies for increased support of women at the end.

    Bruce MacFadden



    A former PhD student of mine, Catalina Pimiento, now a postdoc at the University of Zurich, recently published a piece in the Manchester Guardian (UK) about Women in Palaeontology. If you are interested–


    Michelle Barboza

    Wow, that was a great article, thanks for sharing @bmacfadden! The personal testimonies at the end of the piece were stunning – I can relate to many of these. Like Catalina, I wouldn’t say I’ve been subjected to outright sexist/racist remarks – at least not remarks that were intended to be sexist/racist. However, these anecdotes show that lots of offhand or casual remarks have pretty strong sexist undertones and reflect really unfortunate stereotypes that are pervasive in our society. I think that these microagressions are so common that most women/minorities shrug them off. The article suggests women/minorities have to continually prove themselves worthy of their positions – calling attention to these incidents certainly has the potential to put them in a bad position with colleagues. Women I’ve spoken with tell me they hesitate calling attention to what might be seen as minor incidents and risk sounding whiny, sensitive, or weak – playing further into sexist stereotypes.

    What do you think, @egardner, @taorminalepore, @llundgren, @sholte, @rnarducci, @cgrant, @mhendrickson, @sboessenecker?





    Jennifer Bauer

    Fantastic article, @bmacfadden!!! Thank you for sharing.

    Joyce Drakeford

    I am not a professional paleo but have faced discrimination as a woman in collecting. Being treated as unequal or not as knowledgeable. I’ve had to fight, and still fight, to be taken seriously. I can’t even imagine what you ladies go through in a professional environment. I support you all!

    Eleanor Gardner

    @joyce-drakeford, you bring up a very valid point — it isn’t just professional women in paleontology who experience barriers and discrimination.

    I would be interested to learn how amateur/avocational paleontologists have overcome gender-based barriers to their collecting, study, and exposure to paleontology. Thoughts, @spassmore, @cindy-lockner, @tmorgan, @lmccall, @julie-niederkorn, @mary-harbison, @angela-matthias, @jessie-matheny, @jan-pullum, @cathy-young, @christa-speights, @willis-dc?

    Tynessa Morgan

    @egardner @bmacfadden and the rest of my Florida family, I have to thank you guys for being a huge part of my support system. When I am there I feel as though I have found my people. I was the quote in the article about being stopped at SVP. I never would have been able to attend if it hadn’t been for y’all. The gentleman that stopped me was also African American and I could see that the idea of studying paleontology had never occurred to him. I always tell people that it is the most accessible science because all you need is a bag and a hammer.

    My frustration is in outreach. I see so much need and sometimes I just feel discouraged. I can only impact a small number of kids with the PIT Crew and desperately want to expand K12 beyond the zoo science days.

    Jessie Matheny

    @egardner I completely agree with the discussion so far. But these are two different issues that just so happen to go hand in hand. Gender is one thing, but it is a whole ‘nother animal when you consider professionalism, or a lack thereof. Women are more often than not treated unfairly simply because of their genitalia. It is wrong, and quite frankly, as time goes on it seems like less and less is being done about it. Our members consist of roughly 72% men compared to women, and while we do not discriminate either way, it is sad for me to sit and watch women continue to be treated unfairly. I have always pushed for cooperation, and equality. Just because a woman cleans a fossil while a man makes the discovery, doesn’t mean the woman is any less important than the man. But I think because we are ruled by a society in which men are still dominating, despite modern advances for women, it will continue to be this way until we can balance it out. Once ‘man’ can completely view women as equal, we can finally make headway as women in the scientific community. I wish more women were in these fields to be honest, but that isn’t something I can make happen by snapping my fingers. Anyway, professionals vs. amateurs is very interesting. As we all know, an amateur can produce equally important data, if not better quality, than a professional. You can be the smartest person in the world and yet possess no degree. But you can also possess degree(s) and be the most uneducated person in the world. I really feel like a person should be judged based on the work ethic they have, not whether you possess a degree.  So it is extremely difficult to be an amateur woman in the science field, and I think this discourages a lot of people from pursuing their dreams. It is truly a terrible thing! The only question is, how do we overcome this?


    Thankfully I haven’t experienced outright sexism within academia or education. However, I have experienced it in the paleontological monitoring setting, where women regularly work around a very solid “boys’ club” of construction engineers and other workers. I’ve been called pet names, catcalled, and told I would never really take part the good ol’ rapport of construction hand signaling, because that was something “only the brotherhood could understand”. For a little context, all I was asking was whether I could signal to a machine worker whether it was safe to enter a potentially fossiliferous patch of dirt.

    Incidences like this only highlight an undercurrent of socially accepted sexism, and that’s bound to reflect itself in the academic world. It’s frustrating to think that calling incidences of sexism or racism out to our academic colleagues would somehow put our personal or professional image “on the line”, but the more visibility we as a community bring to it – whether we’re women or not – the more we can really galvanize change.

    I think more events like the Women in Paleontology PaleoFest, women in paleontology round tables, and the women’s paleontology social at this year’s SVP will continue to provide a great set of springboards to keep change going strong. But we’re also going to need to recruit more women to our societies, and our career paths, if we’re going to tip the scales towards balance.

    The link to the Priscum article wasn’t working on the Pharyngula science blog, so here it is:

    Bruce MacFadden


    From the entries above, there is lots of interest in your Guardian article.

    If you are available for questions, please enter here and let the forum-folks know.

    So I will ask one–What proactive things can professional societies do to promote diverse early career women in paleontology?

    Michelle Barboza

    This is not necessarily an answer to what professional societies can do, but I recently came across an article titled “Calling All Men – Five Ways You Can Be A Feminist At Work.” I thought it was a great article because the fight for empowerment of women in society and the workplace is not a burden that should fall solely upon women. Feminism is not a gendered term – feminism is not just for females! This article lists five great ways men can be proactive, but it is just a great a read and about as relevant for women. Owning your feminism, speaking out, and taking action are the key points. While it seems to have become more acceptable to call oneself a feminist, I still see some people, including women, struggle with the term – it’s almost like a dirty word!

    Thoughts? @bmacfadden @gsantos @vperez @erscott @smoran @jbloch @aaron-wood @afarke @egardner @llundgren @tmorgan @jbauer @jessie-matheny



    @michelle-barboza I totally agree with you! So many people have a hard time calling themselves feminist. From own male perspective, I’m pretty sure a lot of men have trouble because of the way feminism has been portrayed in pop culture. The “femi-nazi” is still a stereotype that is portrayed in a lot of media. And for a lot of men whose identity is based around their masculinity, the idea of being a feminist compromises their masculinity as they perceive feminism as favoring or “giving power” to one gender over a another. There is very little intersectional thinking with many men in our sciences. I was lucky enough to have a sort of rare scientific upbringing. The majority of my science teachers and professors in my early career were women. My first mentors in paleontology/museum science were women. I was actually a little naive in my view of sexism in my very early career as I thought women and men were equal in the sciences. That all changed as I got further in my career. BUT because of my upbringing, I had no trouble calling myself a feminist. The power of good role models and mentors can really do a lot to affect someone’s perspective.

    I also think there is a lot of lack of empathy amongst our male colleagues for our women colleagues. There is definitely a lot more issues at play here than I am versed in for sure. As a minority in science, I can at least empathize to a degree as to what its like to be marginalized in our field. For many of our white, male counterparts, it may not be as easy to make that connection. I don’t want to point fingers or generalize though. I am simply speaking from my own experience and POV.


    Eleanor Gardner

    @gsantos – I want to give you a big high-five!  Awesomely articulated thoughts 🙂

    Michelle Barboza

    With one of the biggest paleontology conferences just around the corner (The 2016 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Utah), here’s a great article to consider: “Women Need to be Seen and Heard at Conferences.

    The article, from Nature, is free to read online. In summary – a neuroscience group created a site called “Bias Watch Nuero” in order to call attention to, well, bias and inequality in speakers at conferences, in attempt to boost the number of female invited speakers at meetings – and they’re inviting other disciplines to do the same.

    What do you think about this initiative, and how to we get a “Bias Watch Paleo” group in the works? Perhaps reaching out to leaders of our various societies?

    Comments? @bmacfadden @taorminalepore @gsantos



    @michelle-barboza Short but sweet answer: I really dig this idea, and I feel like there’s a real need. Perhaps it’s something we can discuss at SVP during the women in science social?

    Come and find me at the “Increasing Engagement of Young Women and Girls” table – unfortunately due to teaching commitments it’ll be my only chance to chat at SVP besides the Mid-Mesozoic field trip. But I am happy to help discuss and get the ball rolling!

    : <3



    @michelle-barboza @taorminalepore Do we really need SVP’s (or anyone’s) approval to start bias watch group? I mean, I think SVP is great and has come along way, but from what I have seen the entity is also very slow to act and plays politically when it comes to things like this. All understandable, I know how to play the game, but I highly doubt that the idea of creating a group like this that might be troublesome for the society might not be something they want to jump on.

    I say let’s just get like minded individuals together and form this! We, as the ones who fell the effects of bias and inequality, should be the ones telling the society when its happening and be able to call the perpetrators out on it. I’m not saying let’s be antagonistic, but we definitely can do a lot by making people aware of such situations.

    Michelle Barboza

    @taorminalepore – sorry to respond so late, but as you now know, I was not able to make it to the SVP conference this year! However, I think you, @gsantos, and I ought to (virtually) get together and discuss this matter further.

    Additionally, @egardner – do you think this might be a good subject for a new forum?


    Eleanor Gardner

    I recognize that this is slightly off-topic and will make some folks uncomfortable, but yet it is related, and since this newly-published article is trending on social media, it seems worthwhile to bring it to the attention of the myFOSSIL community too.

    “Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Geoscience Faculty and Researchers to Respond,” published in the Journal of Geoscience Education

    This result really stuck out to me: “64% of respondents (n = 666, 78% women) report personally experiencing sexual harassment (i.e., inappropriate or sexual remarks, comments about physical beauty, cognitive sex differences, or other such jokes)…” Unfortunately, I myself have experienced these kinds of comments at every level of my geoscience education and career.  I’m willing to bet that others on myFOSSIL have too.

    I couldn’t agree more with this sentence in the article’s conclusion — “Everyone has a responsibility to engage the highest standards of professionalism in all interactions with colleagues and students.” I would add the public to that list as well.

    The article puts out a call to professional societies to confront the issue head-on by establishing policies to prevent harassment and sanctions for violators.  Here is a link to the Paleontological Society’s policy: I wonder if there are sanctions in place for those who violate policies?

    , @peg-yacobucci, @jbauer, @michelle-barboza, @gsantos, @lydia-tackett, @taorminalepore, @dbutler, @rnarducci, @catalina-pimiento

    Eleanor Gardner

    @michelle-barboza – Just saw I forgot to answer your earlier question. Since we try to keep the number of individual forums limited (to try to keep things from getting unwieldy), I’d suggest perhaps instead of another, entirely separate forum that a new topic thread be created for that purpose.

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