This December I attended the 2018 Gilbert Club on a rainy day at the University of Maryland. For the uninitiated, the Gilbert Club is an annual meeting of geomorphologists (people who study the shape of the earth as a result of surface processes such as erosion and deposition) that takes place after the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The objective is to share research and build community.
I had never attended before, and I regret to admit that I was only able to attend half the day. However, I was intrigued that the meeting started off with the microphone being passed around to every single attendee to say their name and their affiliation and to state whether they had employment opportunities to offer, or whether they were in search of employment opportunities. The whole process took 50 minutes, and I liked it. It seemed very egalitarian to give each person the mic for a short moment, especially when academia can be hierarchical.
I took the opportunity to do an unofficial demographic survey of the attendees to see what the gender breakdown was. I employed the problematic binary distinction of male/female, and made the categorization primarily based on pitch of voice, as I could not always see the speaker. So, please forgive this casual and simplistic (and possibly discriminatory) methodology. I thought that the numbers might be interesting to other people at the event, despite their crudeness.
And… drumroll please, I counted 159 men and 86 women during the mic session, meaning that 35% of attendees were women. All things considered, that’s pretty good. In comparison, at the Canadian Geophysical Union conference in 2017 (according to our study published in FACETS) an average of 35% of the audience and 29% of presenters were women in the Earth Surface Processes sub-section. So the Gilbert Club gender breakdown is about par for the course.
I will note that diversity in the geosciences was a strong component of the AGU (and associated) meeting this year. At the Gilbert Club Justin Lawrence, Program Director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) used his 15 minute presentation slot to emphasize the discrepancy between the gender and racial demographics of the American population in general and the demographics of Principal Investigators awarded geoscience grants by the NSF and called the discrepancy ‘unacceptable’. Similarly, the AGU continues to advance an agenda of equity and diversity, offering a suite of E&D sessions this year, as well as a plenary, and in publishing a report on the sexual harassment of women in the geosciences. Notably, the AGU has also updated its ethics policy to make sexual harassment a form of scientific misconduct, stating that it is as bad for science as plagiarism, falsifying data, and so on.