In Australasia, gender is still on the agenda in geosciences

Handley Heather1,2, Hillman Jess2,3, Finch Melanie2,4, Ubide Teresa2,5, Kachovich Sarah2,6, McLaren Sandra2,7, Petts Anna2,8, Purandare Jemma2,9, Foote April1,2, Tiddy Caroline2,10

1Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 2Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMEESA) Network, Sydney, Australia, 3GNS Science, Avalon, New Zealand, 4Monash University, Clayton, Australia, 5University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 6International Ocean Discovery Program, Texas, USA, 7The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 8Geological Survey of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, 9Griffith University, Southport, Australia, 10University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace optimize performance through the input of a range of perspectives and approaches that drive innovation and invention. However, gender inequity is prevalent throughout society and females remain underrepresented in geoscience careers. This study provides the current status of gender equity in geosciences throughout Australasia within the context of broader gender equity policy, frameworks and initiatives and suggests additional solutions and opportunities to improve gender equity and the retention of women in the geoscience workforce. At an individual institutional level in academia, females make up between 23%–52% of the total geoscience departmental or school staff in Australia, 26%–39% of the total staff in New Zealand, 29% of total staff at the University of Papua New Guinea and 18% at the University of the South Pacific. Significant gender imbalance exists at more senior levels, with disproportionately more males than females, a pattern typical of many Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines. Gender inequity is prevalent within the general membership, committee roles and in award recipients of Australasian geoscience professional associations. Within the Geological Society of Australia and Geoscience Society of New Zealand, only 4% (n = 47) and 18% (n = 161), respectively of past award recipients for national and general awards were female. All past awards considered in this study that are named in honour of a person were named in honour of a man (n = 9). In recent years, women-focused networks have begun to play an invaluable role to support the retention and promotion of women in geosciences and provide a supportive mentoring environment to discuss challenges and share advice. The improved visibility of women in the geoscientific community is an ongoing issue that can in part be addressed through the development of public databases of women geoscientists. These provide a list of women geoscientists that encourages and supports the achievement of gender balance of invited talks, job shortlisting and on panels, as well as in the media. This work highlights that more must be done to actively reduce and eliminate sexual harassment and assault in university and field environments. We emphasise that particular efforts are required to make geoscience careers more inclusive and safer, through the establishment of specific codes of conduct for field trips. Shared learning of best practices from evidence-based approaches and innovative solutions will also be of value in creating positive change. Greater engagement from the wider geoscientific community, and society in general, is required for the success of gender equity initiatives. Identified solutions and opportunities must target all levels of education and career development. Additional data in future should be collected to look beyond gender to monitor and assess intersectionality. Improved efforts to understand why women leave STEM careers will help to address the “leaky pipeline” and determine the initiatives that will be most effective in creating long term sustainable change.


Heather Handley is Associate Professor of Volcanology and Geochemistry at Macquarie University and 2012-2018 Australian Research Council Future Fellow. Heather is a passionate science communicator and strong advocate for equity and inclusion. She is Co-Founder and President of the Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia Network (WOMEESA).

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.