Only 25 percent of people employed in science and engineering in the US are women and only eight percent are women of colour. These numbers dwindle down yet again when reduced to climate change-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs.
Aside from the bigger, and as urgent, a discussion we need to be having that is the underrepresentation of women and especially women of colour in STEM, here I want to talk about the importance of having women scientists work on climate-related fields.
The effects of climate disaster are felt differently among regions, socio-economic groups, occupations, ethnicities and by women and men. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change.
Communities in developing countries, and especially people living in poverty in such countries, are the most likely to face immediate repercussions of climate change and women are a large portion of such communities. In these communities, women are largely responsible for securing water and nutrition for their families which means they are highly dependent on natural resources that climate change threatens. Yet despite being burdened with such responsibilities women are often excluded from positions of power when it comes to decision-making and economic assets that might help alleviate effects of climate change. Moreover, they also have limited access to resources, information and technology.
This is not to say that women are only desperate victims to climate change. On the contrary, they are often agents for improvement and adaptation. Women are often equipped with a large body of knowledge when it comes to managing natural resources and they often lead environmental movements. They are also more likely to employ collaborative and peaceful approaches, paying much-needed attention to disadvantaged groups and to the environment
Still, despite being more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and being more capable of dealing with it, women are largely underrepresented when it comes to climate science and decision making, replicating the disproportion of women in STEM. On top, women of colour and women from the Global South, who suffer the most from the effects of climate change, have even less representation.
A study shows that more than half of graduate students in ecology are women but when it comes to tenure position the numbers drop to only one third. And numbers even drop lower when it comes to being recognised and published: only one fourth of articles in Ecology, the flagship international, journal are written by women.
This lack of representation in climate science and decision making positions related to the climate means we, as a society, are not using our full human potential. We’re not making space for people who are the most affected by the impending global disaster that is climate change, who are by the way also the most qualified to fight it. As the United Nations agrees, it is “imperative” and urgent that women are given the space and power to contribute to the scientific field and decision making related climate change mitigation and adaptation if we want to stand a fighthing chance.