Breaking down gender barriers in coastal geoscience and engineering

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

A group of international female scientists, including University of Newcastle Coastal Scientist Dr Hannah Power, has identified key barriers to success for women working in the fields of coastal geoscience and engineering, proposing simple steps to attract more women to innovation industries.

Dr Hannah Power

As part of their role within the committee for the international network working for women in coastal geoscience and engineering (WICGE) – spanning Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Spain – the researchers found that, although women make up almost a third of the CGE community, they represent only about one in five of its prestige roles.

The findings, led by the University of Sydney and published today in Nature Publishing Group’s social sciences journal, Palgrave Communications, analysed the gender representation in the boards and committees of nine societies, 25 journals, and 10 conferences; additionally, they launched a global survey and obtained responses from 314 people.

Co-author Dr Hannah Power, Senior Lecturer and Coastal Scientist at the University of Newcastle, stressed that it was important to remove the barriers facing women for broader diversity and outcomes within the field.

“The lack of women in senior prestige roles in coastal geoscience and engineering means that we’re not truly benefiting from the talent of everyone. Addressing these issues will take changing the way we think about things but will ultimately result in better outcomes.

“While this paper focuses on a particular discipline within geoscience and engineering, the conclusions are applicable far more broadly throughout all of STEM,” Dr Power said.

Lead and corresponding author Associate Professor Ana Vila-Concejo, co-leader of the University of Sydney’s Geocoastal Research Group and deputy director of the One Tree Island Research Station on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, said the solutions and suggestions were relevant for women in science and more generally.

“Our findings are important not only for our field of research but also for other fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and beyond,” she said.


Gender stereotyping – was amongst the most common manifestation of inequality in CGE. Stereotyping of women in STEM as not being as competent (or being incompetent), and not being taken seriously, is a key theme.

The “boys club” – in the experience of one survey respondent: “During a job interview, the lead engineer (male) was explaining how they have the 'boys club' here at the office. They did offer me the job, but I didn't want to work in that type of environment.”

The “maternal wall” – results from expectations that a woman’s job performance is affected by her having children.

Microaggressions and harassment – being overlooked and ignored in favour of male colleagues was a key issue, for example, one respondent noted: “Getting my first big grant and employing a male post doc - our project partners treated him as the boss”; while another recalled comments about looks, such as “comments on my ‘pretty face’ being an asset for attracting clients”.


  • Established that women represent 30% of the international CGE community, yet there is underrepresentation in prestige roles such as journal editorial board members (15% women) and conference organisers (18% women).
  • Our data show that female underrepresentation is less prominent when the path to prestige roles is clearly outlined and candidates can self-nominate or volunteer instead of the traditional invitation-only pathway
  • By analysing the views of 314 survey respondents (34% male, 65% female, and 1% ‘other’), we found that 81% perceive the lack of female role models as a key hurdle for gender equity, and a significantly larger proportion of females (47%) felt held back in their career due to gender in comparison with males (9%)


  1. Advocate for more women in prestige roles.
  2. Promote high-achieving females.
  3. Create awareness of gender bias.
  4. Speak up.
  5. Get better support for return-to-work.
  6. Redefine success.
  7. Encourage more women to enter the discipline at a young age.

The contributing organisations to this publication include: The University of Sydney, Macquarie University, the University of Wollongong, Bournemouth University, University of Waikato, Edge Hill University, University of Seville, National University of Ireland Galway, Flinders University, University of Baja California, the University of Newcastle, University of Bordeaux and UNSW Sydney.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.