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Equity, diversity and inclusivity at sea

In summer 2017 - for the first time that we know of! - all three of the main UK ships, the RRS Discovery (pictured, with Kate's ICY-LAB science team!), the RRS James Cook and the RRS James Clark Ross were out at the same time on expeditions, all led by female chief scientists. 

Today, we can celebrate a strong representation of women in sea-going science in the United Kingdom, providing positive role models and mentors to encourage and support early career female marine scientists. However, women continue to face challenges to their progression in their careers, especially those who are also members of other underrepresented groups. 

Dr Kate Hendry led a group of women from around the UK from a range of career stages and backgrounds, who are all active or recently active in sea-going research, with the aim of writing a discussion of equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) issues in UK marine science. The group has recently published an article in Ocean Challenge with a focus on both successes in gender equality over the last few decades and lessons learned for improving diversity of sea-going science further and more broadly into the future.

Some of the earliest female career marine scientists in the UK started off in fisheries research in the early twentieth century, including Rosa Lee (1884-1976), who was the first woman to graduate in Maths from Bangor University and the first woman to be employed by the Marine Biological Association. She worked at the Lowestoft Laboratory (that later became the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Cefas), and published highly-renowned articles including in Nature. “All of this, whilst never being allowed to step foot on a research vessel, and having to leave her employment in the civil service when she got married”, commented Dr Hendry. 

Rosa Lee, one of the first female UK marine scientists, in a group of staff at the Marine Biological Association’s Lowestoft laboratory in 1907(Photo courtesy of Cefas)

Dr Hendry added: “As a science community, we’ve come a long way in terms of gender balance and representation, not only in the top science jobs but also in other roles at sea including crew and marine technicians. We wanted to document the history of how these changes happened, and whether any of the pathways to gender equity could be transferred to tackling other forms of underrepresentation in UK marine science, at all career levels”.

The article ends with some firm recommendations to the community to improve sea-going EDI into the future, including the formation of a special interest group by the UK marine science organisation, The Challenger Society, and guidance to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for additional training, financial support, and recognition.


Cabot Institute member Dr Kate Hendry is an Associate Professor in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Dr Kate Hendry

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