Eight Out of Every Ten Women Polar Scientists Report Negative Experiences During Research Expeditions

A new study recently published in the PLOS Climate journal has uncovered gender disparities in the experiences of polar research scientists, with women researchers reporting high levels of negative encounters during their expeditions.

For their study, the authors surveyed over 300 women from a wide range of backgrounds who were conducting field work in polar regions in the fall of 2023. The results showed that nearly eight out of every 10 women scientists reported negative experiences while doing polar fieldwork. These negative experiences included poor living conditions, lack of personal space, sexual harassment, bullying, violence, racism, homophobia, and problematic team dynamics. Some of the survey participants reported they refrain from speaking up about their negative experiences for fear of retaliation by their leaders.

The survey also revealed that women polar scientists frequently experience gender bias in the type of work assigned to them. Many women participants reported being assigned an unequal proportion of tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and indoor lab assignments, rather than physical fieldwork. A majority of polar fieldwork equipment, including snowsuits and face coverings, are designed for men’s bodies, therefore putting women scientists at risk for cold injuries. Additionally, some women reported difficulty managing their menstrual cycles due to poor living conditions, which can cause them to unfairly miss out on physical fieldwork and scientific opportunities.

Despite the large majority of women participants reporting negative experiences, most women still wanted to continue doing polar research, suggesting an urgent need to improve their working conditions. The authors found that many polar expeditions do not have a clear code of conduct or harassment reporting policy. They urge institutions who conduct polar research to implement such policies to create a more inclusive and safe environment for all scientists.

Filed Under: DiscriminationResearch/StudySexual Assault/HarassmentSTEM Fields

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