Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 27 Issue 04 Supplement

View Issue TOC
Volume 27, No. 4
Pages 5 - 13


Women in Oceanography: Continuing Challenges

By Beth N. Orcutt  and Ivona Cetinić  
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Women began to join US oceanographic expeditions in about 1960, contemporary with the modern women's rights movements in the industrialized world. Female representation in academic research has increased since then, but the ratio of women to men at higher ranks in oceanography still lags, even though women have comprised roughly half of oceanography graduate students during the past decade. Here, we examine recent trends in the representation of women in oceanography, highlighting indicators of under-representation among oceanographic faculty and chief scientists of oceanographic expeditions, and also noting positive signs of improvement. We discuss modern challenges to women in academic science, and oceanography in particular, and how they influence the career choices of women in oceanography. We provide recommendations for overcoming internal and external obstacles to career success that should be useful to students and early career women oceanographers as well as search committees, deans, department chairs, and program managers who have the power to hire and promote female colleagues.


Orcutt, B.N., and I. Cetinić. 2014. Women in oceanography: Continuing challenges. Oceanography 27(4) supplement:5–13, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.106.


Aschwanden, C. August 11, 2014. Harassment in science, replicated. The New York Times.

Babcock, L., and S. Laschever. 2003. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Princeton University Press, 240 pp.

Bell, R., J. Laird, S. Pfirman, J. Mutter, R. Balstad, and M. Cane. 2005. An experiment in institutional transformation: The NSF ADVANCE Program for Women at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Oceanography 18(1):25–34, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2005.67.

Bonatti, E., and K. Crane. 2012. Oceanography and women: Early challenges. Oceanography 25(4):32–39, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2012.103.

Casadevall, A., and J. Handelsman. 2014. The presence of female conveners correlates with a higher proportion of female speakers at scientific symposia. mBio 5(1):e00846-13, https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.00846-13.

Clancy, K.B.H., R.G. Nelson, J.N. Rutherford, and K. Hinde. 2014. Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assault. PLoS ONE 9(7):e102172, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102172.

Clem, S., S. Legg, S. Lozier, and C. Mouw. 2014. The impact of MPOWIR: A decade of investing in mentoring women in physical oceanography. Oceanography 27(4) supplement:39–48, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.113.

Ecklund, E.H., and A.E. Lincoln. 2011. Scientists want more children. PLoS ONE 6(8):e22590, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0022590.

European Commission. 2009. She Figures 2009: Statistics and Indicators of Gender Equality in Sciences. EUR 23856, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 160 pp.

Fundis, A.T., D.S. Kelley, G. Proskurowski, and J.R. Delaney. 2012. Maximizing ship-to-shore connections via telepresence technologies. Abstract #ED21B-0717, American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2012, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Goulden, M., K. Frasch, and M.A. Mason. 2009. Staying Competitive: Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences. Berkeley Center on Health, Economic, & Family Security, The University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA, 52 pp.

Handelsman, J., N. Cantor, M. Carnes, D. Denton, E. Fine, B. Grosz, V. Hinshaw, C. Marrett, S. Rosser, D. Shalala, and J. Sheridan. 2005. More women in science. Science 309:1,190–1,191, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1113252.

Hill, C., C. Corbett, and A. St. Rose. 2010. Why so Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. American Association of University Women, Washington, DC, 109 pp, https://edubirdie.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Why-So-Few-Women-in-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics.pdf.

Holmes, M.A. 2014. Advancing women in oceanography: How NSF’s ADVANCE program promotes gender equity in academia. Oceanography 27(4) supplement:30–38, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.112.

Isbell, T., T. Young, and A. Harcourt. 2012. Stag parties linger: Continued gender bias in a female-rich scientific discipline. PLoS ONE 7(11):e49682, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049682.

Jahren, A.H. September 18, 2014. Science’s sexual assault problem. The New York Times.

Kappel, E.S., and L. Thompson. 2014. Invited scientific papers and speakers and fellow awardees: Little progress for women oceanographers in the last decade. Oceanography 27(4) supplement:24–28, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.110.

Larivière, V., C. Ni, Y. Gingras, B. Cronin, and C.R. Sugimoto. 2013. Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science. Nature 504:211–213, https://doi.org/10.1038/504211a.

Lavoie, D., and D. Hutchinson. 2005. The US Geological Survey: Sea-going women. Oceanography 18(1):39–46, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2005.69.

Lozier, M.S., 2005. A community effort toward the retention of women in physical oceanography. Oceanography 18(1):35–38, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2005.68.

Marcus, N. 2005. Oceanography, science, and academia: Women making a difference. Oceanography 18(1): 51-55, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2005.71.

Martin, J.L. 2014. Ten simple rules to achieve conference speaker gender balance. PLoS Computational Biology 10(11):e1003903, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003903.

Moss-Racusin, C.A., J.F. Dovidio, V.L. Brescoll, M.J. Graham, and J. Handelsman. 2012. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(41):16,474–16,479, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1211286109.

NSF (National Science Foundation). 2012. Report of the 2012 Committee of Visitors: Research and Education Programs, Division of Ocean Sciences: Years 2009–2011. http://www.nsf.gov/geo/adgeo/advcomm/fy2012_cov/oce-geo-ocean-sciences-edu-report-2012.pdf.

NSF. 2013. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF 13-304, Arlington, VA, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm.

O’Connell, S. 2014. Women of the academy and the sea: 2000–2014. Oceanography 27(4) supplement:15–22, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.108.

O’Connell, S., and M.A. Holmes. 2005. Women of the academy and the sea. Oceanography 18(1):12–24, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2005.66.

Park, S.M. 1996. Research, teaching, and service: Why shouldn’t women’s work count? Journal of Higher Education 67(1):46–84.

Rosser, S.V., and E. O’Neil Lane. 2002. Key barriers for academic institutions seeking to retain female scientists and engineers: Family-unfriendly policies, low numbers, stereotypes, and harassment. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 8:161–189.

Schiebinger, L., A.D. Henderson, and S.K. Gilmartin. 2008. Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know. Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, 108 pp.

Schuster, J.H., and M.J. Finkelstein. 2006. The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 600 pp.

Sheltzer, J.M., and J.C. Smith. 2014. Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 11:10,107–10,112, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1403334111.

Shen, H. 2013. Inequity quantified: Mind the gender gap. Nature 495:22–24, https://doi.org/10.1038/495022a.

Thompson, L., R.C. Perez, and A.E. Shevenell. 2011. Closed ranks in oceanography. Nature Geoscience 4:211–212, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1113.

UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System). 2009. Research Vessel Safety Standards, 9th ed. UNOLS, University of Rhode Island–Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI, USA, 145 pp., http://www.unols.org/sites/default/files/2009RVSS_web2012updates%281%29.pdf.

Van Dover, C.L., C.R. German, D.R. Yoerger, C.L. Kaiser, and L. Brothers. 2012. Telepresence field research experience for undergraduate and graduate students: An R/V Okeanos Explorer/AUV Sentry success story. Abstract #OS51D-1909, American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2012, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Wennerås, C., and A. Wold. 1997. Nepotism and sexism in peer-review. Nature 387:341–343, https://doi.org/10.1038/387341a0.

West, M.S., and J.W. Curtis. 2006. AAUP Faculty Gender Equity Indicators. American Association of University Professors, Washington, DC, 84 pp.

Wolfinger, N.H., M.A. Mason, and M. Goulden. 2008. Problems in the pipeline: Gender, marriage, and fertility in the Ivory Tower. The Journal of Higher Education 79(4):388–405, https://doi.org/10.1353/jhe.0.0015.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.