​Creating ocean “she-roes”

By Dr. Wendy Watson-Wright, CEO of the Ocean Frontier Institute

In 2016 the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based think tank, released a study that identified a positive correlation between the proportion of women in corporate leadership and a firm’s profitability.

According to their research, businesses that moved from having no female leaders to a representation of 30%, realized on average, a 15% increase in net revenue.

What does this mean for women in ocean related fields? It means there’s an ocean of opportunity. The ocean accounts for 2.5% of the world’s Gross Added Value (GAV). Consider for a moment that if the Peterson study is correct, what potential economic benefits could be generated if more ocean resource management was conducted by women.

In Canada, the federal government recognizes this value, advocating that labour market conditions and higher earnings will occur from a more diverse workforce. As a result, there’s a significant push underway to encourage more female participation in STEM-related careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). There’s growing recognition that if sustainable ocean development is to achieve its potential, we must diversify all aspects of ocean activities: policy, advocacy, tourism, resource development including oil and gas, fisheries and politics.

It’s not an easy task. According to UNESCO (2017), only 35% of STEM students in higher education are women.

 What must we do to get more women involved in science, and help us mitigate the challenges and leverage the economic opportunity the ocean provides?

Maya Angelou once said it is important “for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes.” And it’s the concept of ‘celebrate’ that we need to focus on.

James Cameron and Jacques Cousteau are recognized for their work in ocean science (Cameron for exploring the Mariana Trench; Cousteau for inventing the Aqua Lung and advancing ocean research). But their celebrity occurred not just because of what they achieved but because they were very good at communicating — packaging their science into sound bites and capturing the public’s imagination. They shared their passion for the ocean in interesting and entertaining ways.

Marine biologists Sylvia Earle and Rachel Carson understood the power of effective storytelling. They knew that taking action on sustainable ocean practices was effective only if public awareness, and support, also occurred.

Ms Carson and Ms Earle were early “she-roes.”

We must follow their example if we’re to attract young female talent to ocean resource management. We need to encourage women whose talent, passion, knowledge, know-how and tenacity will help us find solutions to the issues that challenge us. We must reward women who use innovation and the principles of sustainable development to create new economic opportunity from the ocean.

And we must encourage women to become comfortable with taking centre stage because it is through recognition that we can counter long-standing biases and gender stereotypes that are steering women away from science-related fields.

Being in the spotlight is not always comfortable, but it’s essential if we’re to develop the ocean frontier in a way that generates social and economic benefits in an environmentally responsible manner.

See also the article published in Bio Lab June 2019 ...