Continuing with our series of initiatives that promote gender equality and #BalanceforBetter, Senior Editor Nathalie Pettorelli introduces Soapbox Science.
A month ago I attended a high-level international meeting on environmental monitoring, bringing >30 representatives with expertise in remote sensing and Earth observations to discuss agenda coordination and next steps; I counted 5 women there. Admittedly, it could have been worse, as I was vividly reminded on my way to the meeting venue, which was at the end of a corridor full of painted portraits of men. And then, two weeks ago, I attended a meeting where I ended up suggesting a new way forward to improve on current results: this idea was repeated 10min after by a guy, who was then credited for it. When he bravely mentioned that the idea was actually the one I just brought up, the chair told us that he expressed it better, which is why he deserved to be credited for it. Days ago I was talking with a colleague about the fact that most people that recommend me for a position or approach me for a collaboration are women. Wondering why this was, I was told this was likely due to the first impression I leave on people, that of an aggressive and ambitious woman who likely scares men. His recommendation was to try to appear ‘nicer’ in the future. Anecdotes like this are not insignificant, rare one-offs: they are part of the routine for many women in applied ecology.
International Women’s Day gives us a fantastic opportunity to remember that the world doesn’t have to function the way it currently does, and to celebrate initiatives that directly challenge the status quo. Among the ones that I hope will be highlighted in this special blog series, Soapbox Science is one I want to make sure gets a mention. Soapbox was created in 2011 to challenge stereotypes about what a scientist looks like by inviting women in science to strike a dialogue with people in public places. It started with one event in London, and 12 brave women standing on a soapbox on the sunny South Bank. Since then, many more events happened, in the UK but also in Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Tanzania, Australia. This year, Soapbox Science is expected to hold 42 events in countries that include Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, South Africa and the US. The call for speakers just closed a few days ago, with >900 women having applied to speak at one of these events.
Soapbox Science isn’t just about organising events and putting women on soapboxes: the initiative is used to bring local organisers, speakers and volunteers together, helping connect scientists who may not know about each other; train participants in science communication and help them grow their confidence in public speaking; share experience and tips about how to build a career in science; and improve the visibility of women in science and the work they do in their home institutions as well as in the media. It’s a fantastic vehicle to talk about science and ethnicity; socio-economic background and social mobility; disability; sexual orientation; gender perception. It’s a place where issues such as the two-body problem, the imposture syndrome, stereotypes, or the Matilda effect can be discussed. Soapbox connects potential mentors and mentees; investigators and co-investigators; supervisors and students; reviewers and writers; colleagues and friends. Soapbox is thus, first and foremost, a social enterprise aimed at promoting overall diversity in science.
This year, International Women’s Day is running a #BalanceforBetter campaign, which not only celebrates women’s achievements but also calls for a more gender-balanced world, where women’s contributions to society are widely recognised and economies and communities can thrive as a result. So, if you are searching for one fun, brief, non-committal thing you could do to support this campaign, please consider attend one of the 42 Soapbox Science events taking place all around the world. I can guarantee that most, if not all, will at least feature one applied ecologist who you should know about. And if you feel inspired and believe your city could do with a Soapbox Science event, why not drop them an email and potentially become a local organiser or a volunteer? There’s no need to identify as a woman to be part of this inspiring community, everyone is welcome. Support is provided, and the experience has been primarily described as rewarding and enjoyable. So why not give it a go?
Find out about more great initiatives in our Balance for Better series: