To no one’s surprise, the XX panel discussion at the 2013 NASW meeting last weekend in Gainesville was standing room only. The panel’s original focus — a long overdue conversation about the lack of gender equality in science writing — had been widened in scope to include sexual harassment concerns.
While sexual harassment is an insidious problem that deserves attention*, the issue of gender inequality is, arguably, a more widespread and quantifiable dilemma — and one that affects the majority of science writers.
Masterfully moderated by Deborah Blum, the discussion began, fittingly for a crowd of science journalists, with data. They were simple pie charts, showing, quite simply, that women get disconcertingly small slivers of these science writing “pies” — masthead and regular contributor posts at top magazines, reviews of their books, or inclusions in the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies.
Most disturbingly, women receive fewer of some of the big awards.
The only available data on income came from a survey of freelancers conducted by the ‘Show Me The Money’ panel — 142 freelancers (89 female; 54 male) responded. Encouragingly, organizer Rose Eveleth says their results showed no differences along gender lines. But we don’t currently have data for the whole science writing community or a break down in staff pay by gender.
The session offered a powerful glimpse at a reality many of us, women included, were stunned to confront. To me, science journalism had always seemed an idyllic, gender-neutral haven — good ideas always win.
I still believe that’s the case — most of the time. But after hearing the panelists’ stories, I now have the nagging concern that, sometimes, good ideas just aren’t enough.
Several panelists shared how gender inequality has affected their own stellar, award-winning careers. Emily Willingham started Double X Science, an online publication for women that embraces, rather than trivializes, science. Flo Williams described how she is one of two women contributing editors at Outside magazine — out of 21. Christie Aschwanden described one instance (of a dozen similar incidents) when a woman editor told her, straight up, that she had to be careful about assigning too many stories to women.
Despite the disheartening discussion — meant to enlighten us all, not blame male colleagues — I ended up even prouder to be part of the science writing community. This is a hard topic. It was discussed openly and maturely by a group, realizing that, only together, can we change our part of the world.
The panelists took the first step, offering this manifesto:
Equal pay for equal work
More gender equality in bylines and mastheads
Equal recognition of award-worthy work
A recognized code of conduct that includes freelancers
A safe and clear process for reporting sexual harassment
Encouragement to talk frankly and directly
*Sexual harassment will be the focus of a future post