When I started field work in the late 70s, the ratio of women to men that I knew in stream hydrography was about 1:50. The conventional wisdom at the time was that women couldn’t handle the heavy lifting involved with field work. There is an expression about using “brute force and bloody ignorance” to get the job done. The thing is, if you take away the “bloody ignorance,” then the need for “brute force” goes away too. At about the same time that women started to be hired for field work, we started working smarter.
Coincidence? I think not.
When I started going to hydrology conferences in the mid-90s, the conferences were dominated by greybeards (now I am one). Over the past couple of decades, I have noticed a significant shift to more and more of the conference papers being delivered by women. Over the same period of time, I have also noticed that the topics of the conference papers have become much more interesting.
Coincidence? I think not.
There was no problem in hydrology that couldn’t be solved with a slide rule, or so it seemed. In recent decades, hydrology has become an integrative science, complete not only with traditional math and physics, but also with geology, geomorphology, ecology, water chemistry, climatology, anthropogenic effects, and many other influences. It is, perhaps, possible to data mine old conference proceedings to learn whether the inclusion of women led to the broadening of the definition of hydrology or whether the broadening of the definition of hydrology led to the inclusion of more women.
But it doesn’t really matter. Here we are, in 2018, with many interesting questions to answer and many talented people trying to answer them. What does matter is that we can recruit from 100% of the population – not just 50% of it – to find the best and the brightest minds to solve urgent problems related to natural variability exacerbated by artificial depletion and abuses of our shared water resources.
It is hard to pontificate – from my privileged position as an old white guy – about gender issues without the risk of sounding patronizing. Let’s just focus on collective successes. There are more women in the field. We are working smarter. We are more creative in finding solutions to problems. We have increased awareness of what the problems actually are.
Coincidence? You decide.
This blog post kicks off our “Women in Water” stories feature, in which we’ll be highlighting a number of women working in the water and wastewater industries over the month of March. Join us as as we share the stories of these remarkable women and celebrate their achievements by following our blog.