AMS Women and Minorities Board Survey

Today I finally had some time to catch up to some of the many electronic surveys that seem to come my way, and one in particular piqued my interest: the American Meteorological Society (AMS) members’ survey. As usual I was profuse with commentary where the format allowed, and one section, devoted to and directed at the AMS Board on Women and Minorities, allowed me to direct some long-fermenting concerns right to the appropriate people (I hope). Bear in mind these background facts:

1. AMS offers scholarships for women and minorities (i.e., closed to low income non-minority males simply because of their skin color and gender)

2. Meteorology in general, and both professorships and operational forecasting in particular, are underrepresented by women and minorities compared to their relative composition of society at large.

3. I was a shift-working single dad, with variations from half to sole physical custody of my children, for nearly a year. This seems unrelated, but as you shall see, is not.

The survey question: Is there anything else that you wish to share with us about the Board on Women and Minorities?

My answer: It is important to encourage all people — regardless of gender, color or culture — to be involved in meteorology. Solid atmospheric scientists of all backgrounds are badly needed in both research and operations, public and private. Women and minorities are underrepresented. Minority- and female-only scholarships, however, are preferential treatments that racially or gender-discriminate against the majority or male, and are not the answer. Two wrongs don’t make a right. What of the low-income, non minority male?

Instead we need to encourage scientific and mathematical interest, motivation and participation at the elementary school level, where such things ultimately originate. Societal awareness of meteorology seems limited to watching the evening TV weatherman. Most never are exposed to meteorology in elementary school science classes and have no option to take a semester-long meteorology course in high school. Why? A huge role for AMS advocacy and outreach should be in elementary education of meteorology, and getting meteorology as heavily weighted and accessible in public secondary school courses as biology and chemistry.

Also, I have found that both academia and rotating shift work — which compose large segments of meteorology — discourage the participation of women with children. Academia does this through the pervasive “publish or perish” mentality and the implicit or explicit demands to “keep up” in order to attain tenure. The solution is to make tenure tied less to quantity of work in a given 10-20 year period and more related to quality. One excellent, ground-breaking paper should count for more than 10 or 20 pedestrian ones. So should excellence in academic teaching, which often falls by the wayside in a world where research funding and grants are top priority. Both of these changes in emphasis surely would benefit the best female aspirants to full professorships.

Rotating shift work, especially in government, severely hinders the working mother (or single dad) who is a forecaster, by the lack of day-care and especially evening- and night-care options for children. A solution is for this Board, in particular, to organize nationwide listings of child care facilities that provide evening and night care, to make meteorological shift workers aware of them, and to advocate and encourage their proliferation (particularly in small towns that may have a forecast office but few child care options).


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