posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Championing Diversity in Ocean Policy

by Robin Garcia

Last year, I wrote about the low representation of women during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), a three-day conference hosted by the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation (NMSF) where hundreds of people from government, nonprofits, the business sector, and Capitol Hill come together to discuss marine and aquatic policy issues. Last month, I was back at CHOW to hear about the latest policy issues, to network, and yes – to see if there were more women highlighted this year.

Some things have yet to change; once again one women, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State, was honored during the Ocean Awards Gala. Yet there were more women on the stage at CHOW this year. Here’s the rundown:

  • Women represented nearly 40% of the panelists compared to 30% last year.
  • The percentage of women that served as moderators dropped from 35% to about 20%.
  • CHOW’s online OceansLIVE sessions saw similar increases, with close to 60% female representation compared to last year’s 55% female representation.
  • More women of color were highlighted as well, with seven women of color featured in both the live panels and OceansLIVE sessions, compared to three women of color last year.
“Closing the Loop on Trash: Innovation and Industry Leadership” panel

“Closing the Loop on Trash: Innovation and Industry Leadership” panel

But since I’m a trained scientist, I had to ask: were these changes actually significant?

Yes, I literally ran the stats to see if these changes were in fact significant.

There was an insignificant increase in the number of women on the panels at CHOW (p = 0.63, t test in case you really want to know!), an insignificant decrease in the number of female moderators (p = 0.25), and an insignificant increase in the number of women of color (p = 0.33). However, there was a significant increase in female representation throughout the OceansLIVE sessions (p = 0.0078).

Marce Gutiérrez-Graudi?š, founder and director of AZUL, speaks with moderator Darryl Fears of the Washington Post during the “The Power of Diversity to Strengthen the Ocean Movement” panel

Marce Gutiérrez-Graudi?š, founder and director of AZUL, speaks with moderator Darryl Fears of the Washington Post during the “The Power of Diversity to Strengthen the Ocean Movement” panel

For me personally, the most exciting panels to watch were “The Power of Diversity to Strengthen the Ocean Movement” and the accompanying OceansLIVE session “Everyone’s Invited: Creating and Inclusive Ocean.” During “The Power of Diversity,” an equal panel of men and women of color discussed the lack of diversity in ocean policy and conservation, and how to empower more minorities interested in marine issues. This panel struck especially close to home for me – ever since I started graduate school for my Masters in Marine Biology, I have become too accustomed to looking around and realizing that I’m often the only person in the room that looks like me. It was mentioned during the panel that this is a difficult conversation, but the consensus was that as uncomfortable as the topic can be, it’s a necessary conversation if we have any hope of creating a marine science and policy community that better reflects the American population in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and any other status that can divide us.

Another interesting panel to highlight was titled “Local Voices and Traditional Knowledge for a Sustainable Arctic Economy.” Again, an equal panel of men and women, all of Alaska native heritage, discussed how they can be valuable in the movement to develop a sustainable Arctic economy that both protects the Arctic environment and supports a growing economy.

Overall, great changes have happened and we should recognize and support them. Not only were there some increases in diversity, but there were multiple panels that focused on the benefits of diverse voices in ocean policy.

So, how can we move forward?

What I noticed was that many of the most diverse panels were those that focused on diversity. I would love to attend a CHOW where all panels, whether they’re focus on diversity in the marine community or the future of offshore energy, are diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and more. Why can’t every panel include an equal number of men and women, an equal number of white people and people of color? That’s the CHOW I want to see next year and in years to come.

Robin is a Policy Analyst at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She is especially excited that the season of free outdoor events is finally here. 

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