January 7

Ellen Johannesen, PhD Candidate at WMU, Coordinating Officer at ICES


Ellen Johannesen

I have always considered myself a feminist, a believer in equality, but until recently, without a very detailed understanding of feminism, and without specifically thinking much about how gender has shaped my experience in the world.

I completed my Bachelor’s degree at home in Canada (University of Winnipeg, CA) majoring in urban and environmental studies. Afterwards, I got a job working for an aquatic environmental consulting firm where I split my time between answering phones and sorting benthic invertebrates. I craved travel and an international experience so pursued an MSc at Roskilde University, in Denmark.

It was only recently, that I started to reflect on my own experience of gender in my professional career. Maybe a function of getting older (maturing?) and perhaps combined with the growing focus on the role of gender in popular culture (#metoo #timesup) and the media contributing to these reflections.

I have spent the past 10 years working in the Secretariat of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), a marine science network and platform for international cooperation. The past 9 years I have been the rapporteur at all executive level meetings, which has offered an intimate view of the organization. During this time, I gradually began to take notice of the underrepresentation of women, especially at the decision-making levels (Committees, and Council). Suddenly, the glass ceiling is evident and it is at odds with the prevailing approach/assumption among institutional actors – that maintaining a gender blind approach makes the system equal.

As part of my job at ICES and linked to my research, I am working to design and implement a process for ICES where we also systematically collect gender data and include it to the database of participants and activities. This will provide a good mechanism for future study over time. Given this could take some time to implement; I will also look retrospectively at gender overtime in a subset of some ICES groups.

Since developing my research proposal and registering at WMU, I have also observed differences between the reactions I receive from men and women when I tell them about my developing PhD study. Women are all very interested and are eager to connect me with their stories and contacts to women who have paved the way and faced overt gender discrimination in marine science.

Based on my experiences, I am motivated to help raise awareness and promote policies that tackle issues around gender equality and see the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as an important opportunity for the diverse marine science community to consider its own capacity to make transformative change towards realizing the goals of Agenda 2030.

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