Women in meteorology: how long a minority?

WMO urges a renewed commitment to progress.

A set of lackluster statistics gave added import to the Second World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Conference on Women in Meteorology and Hydrology. Over 130 delegates from more than 100 countries met at WMO’s Geneva headquarters on 24–27 March to mull the progress of women since the first such meeting, held six years earlier in Bangkok.

Delegates from over 100 nations attended the Second WMO Conference on Women in Meteorology and Hydrology. (Photo courtesy Dian Seidel, NOAA.)

Participants found that the 48 recommendations made at the Bangkok -meeting remained solid. In part, though, that’s because surveys compiled for each meeting paint such a consistently dismal picture.

“When we compared the 1997 and 2001 survey results, we found that, overall, very little progress had been made,” says Sepi Yalda (Millersville University of Pennsylvania). In the 105 nations that responded to the 2001 WMO survey, an average of 23% of professionals in the national meteorological and hydrological services are women. The representation is even lower in the United States, where only about 12% are female. Both figures are comparable to those from the 1997 survey, which looked at employment throughout the discipline, including government, academic, and private sectors.

The U.S. lag behind global trends is especially striking in academia. The 1997 survey found that the percentage of women among meteorological and hydrological professionals in academia was 32% globally but only 11% nationally. A survey in 2000–01 by the American Geological Institute found similar results: about 12% of U.S. geoscience professors at all ranks were women.

Why did the Bangkok recommendations fail to make much of a dent? A lack of follow-up was one major problem identified by delegates. In Geneva, they called for a set of mechanisms that would ensure action and accountability. Yalda and her colleagues are working hard to get the word out. A forthcoming article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society will summarize the Geneva meeting.

In June, about 50 people met for a brown-bag lunch and discussion in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was organized by Mary Glackin, NOAA assistant administrator for program planning and integration. “The audience expressed surprise that the percentage of women representing the United States in WMO activities was lower than for other developed countries,” says Glackin. “Also, we noticed that this audience was not familiar with the organization and operation of the WMO, so it was a good opportunity to educate folks.”

Along with Yalda and Glackin, the U.S. delegation to Geneva included National Weather Service director John “Jack” Kelly and a number of other NOAA staff, as well as Maria Pirone (AER, Inc.), representing the private sector.

Yalda was one of only two delegates at the meeting from academia. She’s eager to bring the WMO findings to the attention of the university sector, and she hopes to recruit more female professors to serve on WMO technical commissions and take on other agency roles. “There are really not a lot of women serving in high-level positionsat the WMO,” says Yalda.

Plans are under way for a follow-up session to be held at next January’s AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle in coordination with the society’s Board of Women and Minorities. Michel Jarraud, the secretary general–elect of the WMO, plans to address the session, according to Glackin. “He attended the WMO conference in March and has expressed a strong interest in this topic.”

by Bob Henson


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