Women and diversity in the new fire science paradigm
Professor Bibiana Bilbao, a professor of environmental studies at Simón Bolívar University in Venezuela and a member of our center’s advisory board, is working at the forefront of a new paradigm in fire science. She aggressively seeks to develop integrated, cross-cultural fire management policies in South America that are more socially just, culturally sensitive, and more effective. A leader in her field, she enables real change, including helping to “fix the knowledge” by integrating sex and gender analysis into fire science research. This brings me to the question, what does it mean to be a female fire science leader, and what can we do to support diversity in our community?
In 2018, an article was published titled, ‘Recognizing Women Leaders in Fire Science » – followed by publication continued later that same year, recognizing 145 women leaders in the field around the world. This was a much appreciated milestone and demonstrates the impressive achievements of many women in the field of fire science. However, by selecting leaders based on the H-index (a metric that measures the citation impacts of academic publications), the article presents only a partial picture, favoring the physical sciences and the English-speaking world.
I have discussed this – what it means to be a leader – with some of my female colleagues here at the Centre. They were quick to point out that leadership is as much about being a role model, bringing others along, being visible and having an impact beyond the ivory tower. For example, Professor Jay Mistry, who is Associate Director of the Royal Holloway-based Centre, mentors women at his university, supporting them in their career ambitions and helping them navigate as women in academia and the challenges they face. they can be confronted. Professor Mistry has experienced the challenge of discrimination in her career, primarily racial rather than gender-based. Although, she points out, discrimination is often intersectional and the privilege accorded to being white and being male is generally taken for granted. As noted earlier, fire science faces the same systemic challenges as other STEM subjects (and indeed, the world as a whole) when it comes to gender and racial equality, including discrimination, harassment, leaky pipeline” (the loss of women in the academic ladder), imbalances in childcare duties, and failures in encouraging young women from diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds into STEM careers. The fire being perceived by some as a hypermasculine realm of white men must only compound the problem.
Yet female fire scientists have an important role to play as we move into this new paradigm of fire science. With the failures of a reactionary emergency response to exposed wildfires, we are moving towards a more proactive and preventative approach, with a greater focus on ecological processes and the integration of traditional burning practices and ways of living with fire. Women scientists bring important additional perspectives to this, being more likely to advocate for inclusive and participatory fire policies that incorporate historically silenced voices, including that of women.
The world of fire is undoubtedly an exciting and important field for women, whether in science, politics, natural resource management or in the fire service. Within our Center, we have female scientists at all levels working on topics ranging from climate and paleofire modeling, machine learning, remote sensing, traditional knowledge and practices, and health impacts, to name a few. But there is still a long way to go for there to be a truly inclusive global fire community.
The new fire science paradigm is an opportunity to reflect on this challenge and encourage change. We should continue to recognize female and diverse role models in the field of fire science, and this is something we should seek to promote as a leading center for wildfire research. However, the ultimate battle for equality and acceptance goes much deeper, as discrimination in its many forms worms its way through all aspects of society, including education, recruitment and on-the-job experiences. work place. In the world of fire, in academia and in society at large, we must move beyond symbolism and work together as a community of fire towards a true welcoming of diversity and a true recognition of the value that we bring to all.
With thanks to Professors Jay Mistry, Bibiana Bilbao, Sally Archibald and Sue Page for the interesting discussions and their contribution to this article. This article was originally published on the Website of the Leverhulme Center for Forest Fires, Environment and Society.