International Women’s Day

The power of quality networks: female insights from the Nippon Foundation-University of Edinburgh Ocean Voices Programme.

Authors: Maila Guilhon, Alumita Sekinairai

Discussions on diversity and representation are gaining the spotlight. Whether in social media, day-to-day readings, series and movies, or scientific publications, there is definitely a global momentum to reflect and discuss upon how to promote more equity and inclusion. 

The topics have gained more space, though discreetly, in international decision-making spaces and agendas related to the ocean. In New York, during the negotiations which culminated on the agreement of a treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) last weekend, several States have supported the adoption of a gender neutral terminology - ‘common heritage of humankind’ replacing the outdated terminology ‘common heritage of mankind’ - as part of the text. Efforts to address gender in ocean sciences and decision-making also featured within the framework of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and within intersections of Agenda 2030 Goals 5 (“Gender Equality”) and 14 (“Life Below Water”). 

Addressing the intersections between gender inequalities and the ocean is fundamental and urgent. The reasons for such are numerous and are widely discussed in the literature*. Nonetheless, addressing gender inequalities and proposing solutions are not restricted to matters of self-identification. Several other topics, including age, race, color, religion, social status and conditions, level of education, presence of a disability, etc., crosscut gender discussions and should be addressed holistically. Human lifes bring a diversity of histories, backgrounds, experiences and struggles. With that, barriers to trespass gender inequalities take different sizes and forms, and should be acknowledged.  

As female early career researchers (ECRs) and professionals (ECOPs) from Brazil and Fiji, we are now experiencing the opportunity to identify and reflect upon networking spaces that embrace our vulnerabilities and insecurities while, at the same time, encourage us to work on our skills and support our leadership endeavors. We will shed light onto insights that surfaced from our experiences in taking part in an only-female cohort of fellows of the Ocean Voices Programme, but also through our personal and professional trajectories.

From a female ECRs/ECOPs perspective (but recognizing these are limited by our own experiences and trajectories), we came across ten important lessons for establishing and maintaining quality networks, listed below:

  1. Group cheering - celebrate individuals/group achievements collectively;
  2. Empathy - embrace and support others’ struggles, challenges and limitations (including with respect to foreign languages skills);
  3. Coziness - break unnecessary formalities - this will  provide for a more inviting environment and spontaneous exchanges;
  4. Nurturing -  consider the expectations and objectives of a group. How is the network impacting individuals? Who are the beneficiaries?;
  5. Hierarchy-free - horizontal discussions should be in place enabling other voices to take the floor, especially ECRs/ECOPs;
  6. Accommodate individuals personalities - some people are extroverts and do not have issues speaking for big groups. Others, more introverted, may prefer to raise their voices through other means, such as through writing or one-to-one interactions. Participation is what matters!
  7. Celebrate diversity - diversity is key to leaving no one behind. Networks should invite all ages, genders (including lack of gender), races, cultures, religions, disabilities, but also disciplines; 
  8. Be open-minded - openness for different ideas, thinking outside the box, fostering creativity;
  9. Encourage and support others’ leadership - opportunities, trust and support are necessary to develop and refine leadership skills. Leadership is a learning-by-doing process and everyone should be encouraged to go through it;
  10. Network of networks - networks should also be well-connected to broaden perspectives and stimulate collaboration with professionals from other areas and disciplines;

Certainly the above-listed characteristics are not only relevant or applicable for women-only networks. Nevertheless, recognizing the importance of such characteristics became more evident to us while taking part in a group of Ocean Voices female fellows, who shared perspectives, thoughts, achievements, troubles and experiences related to their personal and ocean-focused professional trajectories. Maybe, through the open atmosphere of the programme and the opportunities to exchange with inspiring people, we have developed a favorable space for such aspects to emerge.

Based on our lessons, we invite the readers to exercise their own taking-home messages:

  • What voices exist in the network(s) I take part in? Do all of them speak?
  • How many of the above mentioned characteristics do I see in the network(s) I take part in?
  • How can I contribute to promoting a quality network?

More than addressing the attributes of quality networks, on this International Women’s Day, we hope to be able to express the potential displayed by  spaces where women gather, exchange and support each other. Maybe, in the end, all it is required to embrace diverse voices is to listen carefully to one that is usually silent. 


*Amon, D., Filander, Z., Harris, L., & Harden-Davies, H. 2022. Safe working environments are key to improving inclusion in open-ocean, deep-ocean, and high-seas science. Mar Policy. 137:104947. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.marpol.2021.104947.
Carballo Pineiro, L., & Kitada, M. 2020. Sexual harassment and women seafarers: Theroleoflawsand policies to ensure occupational safety & health. Marine Policy 117:103938. 2020.103938.
James, R., Gibbs, B., Whitford, L., Leisher, C., Konia, R., & Butt, N. (2021). Conservation and natural resource management: where are all the women?. Oryx, 55(6), 860-867.
Johannsen, E., Ojwala, R.A., Rodriguez, M.C., Neat, F., Kitada, M., Buckingham, S., Schofield, C., Long, R., Jarnsäter, J., Sun, Z. 2022. The sea change needed for gender equality in ocean-going research.
James, R., Gibbs, B., Whitford, L., Leisher, C., Konia, R., & Butt, N. (2021). Conservation and natural resource management: where are all the women?
Karelaia, N., & Guillén, L. (2014). Me, a woman and a leader: Positive social identity and identity conflict. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
Shellock, Rebecca J., et al. "Building leaders for the UN Ocean Science Decade: a guide to supporting early career women researchers within academic marine research institutions." DOI: 10.1093/icesjms/fsac214
Shellock, R. J., Cvitanovic, C., Mackay, M., McKinnon, M. C., Blythe, J., Kelly, R., van Putten, I. E. et al. 2022. Breaking down bar- riers: the identification of actions to promote gender equality in interdisciplinary marine research institutions. One Earth, 5: 687–708
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