Gender difference in the working field of geography and the environment

Gender division in the organizations I’ve been working for has been quite obvious. Disproportionately more males than females are in leadership positions in APFNet and INBAR. The current board of APFNet comprises of 14 directors, all men; whereas 48 out of 64 council representatives and contact persons from member economies are male. Current and former executive directors, as well as the senior officers at the Secretariat in Beijing have all been men. In contrast, managers and department leaders have been predominantly females within the Secretariat office, as well as staff members. Similar situations apply to INBAR, where both the Director General and Deputy Director General are men. Officers in all the five regional offices, including offices in Central Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia, are predominantly male. On the contrary, more females officers under the executive management are identified in the Beijing headquarters.


One theory mentioned in von Reuden, et al. (2018) in “Sex difference in political leadership in an egalitarian society” may be applicable, which states that the gender difference in leadership is associated with men’s “greater access to schooling, and greater body size and physical strength,” which is also at the cost of women’s “intrahousehold labor”. It is particularly persuasive in the subject of geography and the environment, which requires physical fieldwork and conducting experiments. Males are likely to have more comparative advantages in terms of body size and physical strength that are more suitable to physically go into the field and do work, particularly in extreme geographic conditions. Besides, a long time of tradition has granted male with more opportunities for schooling and education. Therefore, more male candidates are appropriate for jobs in forests and mountains that require a high level of expertise.


On the contrary, I noticed that a female leader emerged more implicitly and indirectly: not necessarily through how much “hard knowledge” on science she possesses but the “soft skills”. My supervisor holds a bachelor’s degree in English. She has been staying in this organization for more than 20 years since she graduated from college. Although not having a degree in hard science (e.g., forestry, natural resources, or even environmental management), she has experiences with particularly bamboo and rattan resources from decades of fieldwork and readings. Besides, as the only panelist who spoke both Chinese and English fluently, her leadership stood out from the male dominance when she helped translate for some Chinese experts who had trouble communicating in English with other panelists and the audience. Other than interpreting those Chinese experts’ words, she also added some personal understanding that helped overcome the cultural barriers.