The myth that diversity takes weather and related jobs from others

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I wanted to study meteorology since I was in sixth grade. I was “bitten” by the weather bug after being stung while catching bees in the yard. After learning I was allergic to stings, I moved my 6th grade science project to weather and said goodbye to my dream of being an entomologist. After completing the necessary undergraduate and graduate degrees, I began my career as a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. I quickly noticed that there weren’t many African Americans in my field in the mid-1990s.

Unfortunately, in 2018, that statement still holds true even though you will see some people claiming that jobs are being taken away from others due to workforce diversification efforts. I saw a recent post on social media where these claims were made in relation to meteorology posts, so I decided to look into the facts.


Marshall Shepherd / WxGeeks

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) is the largest professional society in the United States serving professionals in the weather, climate, and atmospheric sciences. I was president of the AMS in 2013. Periodically, the Society collects data on its members. Its most recent survey of its 13,000 to 14,000 members found that only 2.1% are African American. The numbers for Hispanics and Native Americans were even lower. It’s not specific to meteorology either. A 2015 National Science Foundation report pointed out,

…the education gap between underrepresented minorities of whites and Asians remains large. In general, underrepresented minorities are less likely than whites and Asians to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and earn a college degree. Over the past 2 decades, they continue to earn the majority of degrees in all major M&E areas.


NSF

A recent article published in Natural geosciences is even more austere and specific. The article is titled “No progress in diversity in 40 years”. He points out that at the doctoral level, the ethnic and racial numbers are extremely low. Over the past 40 years, 85% of PhDs earned in Earth-related sciences have been awarded to people who identify as non-Hispanic and white according to their study. In 2016, the population of the United States classified as minority was 31%, but barely 6% of doctorates in geosciences awarded were to underrepresented minorities.

This brings me back to the field of meteorology. In a gem of an article published in a 1978 issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, legendary and historical meteorologist June Bacon-Bercey examined the numbers of minorities in the field of meteorology. Bercey was the first African American woman to earn the AMS seal of approval. I found this illuminating writing sequence in his article,

(Dr. William) Kellog’s group analyzed the results of the 1975 AMS questionnaire sent to nearly 9,000 members.

She went on to point out that an NSF report estimated there were about 900,000 scientists in the United States in 1978 and only 2.6% were black. Again, the numbers were even lower for the other groups. His study also found that about 1.58% of meteorologists in 1978 were black. Oh, but things are better now, Dr. Shepherd, aren’t they? Wrong. If you recall, I noted earlier that 2.1% of AMS members surveyed a few years ago were black. If you use the rounding of basic numbers that we all learned in elementary school, both results are 2%. Those stats are good, but my own eyes validate the numbers every time I go to a weather broadcast, AMS annual meeting, or other high profile gathering in my field.

So why would anyone blame others or assume that career opportunities are “taken” because of diversity when the numbers don’t back it up? As a scientist, I like to dig a little deeper into my writing. I thought the concept of psychological projection explained what was going on. According to the Psychology Today article (and peer-reviewed literature),

Projection is a primitive defense mechanism that occurs in individuals, as well as within groups. A person denies an unacceptable idea or impulse by projecting it or attributing it to another. This alleviates the anxiety and adverse self-perception it engenders in the projector.

However, Professor Rheeda Walker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston, responded to my email with a more specific explanation and suggested that displacement is the real problem. According to Verywellmind.com, defense mechanisms are “unconscious psychological responses that protect people from threats and things they don’t want to think about or deal with.” Displacement is one of these defense mechanisms. Professor Walker wrote,

One way to think about how people deal with extremely stressful emotions is displacement. This usually happens outside of one’s full awareness. Nevertheless, the result is that individuals blame others for their shortcomings and failures or simple frustrations.

As the director of a major program in atmospheric science, I answer calls from employers all the time. My students find jobs, regardless of race or gender, because they are good, well-educated, and know their meteorology. I also hope that this is what others will think about rather than blaming others.

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