8 March, 2019

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reflects and celebrates the role of women within our organisation.

A brief history of women at BAS

For many years, developing a career in STEM – either as a scientist, marine officer, pilot or engineer was challenging for women who wanted to work in Antarctica. The first British woman to conduct fieldwork in the Antarctic was geologist Janet Thompson who joined the US Antarctic Program in 1976.

Twenty-five years ago, British Antarctic Survey changed its policies to enable women to work on ships and at research stations in Antarctica.

In 1983, Janet Thomson was the first female BAS scientist to work inside the Antarctic Circle.  By 1986 a team of female scientists worked during the summer field season at Signy, in the South Orkney Islands.  In 1993, BAS women overwintered at the station, and by 1997 the first females overwintered at Rothera Research Station.

Faces of women at BAS 2019

Today women make up approximately 31% of the BAS workforce.  Among this number is the Director, members of senior leadership teams, pilots, station leaders, marine officers and engineers. All have worked in Antarctica, and some have worked in the Arctic as well.

Women are represented across four main areas: Science, Operations, Innovation and Corporate services.  BAS is proud to have higher than UK average female representation in both science and operations at 40% and 11% respectively (2018). Find out more in our latest Athena SWAN Report here.

Inspiring women

Professor Melody Clark, molecular biologist, says:

“One of the highlights of my career so far was in 2011, when I was asked to share the stage for a Careers Day at a local school in a joint talk on “Women in Antarctica” with Professor Elizabeth Morris, OBE.  Liz is an amazing lady: the first British woman to undertake skidoo/tent-based field work in Antarctica (1987/88 season).  She is one of my heroines!  It is impossible to conceive the determination needed to overcome the prejudices of the time and still retain a sense of humour (she has some great stories).  We owe a huge debt to those ground-breaking women who paved the way for the organisation as it is today, with equal opportunities for all and I, personally have greatly benefitted from their efforts.”

Here is a snapshot of the females working at BAS in 2019: