A Blue Women’s History Month
By Jenny Krusoe, EVP and COO of AltaSea
What do 1) the first person to walk solo on the ocean floor, 2) the leading expert mapping the ocean floor, and 3) the person overseeing all aspects of America’s ocean agency have in common? The answer might surprise you. The answer is in this month’s celebration: they’re all women.
March is dedicated to women like Sylvia Earle, Dr. Dawn Wright, and Nicole LeBoeuf, who are making waves and paving new paths in ocean science. While they should be celebrated every day, Women’s History Month is a good time to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions that women have made to improve our planet through their research and work, creating new jobs, fighting climate change, and empowering the next generation of explorers.
No one knows the ocean better than Sylvia Earle. Often called “Her Deepness” for the record 7,000 + hours she has spent exploring underwater. She has dedicated her entire career to the ocean, pioneering research on marine ecosystems by exploring and developing technologies designed to access the deep sea. Earle’s resume includes tenures as the former chief scientist at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – the first female ever to hold that position. She is truly one of the most accomplished and successful ocean explorers of all-time.
Earle’s career has inspired others, including another ocean legend: Dr. Dawn Wright. To many, Wright is known as @DeepSeaDawn – a name she earned after completing numerous trips of her own to the bottom of the ocean. In 1991, she made history by becoming the first Black woman to dive to the ocean floor in a deep-sea submersible vehicle. Currently the chief scientist at Esri (a multinational geographic information system software company), just last year she traveled to the deepest part of the ocean in the Mariana Trench as part of Seabed 2030, an international effort that aims to map every inch of the ocean by the year 2030.
Like Sylvia Earle and Dawn Wright, Nicole LeBoeuf is another woman who has dedicated her life to learning about the ocean making sure this knowledge is widely accessible. As the Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS), LeBoeuf is one of the highest-ranking women in America’s premiere coastal and ocean agency, where she oversees all aspects of strategy and operations. Her strategic vision guides NOS’s actions on a variety of issues, including shipping, tourism, recreation, and ocean conservation. Nicole has over two decades of experience connecting science with policy, leading the United States – and the world – to protect and sustainably utilize our oceans.
It is critical that the accomplishments of these “Women in Blue” are not overlooked – something that, unfortunately, happens far too often. In fact, women scientists are so frequently denied recognition for their work that there’s even a name for the phenomenon: The Matilda Effect.
Of course, it’s not just women who are unrecognized. A 2011 poll of 1,000 registered voters found that 72 percent of Americans could not name a single living scientist. Those researchers who do gain recognition in our society tend to be the leaders of their laboratories, and for the most part are overwhelmingly male. Currently, women account for just 21 percent of full professors in the United States. Given this intrinsic bias, perhaps it isn’t surprising how many women are lost in the shuffle.
But these three incredible women demonstrate that ocean exploration isn’t just a man’s game. They are part of an amazing network of pioneers in ocean science through AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles – the nation’s largest blue economy incubator. At AltaSea, we celebrate these incredible women every day because Sylvia, Dawn, and Nicole, even while not present physically, are opening doors for a new generation of female scientists – students and professionals whose STEM innovations will lead us to new discoveries, new understanding, and new ways to use, protect, and respect the world’s oceans.
Together with hundreds of other visionaries, these “Women in Blue” and their innovations are spurring a Blue Economy that the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation predicts will double in value to over $3 trillion in the next decade.
The future of our oceans and our planet rests in the hands of these amazing women and the future scientists they inspire. I am proud to call them collaborators and friends, and I look forward to a future that they are creating every single day for all of us.
Jenny Krusoe is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest blue economy tech hub.