Female paleontologist dons beard to get level playing field

Thomson Reuters Foundation . New York | Update:

Fed up with being overlooked as a female scientist despite wading through mud carting heavy equipment and working twice as hard as her male colleagues, Ellen Currano is on a drive for change - by donning a beard.

Currano, an associate professor of paleobotany at the University of Wyoming in the United States, said her patience at being sidelined in a male-dominated world ran out when a male colleague was praised for an idea she had voiced moments before.

She confided in her filmmaker friend Lexi Jamieson Marsh that she was tired of feeling invisible and seeing male scientists were always interviewed on television when an expert was needed.

"I said, 'If I just put a beard on, then maybe they would listen to what I have to say,'" she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Marsh said Currano's comment hit a nerve and inspired "The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science", a tongue-in-cheek way to celebrate women who dedicate their lives to the geosciences.

"With some well-placed facial hair, any female scientist can be perceived as equally rugged, tough and determined," the project states on its website.

Less than one in four members of professional societies for paleontologists are women, according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The project includes a website, two documentary films, and a travelling exhibit featuring portraits of about 100 female paleontologists with facial hair sharing stories about the fight for equal pay, field work opportunities and promotions.

In the series a bearded Currano stands on a mountain, a tool belt around her waist and pick-axe in hand as she excavates fossil leaves to examine them for bug bites to see how plant-insect interactions change as the earth cools and warms.

The first feature-length documentary will hold its premiere this week at the University of California at Berkeley where the photography exhibit will also be on display until September with all proceeds going to a fund for future female paleontologists.

"For women, it's an opportunity to share things that have happened to them or ways that they see their institution could do better," said Currano.

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