As many know, in the 19th century, women were often excluded from scientific education. It would be another century before they began to enter the scientific community formally. Through the efforts of countless women scientists, paths have been paved for new generations of women.
At Farm Sanctuary, our women-led Sanctuary-Based Research team aims to carry this legacy forward. We are inspired by women who have brought a new depth to our understanding of other species.
While legends such as Jane Goodall are household names, many other women have also helped reshape cultural perceptions of other animal species. Lynne Sneddon and Victoria Braithwaite were the first to scientifically show fish feel pain and furthered comprehension of their sentience. Marian Dawkins understood animals are sentient beings with feelings and prompted the field of animal welfare to ask animals what they prefer when making welfare improvements, ultimately moving the field in a positive welfare direction.
Recently, more women scientists have viewed species in ways that challenge common human-centric biases. Becca Franks studies cognition in farmed animals, including fish, and critically analyzes the care species in captivity receive. Alexandra Horowitz is a cognitive scientist who works to understand dogs through their unique subjective worlds to understand their cognitive abilities in navigating environments.
Why is diversity in science important? While scientists work to remove biases that they may bring, if everyone in the room shares core identities (like gender or race), certain biases may go unnoticed.
Projections of human cultural beliefs onto species, consciously or unconsciously, have resulted in numerous scientists inaccurately interpreting animal behavior. Traditional gender norms in humans influenced assumptions scientists made about other species, for example, that paternal child-rearing behavior is abnormal.1–3 Additionally, scientists saw the world through a male-centric lens, resulting in, for example, a historical lack of studying female mate selection.1,2,4
Women who entered animal behavior sciences have shifted the field by offering perspectives that challenged and differed from the majority.
While women have become more prevalent in science, there needs to be more equal representation for other minoritized groups. We recognize the lack of diversity in those we draw inspiration from, which reflects the lack of diversity within the field. By increasing the range of perspectives, diversity can shine a light on otherwise hidden biases.
Regardless of the value underrepresented people in science bring, the contributions someone can make are not the reasons to welcome them into science. Everyone deserves an opportunity to become a scientist because science is for everyone.
So, as the 36th celebration of Women’s History Month is underway, we are proud of our women-led research team as they aim to contribute to the field of animal behavior and play a role in making science more accessible for others.
As Zulemya Tang-Martínez said: “the integration of women in animal behavior provides a blueprint for inclusion of other groups under-represented in the sciences.”1