Stepping stones and stumbling blocks… My experiences of intersectionality in marine science

Blog post by Independent marine scientist and WICGE committee member Dr Siddhi Joshi @seabedhabitats

“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how we use them”- Unknown

– Coming across this quote was instrumental in finding a way to turn my academic fate around.

From being guided by a mysterious fortune cookie message to moving to Ireland to do my PhD in marine science as a British-Indian marine scientist- I was driven by a strong passion to understand natural phenomena and the global science of oceanography. Recently I was invited to share my experiences of intersectionality in marine science with the PhD student cohort at the Institute of Zoology (IOZ) in London, giving an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) seminar at the IOZ. I found this reflection such a personal and emotional experience, I have attempted to summaries it here.

So why marine science? Although I did not live by the sea when I was young, I have always had a fascination with nature and the sea. From a young age I knew I wanted to do a science of some sort. This varied a bit in my teens but overall, I knew I wanted a career where you can always be inspired by natural phenomenon. I really enjoyed doing a major project during my A level Biology field work with the Field Studies Council in freshwater ecology. But soon the Blue Planet effect came into play as well and I developed a keen interest in marine life. I had a distant dream of doing marine biology with oceanography and fortunately I was accepted at University of Southampton to do the degree. My family have a love for nature and animals and the outdoors, but however being medical doctors, they were initially uncertain to let me do marine science as a career. When I was eighteen, my dad accompanied me to one of the open days together at Southampton Oceanography Centre and soon he gave his blessings to do the degree and discover the unknown. He saw the increasing significance of the science of oceanography for studying climate change and global issues. Now my family love marine science and share my fascination with marine life. They share my own enthusiasm for marine science and fully support my career.

Institute of Zoology seminar

My experiences over the years has led me to explore intersectionality and human rights law further. I found I fell into the intersection between four axes: sexual orientation, race, sex and disability. When trying to deconstruct racism in marine science I think we’re luckier than in other disciplines. Our oceans are global and our natural world is interconnected across the artificial boundaries of race. One thing I knew when I finished from Southampton, I did not want to let anyone make me give up on oceanography. Be it biological, geological, physical or whichever discipline I picked I wanted to do masters in order to ultimately do a PhD in marine science. I had to find a way to transform my energy into new and constructive energy.

Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term “intersectionality” in her landmark 1989 paper “Demarginalyzing the intersection of race and sex.” The multidimensionality of a black woman’s experience contrasts with the single axis analysis that can distort these experiences. The experience of a black woman is not the same as that of a black man or a white woman meaning that her experience lies at an intersection of the axes of race and sex. White women suffer from gender bias and men of colour suffer from racial bias however both of their experiences differ from that of a woman of colour because women of colour experience both racial and gender bias. Intersectional feminism examines the overlapping systems of oppression. Intersectionality is an analytical framework which can be used to identify vulnerabilities at the convergence of multiple identities.

“There are many, many different kinds of intersectional exclusions ― not just black women, but other women of colour. Not just people of colour, but people with disabilities. Immigrants. LGBTQ people. Indigenous people. The way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion. The good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it.

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Learn more about my experience of intersectionality in marine science in the seminar, which can be found below:

My broad take home message from the talk was through an intersectional and intergenerational dialogue, discussion and action, organisations need to invest in good quality EDI initiatives and utilise tools such as mentoring, reverse mentoring, unconscious bias training. By participating in initiatives such as URGE project, which aim to develop an anti-racist policy in the (geoscience) STEM discipline, we can be part of the change and make sure intersectional identities are valued in marine science, not excluded as part of the leaky pipeline and receive the support they need to progress in their careers. I hope the seminar has been useful and constructive for EDI within the organisation, and I would like to thank the Institute of Zoology and British Ecological Society for the invitation and valuable discussions and WICGE and ICRAG for their support of this work.


Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8. Available at:

Posted on: 27/02/2021, by :

2 thoughts on “Stepping stones and stumbling blocks… My experiences of intersectionality in marine science

  1. Inspirational talk touching such a delicate subject involving wider community
    dealt without being harsh still conveying firm, powerful message
    sincerely wishing that gentle recommendations will be considered by decision makers

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