“Pea-corn. Pop-nuts. Chewing gars. Ci-gum. Magazettes!” While my Dad (and my Grandfather before him) often belted out this line as if a food vendor at a ballpark, this column is not about old family stories, or at least not entirely. Instead, I’m reminded of a different baseball story right now – A League of Their Own. The 1992 movie retells the story of the first female professional baseball league, which began during World War II. Major league executives started this women’s league to keep baseball in the public eye while many of the male players were away. While it is a heartening story of female perseverance and grit, it does highlight the difference in playing field (both literally and figuratively) for females. We don’t have to look far to find modern day examples of continued disparities in sport — from weight rooms at NCAA basketball tournaments to pay gaps for professional players.
And what we see in sport also exists off the field. In biomechanics specifically, the 2023 article led by the International Women in Biomechanics leadership team details some of the professional challenges reported by women in our scientific field. One of the primary concerns was experiencing a lack of professional respect, which could negatively affect career advancement and retention.
While WWII created space for female baseball players (including my distant cousin, Shirley Burkovich, I told you it was a little bit of a family story), the COVID-19 pandemic has had the opposite effect. Instead of joining the work force, women have been leaving it. Many women have found it challenging to maintain intense work schedules, meet overzealous productivity standards, and perform additional service activities, especially in addition to the increased caregiver and household responsibilities often shouldered by women. All of these challenges are further complicated by their own insecurities and the doubts projected onto women by others. Women often need to work harder, and produce more to achieve equal respect, recognition, and citations as male colleagues. The need to outperform simply to keep up is not unique to women. Many other minoritized groups and individuals experience similar challenges – challenges that contribute to fewer opportunities and limited professional advancement. The result is a less diverse workforce – a result that affects us all. We need teams comprised of members with diverse thoughts and experiences which lead to more impactful and higher quality work.
So as we reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on our biomechanics community, our current membership numbers, the excellent work of our Diversity Committee, and the emergence of our affinity groups, I hope that our Society continues to strive to be supportive, inclusive, and strong advocates for diversity so that everyone is part of the team when they say, “Let’s play ball.”