Women, sciences and sexism

Following a sad observation, I decided to add feminism to the mission statement. In all the Universities I worked for, first as a PhD student, then as a Postdoctoral researcher, women were under-represented in the higher functions such as tenured professor. I have regularly attended meetings where, among 20 people, there were only 4 women, including the secretary in charge of drafting the report. Speaking about it, the secretary was always a woman … do men write so badly?

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Francis Crick and other scientists at a meeting of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) held at Konstanz, Germany

Obviously, this is not a surprise. In universities throughout Europe, the ratio of women as professors of science is low. Yet this lack of parity is not observed at lower levels (Kamerlin, 2016; Kuhlmann et al., 2017). Several studies have taken up the problem by showing that female researchers receive fewer promotions than male researchers (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012) and are simply less well paid then men. (DesRoches et al., 2010).

Linked to these observations, the sexism suffered by many women in science participates in their professional discredit. The impact of the “micro” sexist assaults suffered by many of them has important consequences for their careers and life choices (Serio, 2016). By their results these micro aggressions are micro only by name. Moreover some of these assaults go further, sometimes to sexual harassment by tenured professors on young researchers. Many taboos still surround these topics which makes complicated to take efficient measures to fight against these phenomena. If we consider all these points, we must face the obvious, the equality between men and women is still far away.

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Of course not everything is dark. Things are changing gradually. There is more awareness of the problem, research centers are trying to improve their system. But when one sees some returning with the erection (play on words) of the white man as figure of power by certain elites and the denial of centuries of fight for more equality, then, at my little level, I also have to fight for more equality. So that there would not be a return to the past, so that part of the population had as much right and possibilities as the other.

In my opinion, sentences like “a woman is in her place at home” or is “less capable of directing than a man “or is “less intelligent” or “it is normal to pay less a woman than a man” have no place in a society which abolished slavery, and combats hate speech.

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Mae Jemison in Star Treck: the next generation.

There are plenty of ideas to reduce inequalities. From financial support to psychological and cultural strategies. For example, by inviting equal number of men and women speakers to congresses (Smith et al., 2015). Through the project of “researchers in the world”, I choose education and communication as tool to contribute to parity. Because to my mind talking about the problem, showing the diversity of researchers, showing also that the quality and interest of the research is equivalent whether the employee is male or female can contribute to break gender stereotypes in sciences.

 

References:

DesRoches, C.M., Zinner, D.E., Rao, S.R., Iezzoni, L.I., and Campbell, E.G. (2010). Activities, productivity, and compensation of men and women in the life sciences. Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 85, 631-639.

Kamerlin, S.C. (2016). Where are the female science professors? A personal perspective. F1000Research 5, 1224.

Kuhlmann, E., Ovseiko, P.V., Kurmeyer, C., Gutierrez-Lobos, K., Steinbock, S., von Knorring, M., Buchan, A.M., and Brommels, M. (2017). Closing the gender leadership gap: a multi-centre cross-country comparison of women in management and leadership in academic health centres in the European Union. Human resources for health 15, 2.

Moss-Racusin, C.A., Dovidio, J.F., Brescoll, V.L., Graham, M.J., and Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 16474-16479.

Serio, T. (2016). Speak up about subtle sexism in science. Nature 532, 415.

Smith, K.A., Arlotta, P., Watt, F.M., Initiative on Women in, S., Engineering Working, G., and Solomon, S.L. (2015). Seven actionable strategies for advancing women in science, engineering, and medicine. Cell stem cell 16, 221-224.

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