French research labs are becoming populated with more and more women. From 2008 to 2012, the proportion of female graduates active in the sciences rose by 13% in France. This increase is encouraging, but pales in comparison to certain of our European neighbors.
Cet article est une traduction de La France : mauvais élève européen des vocations féminines en sciences.
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After decades of decline, the number of women choosing scientific studies is starting to turn around. Let’s not dwell on the negative: that’s good news. “We’re starting to reap the benefits of 15 years of action by associations and institutions. The context is positive, of course, but less so compared to what we see in the rest of Europe,” explains Claudine Schmuck, founder of the consulting firm Global Contact and author of a study on the subject.
France progressing less quickly
And for good reason: Global Contact’s analysis of Eurostat data updated in August 2013 depicts a France lagging slightly behind. The growth of the female workforce in the sciences is three points below the European average (+13% in France versus +16% for the European Union), but stands at half the rate observed in Germany or in Great Britain, at 24% and 22%, respectively. As for Luxembourg (which, it’s true, has many fewer residents), this growth has reached over 50%.
In Germany and, more recently, in the United Kingdom, initiatives on a national scale have been organized to promote scientific occupations among young people and, especially, girls. According to Claudine Schmuck, “what’s missing in France is a common, unifying message.” In 2009, England launched “The Big Bang”, a collaborative project to introduce the world of science jobs to young people. “It is, in part, thanks to this project, which has had a lot of success across the Channel, that the UK has made such good progress. There really is strength in unity,” concludes the founder of Global Contact. Three large associations work together in France: Femmes et Sciences (Women and Science), Femmes et Mathématiques (Women and Mathematics) and Femmes Ingénieurs (Women Engineers). Numerous local and regional groups also aim to spread the same message. “These associations all do very good work,” Claudine Schmuck insists, “but there is no significant French initiative comparable to those of our neighbors.”
A stereotypical video to fight stereotypes…
As for the European Commission, in 2012 it launched its own campaign. The result was a highly controversial video that tried, with the help of great amounts of pink and lipstick, to highlight the sciences for girls from 13 to 18 years old. That is, by using the stereotypes that are at the very heart of the lack of women in these occupations, according to the study carried out by Claudine Schmuck for Orange. Women “remain very much in the minority in fields like the digital technologies. The feminization of sectors in the so-called hard sciences remains very limited,” the study points out. Many more women are present in the health science fields and biology than in areas like the digital sector, technology or physics.
What makes these associations’ initiatives, large and small, more effective is that they tend to offset the stereotypes present in French society. These represent a cultural and historical factor firmly rooted in our society and which is difficult to change. A video like the one produced by the European Commission, therefore, cannot work, since it relies on these stereotypes itself. On the other hand, the recent report from the Commission stating that if more women worked in the digital sector, European Union revenues would see a very significant boost, is more likely to do the job.