Really moving towards gender equality in research by creating true structural change: that is the goal of a group of projects funded by the European Union in the FP7 framework. One initiative aimed at doing just that was born last Friday in Paris. The first European Women Researcher’s Day featured practical workshops on career development, advice and debates around women’s paths in math and physics – all with the goal of involving and connecting many more institutions across the continent next year.
Last Friday marked the first of what aims to be an annual and growing event around Europe in support of women in science: European Women Researchers Day (EWRD). The initiative was launched at CNRS headquarters in Paris with exactly the kind of career development actions that the organizers hope to see multiply. Team member Andreea Dumitrascu explained that the afternoon’s events, including practical workshops on obtaining individual or group funding and on the recruitment and promotion process, were pilot actions offered in response to researcher requests for information. In line with EWRD’s goal of providing opportunities for exchange and networking, all sessions were available via video conferencing and can still be viewed online. Live tweets of the event can be found under the hashtag #EWRD.
This year, the organizers, including the Mission for the Place of Women at the CNRS, specifically aimed their actions promoting career advancement for women in research at two institutions: l’Institut national des sciences mathématiques et de leurs interactions (INSMI) and l’Institut de physique. Jean Mairesse of INSMI noted that the CNRS counts 400 mathematicians among its researchers and that only 16% of these are women. “The numbers are bad and they aren’t improving.” His institute attempts to raise awareness of the problem by publishing data on the proportion of women in its labs, for example, and supports an association of women in mathematics.
“When you’re younger, take the time to learn.”
Isabelle Gallagher, a mathematician at the University of Paris Diderot-Paris 7 presented her latest results to the audience of mainly young women researchers and PhD students. In the exchanges that followed, she spoke of her own path through her higher studies, first position and motherhood. The two years she spent in Russia for her research “was good, even – or especially – family-wise. It’s harder when you need to travel constantly.”
Her advice for early-career scientists included ensuring you have the time to devote to your research, for example, by not accepting every small duty that anyone offers or asks of you. “When you’re younger, take the time to learn.” Similarly, she doesn’t believe that the task of seeking funding should always fall to young researchers. Those more advanced in their career should bear some of that load and bring their younger colleagues with them. This sparked debate in the room, as some felt this scenario would keep young researchers under others’ supervision, lacking independence in their work. The conclusion was that each discipline has its specificities and this point may not apply as well in physics or other fields. For the mathematician, “It’s not about supervision and working under someone, but about money.”
One participant asked Dr. Gallagher for her advice, because “it’s hard for women to work in math or physics.” However, the mathematician sees it differently. “I don’t think it’s hard for women to work in math and physics. It might be hard to get there, but it’s great work. Just do the best you can do, make the most of what you can do. You’re here, right? You’ve already done the hard part.”
“Let us add more than a factor of two!”
Lucia Reining next took the floor to talk about her work in theoretical physics, as well as her experience in this male-dominated field. “The disadvantage for women in physics is that we’re sort of outsiders. The advantage is that we’re sort of outsiders,” she quipped. “People remember you.” She says this feeling of being a little apart from the mainstream in their field also means they dare to bring something new. In addition to the argument that increasing gender parity would, in some disciplines, nearly double the workforce, Dr. Reining emphasizes the idea that women can have a different culture and experience, and can really add something different to the field. “Let us add more than a factor of two!”
Following this first edition of European Women Researchers Day, a committee will be formed with the goal of getting more institutions involved next year. This initiative is part of the European project INTEGER (Institutional Transformation for Effecting Gender Equality in Research), which the Mission for the Place of Women at the CNRS is coordinating. Its director, Anne Pépin, spoke of the mission’s other activities, including a series of actions devoted to making work-life balance easier—for both women and men. Integrating a gender dimension into research itself, in the spirit of the Gendered Innovations project, is also on the agenda. Ultimately, the Mission aims to be present at universities themselves, with someone on site dedicated to the job.
For the moment, the team will focus its efforts on professional development, sometimes in the form of women-only workshops. While it can be useful for young women to speak freely among themselves, it’s also important to involve men in the discussion, Dr. Pépin said. Several attendees agreed. “Luckily, I think most men agree [this gender imbalance] is not ok,” one felt. Another agreed: “Society does think it’s not fair for women to just handle the kids.