Speaking Out, Taking Action
Professor Mary Osborn’s efforts have led to real change in the number of women in scientific decision-making positions in the European Union, but as she cautioned in her presentation of Point 6 of the Charter, Advocate for Diversity and Gender Equality, there’s still much work to be done.
I would like to make three points as the advocate for diversity and gender equality.
First, it is important to speak out on gender issues in one’s own institution, on the national level and on the international level. For fifteen years I have done this.
Second, my main efforts for women in science have been at the European level. In 1998 I was asked by the EU to put together and chair the ETAN Group, which documented the low representation of female scientists at the EU and national levels, and made recommendations on how to improve the situation. As a consequence of the ETAN Report, official data disaggregated by gender and level on issues such as employment and funding are now collected each year on a Europe-wide basis by the Helsinki Group. The percentage of women in top-ranking EU committees that set policy and control funding has increased from less than 2% before the ETAN Report to just under 25% in 2008. And mainstreaming has been introduced into the EU framework programs. Yet in many EU countries women are still underrepresented at the top levels of science. Not only does this threaten the goals of science in achieving excellence, but it is also wasteful of talent and unjust.
Third, diversity, either of gender or geographic origin, is a key issue in academia. Excellent institutions and universities often are characterized by the presence of scientists and students from many parts of the world. Nevertheless, from my personal experience as president of IUBMB, a union that represents scientists from more than 70 countries, I know how hard it can be to persuade conference organizers to include a reasonable number of women as well as scientists from developing countries on the list of speakers. And in this regard, I would like to say how wonderful the L’OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science program is because it seeks out and gives recognition to female scientists and young fellows from all five continents.
In summary, both diversity and gender equity are issues that have to be solved if countries are to reach their full research potential and if science is to attract and retain sufficient numbers of talented individuals. I believe that continued action on these issues is essential and can indeed change the face of science.