5 ways how to raise awareness on gender equality in science

What is raising awareness and why to do it?

Today only 30% of the researchers in the world are women. There are various reasons why women scientists are underrepresented and struggle with horizontal and vertical segregation, gender stereotypes, gender bias, invisible socio-cultural barriers known as glass ceiling, etc. Women are still relatively rare in academic leadership positions such as department chairs, deans or rectors; as keynote speakers at scientific meetings and conference programmes, experts interviewed by the media, members of boards, or in other prominent positions. The lack of knowledge about the history of women in science also has an impact especially on young women who want to “do science”. They need role models, but women scientists are either totally absent from school textbooks or only mentioned in passing. Women scientists are definitely still less visible than men. They are less visible because they get less publicity and attention than men even if they are just as accomplished and qualified as men. Fortunately, we know the way how to change this situation: it is awareness-raising!


According to the Council of Europe, awareness-raising aims at showing how existing values and norms influence our picture of reality, perpetuate stereotypes and support mechanisms (re)producing inequality. It challenges values and gender norms by explaining how they influence and limit the opinions taken into consideration and decision-making. Besides that, awareness-raising aims at stimulating a general sensitivity to gender issues. Focusing on science, research and academia, gender awareness is realized in various ways. In this blog post, we are introducing five of them on the political, socio-cultural or personal level with the aim to inspire and motivate.


1. European Commission

Equality between women and men is one of the European Union's founding values. The European Commission is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation (R&I). It is part of the Commission's Strategic engagement for gender equality in all EU policies for the period 2016 - 2019. Because of this, all its activities contribute to promoting gender equality and at the same time to raising awareness on gender in science. Gender equality is addressed in European Research and Innovation policy in two different ways: through its main funding instrument the Horizon 2020, and within the European Research Area in collaboration with Member States and research organisations. It pursues three objectives, namely: 1) gender equality in scientific careers, 2) gender balance in decision making, and 3) integration of the gender dimension into the content of research and innovation. The European Research area (ERA) was launched by the European Commission in 2000, with the idea of developing attractive opportunities for researchers within Europe. Gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research with the aim to end waste of talent, to diversify views and approaches in research and to foster excellence remains one of its main priorities.


The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) was established as an autonomous body in order to contribute to and strengthen the promotion of gender equality, including gender mainstreaming in all EU policies and the resulting national policies, and the fight against discrimination based on sex, as well as to raise EU citizens’ awareness of gender equality. It deals specifically with research as the special policy area of gender mainstreaming strategy. The EIGE offers (in addition to other things) the interactive GEAR tool which can be very useful for academic institutions that want to establish and implement gender equality plans. Among other tools dealing with applying gender mainstreaming and achieving equality between women and men, the EIGE ranks highly specifically gender awareness-raising!


Last but not least, the regular EC report She Figures is the main source of pan-European, comparable statistics on the state of gender equality in research and innovation. It covers a wide range of themes, including the proportions of women and men among top level graduates, academic staff and research boards, working conditions for women and men researchers, the integration of the gender dimension in the content of peer reviewed scientific articles, and various indicators measuring gender gaps in scientific and innovation outputs. Released every three years since 2003, the report constitutes a key evidence base for policies in this area. The recent She Figures 2015 findings indicate that the European countries have taken some good steps towards gender equality in research and innovation areas, but there is still much room for improvement!


2. Campaigns

The European Commission has also launched the campaign Science: it's a girl thing! to encourage girls to study science-related subjects and to engage young women in research careers. Women remain largely under-represented in the science, technology and research fields in Europe, which constitutes a huge waste of talent. The campaign challenges stereotypes on science and show young people, especially girls and young women, that science can be a great opportunity for their future.


EDF Energy, the UK's largest producer of low-carbon electricity, realised that the UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering in Europe (less than 10%) and they decided to change it. With their campaign Pretty Curious they want to address the lack of women taking up careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). They designed the campaign to get teenagers and their families to connect with an issue they might not be thinking about otherwise. Watch the campaign video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBNVcRx5rR8).


As an artist Megan Lee shows, you don´t need to be the policy body or big business company to raise awareness and launch your own campaign. Although she has no science background, she decided to create “the science art“, and one of her collections pays tribute to Women in Science. She honours the women scientists who have made incredible discoveries and contributions over the years. From Ada Lovelace, to Marie Curie, to Rosalind Franklin, Megan has created unique and minimalist designs to represent each of these scientists. She shows how to use art in order to inspire science awareness and on the other hand how to promote women scientists in an unusual, creative, and effective way.


3. Awards

The L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science aims to improve the position of women in science by recognizing outstanding women researchers who have contributed to scientific progress. The awards are a result of a partnership between the French cosmetics company L’Oréal and UNESCO and carry a grant for each laureate. The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science partnership was created to recognize and promote women in science. Its programmes reward established women scientists whose outstanding achievements have contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge and of its benefits to society and provide support to promising young women who are already making significant contributions in their scientific disciplines. The award for 2017 is now open for application!


The FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award highlights major contributions by female scientists to life sciences research. Winners of the award are inspiring role models for future generations of women in science. The award is a joint initiative of EMBO (an organization that promotes excellence in the life sciences) and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS). Each year the exceptional achievements of one woman working in the life sciences in Europe is rewarded.


The Czech National Contact Centre for Gender & Science introduced Milada Paulova Award in 2009. The Milada Paulova Award aims to publicly and financially appreciate research achievements of prominent Czech women researchers, provides role models and inspires women researchers and students at the beginning of their research careers. The Milada Paulova Award is conferred for making a major contribution in a particular discipline, including pedagogical work, supervision, cooperation with civil society or the industrial sector. Women researchers who can be nominated are active in the academic, civil society or private research sectors. The Award is conferred in a specific discipline each year. The Award is named after the first Czech woman to lecture at a university (1925) and to receive a professorship (1939), a historian Milada Paulova. You can watch more about her here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykcbzDv4emM).


4. Networking

Women scientists can contribute to change practices themselves. Networking among practitioners and professional associations, platforms of women scientists and other networks play a key role in this context. Women@TUoS has written a guide that provides practical tips and recommendations on how to set up and maintain a vibrant, strategically relevant women’s network in academia.


The European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS) is an international non-profit organisation that represents the needs, concerns, interests, and aspirations of more than 12.000 women scientists in Europe and beyond. Since its inception in 2005, more than 100 networks of women scientists and organisations promoting women in science from 40 countries have joined the Platform, working for the promotion of equal opportunities in the research fields of all scientific disciplines and aiming to give women scientists a voice in European research policy.


Disciplinary oriented networks also play the important role. The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is the largest multi-disciplinary organization for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) dedicated to achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. Their vision for all women in STEM is to be compensated fairly and without discrimination, advanced equitably and without bias, exposed to successful role models in leadership positions, and recognized and respected for their scientific and leadership achievements.


Some of women scientists’ network can be nationally or locally oriented. For example the Association of Hungarian Women in Science (NaTE) supports efforts and initiatives that help to achieve equal treatment of men and women in the field of science and education in Hungary. The Cardiff Women in Science (CWIS) network aims to support female scientists across the Cardiff University in the UK. The network was established as part of the Athena Swan Initiative, which aims to provide a network for supporting female scientists and promoting gender equality across all STEM disciplines and in academia generally. Networks of women scientists can be organised in various ways. For instance, LinuxChix is a community for women who like Linux and for anyone who wants to support women in computing. It is an international group of Free Software users and developers, founded in 1999 with the aim of supporting women in Linux.


5. Take (your) own action!

One of the main reasons why girls tend not to be drawn to science is the lack of female role models, and the perception that scientific careers are for boys only. How to break down these stereotypes? Women themselves should do something about their experience as being scientists! TEDWomen brings together a global community of women and men interested in exploring how the change begins: with innovative thinkers who catalyze ideas toward action. Over the past few years, TEDWomen and TEDxWomen have launched some powerful ideas into the world and many women scientists were among them, too. The TED Talks are giving much visibility to women in science and are very inspiring. For example, Debbie Sterling, in her TED talk Inspiring the next generation of female engineers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEeTLopLkEo), talks about her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in STEM. She also presents her toy company called GoldieBlox which she has established to inspire the next generation of female engineers.


Every woman scientist can be a role model, can support girls and women in her surroundings, become a mentor, establish a blog, videoblog, webpage or facebook page! Women in Research Blog is a blog for and about women in science to increase their visibility. It is a project of the Facebook platform Women in Research (https://www.facebook.com/WomenInResearch/) initiated by Ulrike Boehm, a passionate physicist, entrepreneur and science communicator. Hadiza Mohammed is a working engineer currently undertaking her MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies. She runs the Women Rock Science page which is about telling the stories of women and girls in science.


Awareness-raising can be done in various ways and places, on the community level or in the virtual space, and can be also politically engaged. The 500 Women Scientists is a community initiative launched as an open letter from women scientists who want to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise. You can join their call here (https://500womenscientists.org/joinus/) as more than 11,000 scientists already did. The Soapbox Science is a novel public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science that wants to bring science to the people. The platform was established by Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli, two biologists, based in the United Kingdom. The platform transforms public areas into an arena for public learning and scientific debate. The founders follow the format of the London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, which is historically an arena for public debate. Everyone should become a local organiser (http://soapboxscience.org/?page_id=135) of the event!


Are you interested in this topic? Check the contents of our last GenPORT e-Discussion on Recruitment and Promotion of Women Researchers

Is there any interesting campaign, award, network or action which you cannot find here? Register on the portal, add it on your own and become a part of gender awareness raising in science! 

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