BRUSSELS--Women will not increase their representation in science without assistance from men, concluded participants of the recent European Union (EU) conference, "Women and Science: Making Change Happen." The conference brought scientists from EU member states and applicant countries to Brussels on 3 and 4 April to debate the recommendations made in last year's commission report Promoting Excellence through Mainstreaming Gender Equality .
"While we continue to talk woman to woman, real change will not happen," considered Sonia Kelly, policy adviser at the Wellcome Trust, reflecting a view held by many other delegates and speakers at the Brussels conference. The conference itself illustrated the depth of the problem: Only 12% of the delegates were men.
"How can we involve men as well?" asked MEP Concepció Ferrer. It is a good question, and one for which the participants had no ready answer. One solution could be to appeal to masculine self-interest. As social scientist Londa Schiebinger pointed out, often "what benefits women also benefits men." For example, putting an end to the cultural emphasis on working long hours would help everyone, not just women with children.
Others advocate rephrasing the question. Instead of asking what helps women, ask what helps society. "The only way that progress will be made is if they are made to seem social issues, scientific issues, economic issues," suggested Kelly. Indeed, in opening the conference, one of the few men present, Achilleas Mitsos, director in the Research Directorate-General, made it clear that the issue of women in science was important to the EU in fulfilling its twin goals of social justice and economic competitiveness. The "leaky pipeline," which sees women disappearing from research with seniority, is wasteful of a considerable training investment.
The conference participants generally agreed that the long-term key to tackling the institutionalised sexism which operates in science is "gender mainstreaming"--"recognising the differences between men and women and devising systems and structures that respond to those differences," in the language of the report. Gender analysis should be added "to the other critical methods standard in science," according to Schiebinger, who recommends training students in gender relations. This may appear to be putting additional pressure on scientists, but the report suggests that the commission should hire "flying experts" to ensure that the gender issue is considered in the design and evaluation of research under the Framework Programme.
The conference called for action by the commission, EU member states, institutions that employ and fund scientists, and by scientists themselves. Indeed, in closing the meeting Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin made it clear that making change happen would be up to the delegates. "The commission is a catalyst," he said. "It catalyses your efforts. But it's up to you to do the work."
And there is some evidence that the programmes are starting to have an effect. In his opening remarks, Mitsos was pleased to report that the commission was making progress in boosting the number of women on its programme committees (now averaging 21%) and advisory groups (averaging 26%).