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L'oréal and UNESCO: Ten Years of Commitment to Women in Science

Launched in 1998 by L'Oréal and UNESCO, the "For Women in Science" Award was the first international award devoted to women in science. Today it is one element of a broad program with an international focus on scientific vocations and dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of female researchers from every continent.

Whether they are gifted Ph.D. students at universities in Africa, promising postdocs in Asia, or eminent researchers in the most prestigious laboratories in Europe, women all over the world are revolutionizing science. Sometimes ignored and even discriminated against, women who may have only the image of Marie Curie as a role model are today participating at the forefront of advances in genetics, physics, biology, and new technologies. Now in its 10th year, the "L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science" program awards and supports these women who are contributing more and more to the scientific advancements that are transforming our world. In 1998, L'Oréal and UNESCO presented the first international awards. Ten years and 52 laureates later, the award offers unprecedented recognition for these exceptional researchers from the five continents.

It has above all become a significant program of action that encourages and supports women in the pursuit of their careers, and which makes L'Oréal and UNESCO indisputable partners of today's generation of scientists, determined to change the face of science.

This willingness to support future talents has always been the passion and the aim of the program. From the beginning, L'Oréal and UNESCO were determined to go beyond the creation of a prize and ensure that women scientists get the recognition they deserve. For example, less than 2.5 percent of Nobel Prizes in science have gone to women. "Despite great careers and wonderful discoveries, there is a feeling of solitude and immense modesty among these women researchers in our midst," says Béatrice Dautresme, managing director of the L'Oréal Corporate Foundation and one of the founders of the program. "The award aims to stop this feeling of isolation and also create real role models for future generations." The laureates identified by the distinguished scientists who make up the international juries have made this award one of the most prestigious in science.

More than 2,000 scientists from all over the world are invited to nominate award candidates, whose files are submitted to two juries—one for life sciences and the other for physical sciences—in alternating years. The juries have been presided over by Nobel Prize laureates, biologist Gunter Blobel and physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, who was passionately involved in the program until his death in May 2007. "The program was not easy to set up at the beginning, as there had been nothing like it before," confirms Renée Clair, responsible for the program "Women, Science and Technology" at UNESCO. "We were lucky to be surrounded by people with strong opinions, such as Nobel Prize laureate Christian de Duve, who served as the first president of the jury and is still our Founding President today."

From its very first year, the "For Women in Science" program chose to reward not one laureate, but five, one from each continent. "By honoring five laureates from five continents, we are reflecting the diversity of the researchers and focusing on the dynamic nature of the internationalization of knowledge," Dautresme explains. "It is essential, because we want to support the idea that the vocations of tomorrow may just as likely be found in Africa as on the campuses of American universities or in Asia.

These remarkable laureates have had an extraordinary impact because their success has been achieved at universities and in laboratories in 26 countries, including many where research conditions are often difficult, and where the value of highlighting these outstanding researchers is therefore greater. Each laureate receives $100,000.

This commitment on a global scale has been reinforced by the creation in 2000 of fellowship programs that make the "For Women in Science" initiative an important source of support for younger researchers. The stakes are high, because behind the successful laureates is an increasingly large generation of young women pursuing research. Their problem is not so much lack of recognition, but rather a lack of necessary means to complete their studies and training.

The "For Women in Science" program has taken steps to meet this challenge. Since 2000, 120 UNESCO-L'Oréal International Fellowships, worth up to $40,000 over two years, have been awarded to doctorate or postdoctorate women from all over the world to support them in their research abroad in some of the most prestigious laboratories in the world.

In addition, National Fellowships programs have been introduced to help students pursue their scientific careers. By the end of 2008, these local fellowship programs for women doing research in their home countries will exist in over 50 countries. "Each year, I receive more and more candidatures, and the quality is increasingly higher," confirms biologist Mayana Zatz, a 2001 laureate of the award and currently the president of the L'Oréal National Fellowships jury for Brazil. "The success of this program has been huge in Brazil."

It is also proof that the L'Oréal-UNESCO "For Women in Science" program is not only a benchmark, but has become a catalyst for the promotion of women and science around the world.

The L'Oréal Corporate Foundation: committed to education, science, solidarity

With the creation of its Corporate Foundation in 2007, L'Oréal is ensuring the long-term durability and success of its programs, including "For Women in Science."

Through education, science, and social solidarity, L'Oréal is emphasizing its commitment to women and to future generations. Beyond the "For Women in Science" program, the Foundation encompasses a broad range of actions, such as participation in "Look Good, Feel Better," which helps women with cancer cope with the effects of their illness, and "Hairdressers of the World against AIDS," a worldwide project supported by L'Oréal's network of 2.5 million partner hairdressers engaged in a program of education and prevention.

"This new Foundation allows us to contribute to the community in the broadest sense of the term by sharing our experience, our professions, and our expertise," Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, president of L'Oréal and president of the Foundation, emphasizes.

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