What are the current solutions? Are they working?

Gender equality in science, we are not there yet

Mónica Vara Pérez · 01-09-2020 10:00 · Gender equality in science Science Chronicles

Several measures were mentioned throughout the talks and could be grouped in three categories, depending at which level should be implemented: governmental, internal or individual.

  • Governmental would cover those measures that are legislated. For example, quotas (or a minimum gender percentage that should be present in councils, boards…) or periods of paternal/maternal leave.
  • Internal would refer to how each institution or company handles gender inequality within their work environment. It generally implies the creation of a workgroup that internally audits their gender equality and based on these results, it comes up with a roadmap of short- and long-term goals (Gender Equality Plans, GEPs). Afterwards, this workgroup will follow up and evaluate its implementation. Examples of measures within GEPs are, besides internal quotas, the incorporation of gender-bias supervisors to hiring committees, flexible schedules to promote work-life balance, the use of gender-neutral-phrased job openings, transparency in wage distributions or trainings in gender bias for employees.
  • Individual refers to the impact that each person (both men and women) can make towards gender equality: stand up when an inappropriate comment is made, keep in mind gender-bias when designing an experiment, put children in your area in contact with a scientific role-model, promote STEM studies… The options are endless.

Regarding the effectiveness of these measures, it was surprising to see the consensus among our speakers: quotas are the most effective measure. Although very controversial due to their imposing nature and the apparent not consideration of job-related merits (which may even become stigmatizing, see below), it is a fact that quotas have been the only successful approach to increase the percentage of women in high-level positions.

Using Spain as an example, Flora remarked that the improvement in gender equality in the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) was achieved by the acknowledgement of the problem by both the Spanish Government and CSIC, which led to the creation of laws and internal regulatory bodies (respectively) that promoted women visibility and their incorporation to high-level positions. This example suggests that encouraging the implementation of GEPs in companies and institutions by Governments will improve gender balance in the future. However, GEPs are a relatively newer approach that is still being explored and implemented so it is early to comment on their impact.

Another aspect that is handled by GEPs and governmental measures is “work-life” balance, to limit the pressure associated to gender-based roles and to favor shared responsibility. These measures are especially necessary in scientific fields, since science moves at a fast pace and small gaps (such as maternity leave) in your CV can cause a big impact in your career. Examples of measures are shared parental-maternal permit, not counting the maternity leave time within the total career time in grant and project applications, the offer of childcare service, tele-working or flexible working hours by companies and institutions… However, these solutions still bear a gender-associated stereotype of motherhood: if you, as a woman, decide not to be a mother and pursue a career, will you be penalized by some of these measures? Or you are a woman in your 30s and you are applying for a job, will a company or an institution would rather hire a man because you might get pregnant within two years and they will need to pay you while still hiring a replacement? Unfortunately, these two examples (out of many others) are more common than we would like to admit and will require new creative measures to be implemented.

 

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