The NCCR retreat 2017 offered the opportunity to increase awareness of unconscious bias and use the brainpower of NCCR members to identify additional actions toward gender equality.
Academic research represents an important and long-term investment in human capital. From the bachelor rung to the top of the ladder, training qualified, productive and creative researchers in an intensively competitive environment is costly and time consuming. It requires retaining staff over time, giving them the flexibility, infrastructure and confidence to live their passion for science, develop their personal and professional objectives and potential. It implies that research institutions address to the full pool of talents including both men and women.
However, the systematic loss of women observed along the academic curriculum represents a structural weakness encountered in the great majority, if not all, of research institutions. Indeed, in the top hierarchical positions in science, the share of women above post-doctoral level dramatically drops to 20%. This fact, described as the “leaky pipeline of women in science”, has a considerable impact on our knowledge-based economy: a loss of brains and skills, a poor return on investment and a reduced and limited perspective in scientific research and teaching. It also represents a vicious circle as fewer women in research translates into research becoming less attractive to women.
Gender equality: Key NCCR numbers
Since its implementation in 2010, women are well represented in the NCCR Chemical Biology, both at the PhD (39%) and postdoctoral level (50%). 63% of our female PhD students remained in academia after obtaining their degree compared to 77% of their male counterparts. At the postdoctoral level, both genders (women (65%) and men (67%)) remained in academia after the end of their contract.
Gender equality: NCCR actions
As part of its mission, the NCCR has identified and implemented since 2010 key elements that appear to encourage and support gender equality in science:
- Gender equality policy in management
- Initiatives toward career development and better work-life balance
- Maternity/paternity and childcare supporting funds
- Mentoring and training toward self-confidence
Workshop for senior participants with Nicole Aballéa
During the 2017 NCCR retreat, a workshop was proposed to senior researchers involved in personnel management. The workshop was organised with the support of the UNIGE Equal Opportunity Office. Nicole Aballéa, Public Management Specialist, presented the work led in the CNRS on underlying causes and effects of the professional imbalance between women and men. The participants then brainstormed in groups to identify a few simple and concrete actions to be implemented toward gender equality.
The proposed actions covered the 4 possible key areas of action:
- Structural reorganization towards more work-time flexibility, a reduction of working hours through a concomitant reduction of expectations, and by planning meetings between 9 am to 4 pm
- Career progression, development and support included highlighting the importance of a possible career break, extending deadlines for tenure track positions and the need of direct encouragement by seniors of women researchers to submit candidacies for higher positions
- Enhancement of the work-life balance with the promotion of dual careers, measures to encourage parenthood
- Further engagement of decision-makers by educating on gender bias and promoting an institutional culture of gender equality
Workshop for junior participants with Klea Faniko
A second workshop was held by Dr. Klea Faniko, Senior Researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at UNIGE. Dr. Faniko asked junior NCCR staff to reflect on the career perspectives in academia and the possible existence of a glass ceiling for women. Participants worked in small groups and identified reasons for poor gender equality: unconscious bias along with cultural impact, poor family-career balance, poor networking, lack of support from senior staff, induced demotivation, overall negative attitude toward pregnancy by colleagues.
The facilitator further explained how social values are reproduced in research institutions leading to gender bias and discrimination against women. Unconscious bias or implicit bias is the social behaviour driven by learned stereotypes that operate automatically, and therefore unconsciously, when we interact with other people and to make judgments or take decisions based on our experience, our personal deeply-rooted thought patterns, assumptions and interpretations. These persisting stereotypes continue to exist and may affect the evaluation of job applicants, achievements and potential. The participants identified several possible measures to limit unconscious bias deleterious effects:
- awareness on unconscious bias and gender equality
- implementation of laws to prevent it (institutional measures)
- clear definition of selection criteria and blind application
- role models and mentoring throughout the career
- condemnation of inappropriate behaviours
- education to gender equality from childhood
Positive impact of gender equality
There is no doubt that acknowledging gender equality in research organisations can bring positive impact on multiple aspects: well-being at work, increased dialogue and collaboration between participants, internal decision-making, inclusiveness and sense of community, increased quality of research and overall positive institutional profile. The NCCR will continue its actions toward gender equality by exploring the needs and assessing the practical solutions proposed by its members. Small steps make big changes.