The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the 11th February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Although the proportion of women with higher education is increasing, there are still very few who devote their professional lives to research. Moreover, it is not because of a lack of talent or will but because of the difficulties that society puts in their way. For instance, at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) 57% of researchers in training are women; however, only 24% of women get to be head researchers.
A colleague told me once: “Science is a long- distance race and we cannot tell girls they can be whatever they want and then let this happen”.
“This”, I think, is because of several reasons:
- In the research world, motherhood is met with disapproval. The degree of dedication and competitiveness that it requires ends up penalising women who want to be mothers against men. This happens in most of careers, but especially in this area. As a consequence, chances and professional progression are fewer.
- Tradition of associating it to men and stereotypes. A beautiful woman was associated with being silly. Nowadays we have improved somehow, but still a beautiful woman is associated with not being especially clever.
- Discrimination because of prejudices according to which women have less talent and less inclination to science and technology than men.
- Lack of recognition
- Lack of information and education
Talking from my own experience and with total humility, thanks to the constant work, I am currently considered by the platform ResearchGate amongst the 10% of the most relevant researchers of the world, (based on own scientific publications and works from others who cite yours).
I am constantly facing all these problems and situations. When I ask for an appointment to talk to experts about a particular subject and request their opinion about the work I have in hand, they too often ask me who the head investigator is. I promise that these are situations where the doubt offends. When I get a call and they ask to talk with Dr Teijón (as you are aware of, Doctor is used for both genders in English) they ask me to put them through to him, since they assume I am his secretary because they expect to hear a male voice. Recently, at the Karolinska Institute, when I went out to give a lecture they took me for a hostess of the auditorium.
At a party I hosted in Amsterdam, organised by my Centre, since I was wearing a typical Spanish flamenco dress and I was at the entrance, people thought I was part of the entertainment team and they started taking pictures with me.
The consequences are:
- Loss of talents. The world loses 50% of their innovative contributions. It seems men are inclined to invent things and women tend to improve those things that already exist, which does not mean that one gender is superior to another, but that they possess different skills, which should be exploited in combination.
The participants in an experiment, men and women, were asked to describe “the perfect future machine”. Results showed that those machines proposed by men were designed so that their owners could gain control and become more powerful, whereas those designed by women had the intention to help making life easier.
- Frustration of those young girls who wish to devote their life to science and they are not allowed to.
What I tell those girls is:
- That the main quality to be a researcher is creativity. Creativity is not a subject taught at school nor an occupation for a few hours a day. It is a way of being and thinking. All the same, it requires a lot of discipline.
- To be a woman researcher you have to learn how to communicate so that people understand what you do.
- It is essential to be a team worker. Today, nobody does anything important on their own.
- They need to have determination. Nobody should deflect them from their dreams. Moreover, it is quite possible that those diversion attempts start at home. I strongly believe your loved ones are only worthy if they support your happiness and learning.
- They should keep their child curiosity, asking themselves all the time why do things happen, not taking anything for granted, hating the “it has always been like this” and the “it is impossible”, as well as all established norms.
- They should spend time every day to think by themselves and they should feel good about themselves, even though they might be regarded as the rare duckling in their environment.