Labtimes 2017-06

page 12 Lab Times 6-2017 Analysis The higher up the career ladder one goes, the less female scientists one encounters. We talked to three female pro- fessors about their personal experiences throughout their careers. Do Not Give Up! Sexual equality in the life sciences Fotolia/jozefmicic A s a young girl growing up in a Car- ibbean country – where men were still men, and little girls were seen and not heard – I never once felt that my gender benchmarked my intelligence. In fact, as young girls in the 1980s, we were in some ways encouraged to believe that we could academically achieve the same, if not more, than our male schoolmates. I was just as smart, if not smarter than the boy, who sat next to me in our small rural primary school. All-girl high schools dotted across the island perpetuated our right to an edu- cation and ensured that we owned our in- telligence. Finances allowing, many females went on to study the hard sciences, account- ing, law, journalism, or medicine. Even dur- ing my undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States, I maintained my gen- der-neutral hued bubble. Gender had played no role in my edu- cational journey thus far, and we were of equal numbers in classes and laboratories. This was also the case during my postdoc in Germany, where the male-female ratio in the lab was also fairly equal. But beyond this level, there were noticeable discrepan- cies in the number of females as group lead- ers, professors, and department and univer- sity heads. We began to disappear. This ob- servation is not German-specific, although Germany has one of the worst discrepancies in gender bias among European countries, and not only in science. There are fewer women in leadership positions and the sal- ary gap remains about 22% lower for wom- en performing similar jobs to men (Eurostat – Gender statistics). The European Commission, in their 80 billion Euro Horizon 2020 research pro- gramme, has put in place committees and meetings, directives and incentives to ad- dress gender equality to ensure that wom- en are equally considered for funding, po- sitions of leadership and have a seat on re- view committees. The European Molecu- lar Biology Organization (EMBO) offers workshops to groom future women lead- ers and discussions on the implementation of quotas, so women have a say at the table – a concept that has been met with mixed reviews by both men and women. Today, most organisations and universities publi- cise equal opportunity during recruitment, and sponsor mentorship programmes to make women better leaders. But our num- bers still dwindle, the higher one looks up the academic ladder. The theories and discussions on how to keep women in science, to ensure that there is a pool available from which to select the next leaders of companies and universities, are many but change is slow. We can point fingers at the old boys’ clubs, societal ex- pectations that women remain the prima- ry care giver of their children and plain old prejudice that women are not as capable, too bossy or emotional. Perhaps as women, we need to learn to ignore the negative by focussing on our personal and profession- al goals. Perhaps we should create our own “empowered women” club. Solutions will not come in our gener- ation but there are many women defying odds, breaking glass ceilings and forging ahead. Here, we present the experiences of three, who have in their own unique ways journeyed to the tops of their fields. Spe- cial thanks to them all for sharing their thoughts and advice. On a personal note, Marja Jäättelä was one of the first scien- tists I interviewed for Lab Times many years ago and even though she was pressed for time, I am truly appreciative she was able to share some of her experiences as well, bringing my journey with LT full circle. Let their words inspire and motivate! Monika Raulf, Bochum What is your current position and area of research? I am the head of the competence cen- tre allergology/immunology of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute of the Ruhr-University Bochum. Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? I grew up in the countryside and when I was a small child, I was in contact with nature all day; I was curious about my en- vironment and how things function. When I was 12 or 13 years old, a teacher gave me the biography of Marie Curie and I was fas- cinated by her life, personal strengths and her research. At that time, history was my favourite subject at school but after reading her biography my interest grew for life sci- ences, especially for chemistry. During my last two years at school, chemistry was my favourite subject and, therefore, I decided to study chemistry and biology with the pri- mary aim to become a teacher. What are some of the most important les- sons you have learned on your journey that were necessary for your success? If you have your goal in mind, detours do not pose particular problems and there- fore, you can overcome any obstacle if you do not give up. Be open-minded, work with passion and be interested in your fellow hu- man beings and your environment. You are not alone, networking is important.

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