More focus needed on women and gender in research
A greater role for women, as researchers and as a factor in scientific research. This was the plea of academics and governors from Leiden, Delft, Norway, Sweden and the United States at the Gendered Innovations symposium held at Leiden University on 28 March.
- Grants exclusively for women
- Too late diagnosis for women
- Gender and physics
Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Rector of Leiden University and the initiator of the symposium, opened with a fiery message: 'I hope you will all leave here with the sense of urgency that the other speakers and I have been feeling for a while. It's not yet too late for innovation.'
Dutch universities have an excellent reputation for their pioneering research, but at the same time they have a poor record for participation by women in that research, according to Buitendijk. She expressed the hope that universities, in their wish to excel in research, will make greater use of female talent and at the same time will pay greater attention to gender in the content of their research.
Opening speech by Simone Buitendijk
View the film impression of the symposium, and the speakers speech by speech:
Buitendijk has an urgent incentive for those who think that gender issues are luxury problems, or simply too complex to resolve. In its Horizon 2020 programme, the European Commission has made a budget of 80 billion euros available for research and innovation. And there are two conditions that research proposals have to meet:
Gender balance in research teams and decision-making fora
Integration of gender and sex in research
This last point will raise the scientific quality and social relevance of the knowledge, technology and/or innovations generated, to quote from the Horizon 2020 programme.
Stem cell research, drug research, designing models for crash tests: if women are not taken into account, blunders will be made and lives wasted, argued Londa Schiebinger, professor at Stanford University and an expert in the field of gender and science. 'We simply cannot allow ourselves to make mistakes in the results of our research.' And she has hard evidence that such mistakes are being made when researchers fail to take into account the impact of sex. Schiebinger has brought technical and gender experts together in the Gendered Innovations project that aims to develop methods for generating attention for the role of gender.
Personal involvement from the top. According to Professor Karel Luyben, Rector Magnificus of the TU Delft, this is what is needed to get more women in science. He outlined the Delft Technology Fellowships project, where only women were allowed to apply for start-up grants. A man lodged a complaint against this project with the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, but the TU Delft won the case.
Heart diseases are a major cause of death among women, but they are still too often regarded as a male disease. As a result, women are diagnosed with heart disease too late and are often given the wrong medication. Marie-José Goumans, cardiologist at the LUMC, therefore called for more attention to be paid to gender in research on cardiovascular diseases. For example, in medical training, by paying more attention to the differences between males and females, and by using more female test subjects. Goumans endorses the initiative of the Heart Foundation to invest more money in researching cardiovascular diseases in women.
‘More equality means more quality: equality = quality.’ These were the words of Curt Rice, professor at the University of Tromsø in Norway and chairman of the Norwegian Commission for Gender Balance in Research. His university won the Norway Gender Equality Prize in 2012 and used the prize money to start a project to recruit women. Rice's blog on gender equality attracts a large number of readers.
How can you put the subject of gender on the map for physicists? According to Tomas Brage, professor at Lund University in Sweden, they have little inclination to pay attention to gender. Initiate the discussion and involve everyone - researchers, staff, students - in the process, is his advice. 'You will be rewarded with curiosity and willpower. Thanks to workshops, a gender coach and an information card for all students, physicists at his university do pay attention to gender.'
(31 March 2014)