7. Feb. 2024
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which has been celebrated at the instigation of the United Nations since 2015, should be a reminder that women scientists are an integral part of the scientific community and that there are still not enough of them. Their stories show us the need for diversity in scientific inquiry and demonstrate the courage, excellence and innovation that women bring to the world of science. However, women scientists are not always and everywhere in a comfortable environment. So, every year, February 11th highlights their important role in the scientific world, and this year we decided to celebrate this important day with a slightly unconventional look at the topic of women's safety in science.
There is absolutely no doubt that every woman scientist should feel safe and respected in her workplace. Should she find herself in a situation that requires intervention, CEITEC (not only through its parent universities) has procedures and points of contact where anyone can turn to for advocacy and support. A summary of these for CEITEC MUNI can be found in this article, while at CEITEC BUT scientists and scholars can now find advocacy with the Ombudsperson Katarina Rovenská.
This year we want to show that feeling safe in a scientific environment can be a very individual thing for women. Each may have a different threshold of resistance to stressors or different life experiences. As part of a social media campaign launched by the National Contact Centre – Gender and Science, four female scientists from CEITEC shared their personal perceptions of feeling safe in a scientific environment. You can read short statements by Klára Marečková, Lucie Nepovímová, Alžběta Ressnerová and Katarína Rovenská, who are CEITEC footprints in the campaign, on the NCC – Gender and Science social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn). Give them a "like", comment on each story with the hashtag #CEITECScience and show that we are all on the same page when it comes to equality in science. You can then find all the stories in one place on the NCC website – Gender and Science HERE.
So, what plays a role in enabling women scientists to pursue scientific research without stress and fear?
The friendly atmosphere in the research team is one factor mentioned by all the women scientists interviewed. It is related to the possibility to feel free and to have the courage to venture into uncharted waters. Being able to rely on colleagues who can set flexible conditions within the team and thus also help female colleagues (but also other colleagues) to combine scientific research with childcare is a guarantee for female scientists that they will not have to give up their scientific dream due to parental responsibilities. Some grants, such as the ERC Starting Grant or the GAČR Junior Star, even take into account the time spent on maternity leave, as you can read in Klára Marečková's article.
Women scientists can sometimes encounter the outdated pressure of hierarchy in science and sometimes even the archaic view of the role of women in the scientific environment. And it might seem that this attitude can be solved by set rules in the form of codes or statutes, but every scientist knows that pigeonholing and drawing boundaries in science can be counterproductive, as Lucie Nepovímová confirms with her experience in the British scientific environment. That is why it is important to apply fair and equal access in science, regardless of gender. Of course, this is also linked to the issue of fair financial remuneration, which gives women scientists a sense of security, frees their hands and opens their minds to discovery. They are therefore not exposed to concerns about securing an adequate standard of living, as Alžběta Ressnerová points out.
The various forms of covert or explicit sexual harassment remain a major issue, which must be dealt with in an uncompromising manner from the point of view of the institution or the management team because physical and psychological safety is another prerequisite for women scientists to be able to fully engage in and contribute to science.
Let us not think of women in science today as rebels, as they used to be, but simply see them in their perfect diversity that they bring to the scientific environment like any other human being. But we still wish them a happy holiday, because their inspiring journey through science over the centuries has not been an easy one.