Harvard College Observatory in the 1890’s. Half a million celestial photographic plates and a team of women recruited to analyze them. These women were restricted to this boring and repetitive work and were denied the opportunity to make observations themselves using the telescope.
From then on things have surely changed, but progress now seems to have stalled. Women are under-represented in science whether in basic scientific research or at higher decision-making levels.
Indeed, according to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, less than one in three researchers in the world is a woman — here an interactive data tool about women in science divided for countries. This low representation can be observed from the start of higher education: things are balanced until the end of high school, but after that, only 32% of undergraduates are women. The gap gets even wider in the professional world: the higher you climb the academic ladder, the fewer the women are. Thus, only 11% of the highest academic positions are held by women.
How can we explain such a gap? This is a question with no easy answer. A study appeared on Science in January, suggested that women are underrepresented in fields – like Mathematics and Physics — whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.
To address the problem, the European Commission has committed to fostering gender balance in research teams and to reaching 40% female participation in its advisory structures for Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research-funding program for 2014-2020.
So, are mandatory quotas the solution? Or should some good practice — such as family-friendly policies — be expanded?
(Posted by Lara, Elisa and Giulia)