The committee’s missions, which aim to promote awareness and change our behavior, are divided into several axes:
- To conduct a survey at NeuroPSI on gender representation at different career levels
- To communicate and sensitize NeuroPSI members to gender biases (conference-debates, roundtables…)
- To promote women scientists (invite women scientists to the Institute’s conferences, encourage female PhD students to apply for the L’Oréal-UNESCO Young Talents France for Women in Science Award, encourage NeuroPSI women scientists to apply for promotions, etc.)
- Establish a Mentoring program and a women’s club to promote exchanges on the subject within NeuroPSI
Women in science at NeuroPSI
Interview with Tihana Jovanic and Muriel Perron about the Gender Equality & Equal Opportunities committee before the NeuroPSI opening conference
‘Un chercheur’ or ‘Une chercheuse’: A case of (in)Equality
The European council (EC) estimates that the number of women from PhD to tenured positions and higher drops significantly1. Scientists at NeuroPSI have come together to do their part to mitigate this gender imbalance through the formation of the Gender equality & Equal opportunities committee. Spearheaded by Dr. Muriel Perron and Dr. Tihana Jovanic, the committee undertakes various activities and programs to promote awareness about the existing issues. As a female postdoctoral researcher, it was very encouraging and a great opportunity to get candid with them about the motivation and vision of the committee.
“My daughter, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in social psychology, has been instrumental in raising my awareness about gender minority issues such as LGBTQ rights. That motivated me to turn my attention to the existing bias and gender inequality in our own research (science) domain.”, says Muriel. In 2019, she initiated the formation of the committee at the Institute with the help of Dr. Tihana Jovanic and other members, at different stages of their careers from students and postdoc to professors, both men and women. The first initiative of the committee after the inaugural meeting in 2021 was to carry out a survey to assess the extent of inequality (in terms of numbers of female researchers) and other issues faced by women scientists at NeuroPSI. “When I was a PhD student, there were predominantly male team leaders at the University. That has changed now but there continues to be a huge conscious or unconscious bias in our gender perspective.”, says Muriel adding that the main problem is the “denial of the existence of bias.”
Statistics from the SHE Figures (EC)1 suggest that across the research sector, positions of power especially those in charge of policy-making, hiring etc. continue to be filled by men, with women occupying only about one-fourth of Grade A positions1. “This results in the percolation of (un)conscious bias into the recruitment system. ‘Science comes first’ is the most common argument given to justify this.”, says Tihana. Thus, one of the primary motivating factors was that the presence of an active gender equality committee at NeuroPSI would help to formalize the cause, give a platform to increase awareness and implement more ‘formal, written’ directives to ensure equality in recruitment and resource management. Since its inception, the committee has undertaken various measures to promote awareness of gender issues at NeuroPSI, such as organizing a round-table conference on gender issues with an invited speaker, Renata Coura and a screening of the movie ‘Picture of Scientist’ at NeuroPSI, followed by a lively discussion session with researchers and students to debate on gender equality. “We want people to recognize their own cognitive bias that is often rooted in their minds from a very young age due to various social conditioning.”, says Muriel. Tihana adds, “A positive thing is that people are at least talking about these issues now, which wasn’t there before when I was a PhD student. The observation was there but it was a ‘taboo’ to speak about it.”
“An existing struggle is how to convince people in positions of power who are in denial about this issue. We are constantly striving to promote training about gender bias, including organizing poster sessions on the Matilda effect in research, and we hope that this training becomes more ‘mainstream’ rather than a necessary imposition.”, asserts Muriel. As a success story, the latest recruitment drive at NeuroPSI show fair statistics with respect to candidate selection. “We also selected the speakers of the NeuroPSI Opening Conference keeping the gender balance in mind.”, adds Tihana. But does gender equality end at the recruitment stage? “It is important to also ensure access to infrastructural facilities and resources, such as the issues of paid maternity leave and day-care services at or near the Institutes. This would be a big plus for female researchers.”, suggests Tihana.
A second great initiative of the committee is the ‘Women in science mentoring program’. The aim of the program is to connect young female researchers with senior women scientists as mentors to help navigate the challenges of academia that explicitly affect women. This can range from career advice to social or personal/family issues affecting their academic life. “One aspect is that the tendency to self-censure and internalize external negative perceptions is higher in women.”, observes Tihana, adding, “Our aim is to help correct for this, encourage female researchers in their academic pursuits and provide targeted suggestions to cope with their day-to-day challenges.” The committee is also aligned with the CNRS policies on dealing with sexual harassment at work and continues to actively educate all researchers and students at NeuroPSI to recognize and report such incidents.
“In summary, gender equality can only be achieved if it is intentional”, says Tihana. “It requires active awareness.”, emphasizes Muriel. The future plans of the committee include regular surveys to monitor the progress of gender equality at the Institute, widen the scope and reach of the mentoring program and organize talks at institute/university symposiums or seminars. Every step counts. As a female postdoctoral researcher at NeuroPSI, it is indeed a breath of fresh air to catch this amount of sensitivity and candor about issues that we often sweep under the rug. To have personally witnessed the participation of both male and female scientists at the committee meetings, makes me optimistic of an equal and fair representation in our scientific pursuits. There is a long road ahead, but the Gender equality and Equal opportunities committee of NeuroPSI is taking strong steady steps towards the vision of equality and equal opportunities.
1EC SHE Figures
– Interview by Anindita Das, postdoc in Neural code & auditory perception team.