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Barcelona Science presents a diagnostic study on gender inequalities in the field of research

11 February 2022

Women and science. This work leads to a set of recommendations to improve municipal policies on equal rights and opportunities for women scientists.

Coinciding with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an event presided by the Mayor, Ada Colau, has been held today in the Saló de Cent to present the conclusions and recommendations of the study "Women and Science in Barcelona. A qualitative analysis of the factors affecting the careers of women researchers". The study was commissioned by Barcelona City Council as part of the Barcelona Science Plan 2020-23 on the situation of women in the field of science. The document proposes a decalogue of initiatives to combat the so-called "masculinised academic culture", a way of operating in the field of research that partly explains gender segregation and the difficulties for women to advance in their professional and academic careers.

The work focuses on finding explanations for data already known and published, such as, for example, the existing imbalance between men and women in the category of professors (77% men versus 23% women), or the existence of disciplines with an extreme masculinisation such as engineering and architecture, with only 23% of female students (according to data from 2021 from the Secretariat of Universities and Research of the Department of Business and Knowledge).

Aware of these realities, Barcelona City Council commissioned Spora Sinergies SCCL to carry out this study with the aim of incorporating a gender perspective into municipal science policies in order to reverse the inequalities between men and women in the field of research. In this sense, Barcelona is a pioneering city, as there are no other local and municipal administrations that have ventured into the development of science policies. Therefore, in order to better adjust policies in terms of equality in science, the City Council needed a prior analysis of the situation of women in the city’s scientific fabric.

Barcelona Ciència i Universitats was commissioned to do so, and the starting point was a meeting last February with several leading women in science and research in the city, which was attended by the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, and where contributions were made on the problems of women scientists in Barcelona and how to approach the diagnosis.

Today’s event has been chaired by the mayoress of Barcelona, Ada Colau, and has included a colloquium that showed in first person the experiences and reflections of four women scientists from the city. Eva Anduiza, professor of Political Science at the UAB, has recalled that “science is made in society and society is the place where we must have an impact because that is where stereotypes are generated”. Alba Cervera, senior researcher at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, has stressed that “it is not a question of women behaving like men, we should not equal ourselves or be aggressive with our language, but we should contribute our own way of working”.

Carme Junyent, a lecturer in Linguistics at the UB, has said that years ago she was “swept aside precisely because she was a woman”. And the fourth participant in the colloquium, Natàlia Vilor-Tejedor, postdoctoral researcher in Neurogenetics at the Centre for Genomic Regulation and the Barcelona Beta Brain Research Center, has referred to the importance for girls to have female references in the world of science close to them: “it is one of the things we can influence right now”. The colloquium has been moderated by Núria Jar, a journalist specialising in science and health.


Elaboration of the study

The methodology used for the elaboration of the study was based on a qualitative approach, which was implemented through focus groups. Thus, it has been elaborated through the accounts of people who have collaborated, on the one hand, and the compilation, categorisation and interpretation of information by the research team, on the other. In eight discussion groups, women of different ages, from different areas of knowledge, women in different types of research centres and at different stages of their careers shared their experiences in order to reflect the diversity of existing female researchers. The study also contrasted these contributions with two focus groups made up of male researchers.

Thus, this study has detected and analysed, from a qualitative perspective, factors that affect the careers of female researchers and logics that characterise the scientific context and its relationship with gender mandates. The conclusions include the impact of motherhood on the uninterrupted and full-time nature of a female researcher’s career, the difficulty of combining caregiving tasks with research and everything that surrounds it (publications, attendance at conferences and events, stays abroad, etc.).

It also highlights the detection of an academic culture that is strongly masculinised, characterised by aggressive and competitive leadership and communication styles, the learned hypersecurity of male researcher models, which contrasts with the internalised insecurity of the feminised female researcher model.

The study also concludes that gender stereotypes are pervasive in the scientific context, and are evident in the division of tasks within research teams. It happens that repetitive or invisible tasks end up in the hands of female researchers because they are considered to have logistical and organisational skills. These tasks require an investment of time, but in the long run have a negative impact on careers because they do not bring any curricular merit.

Other aspects highlighted in the onclusions are the lack of references and examples for young female researchers in some fields, or the network system of alliances and extra-occupational contacts, which are more difficult for female scientists to access when these networks perpetuate and drag along masculinised relationship models.

The study is still undergoing a final review process before publication, which is expected soon. However, the conclusions and the decalogue to alleviate gender inequalities in science derived from it have been shared today. You can read both the conclusions and the Decalogue at the following link:

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