Women’s Day: giving our women scientists a voice

- Institutional, Research

Today, 8th March, is International Women's Day, recognised by the United Nations (UN). It is traditionally used to vindicate feminism by denouncing sexism. This day commemorates the struggle of women for their participation, alongside men, in the workplace and, therefore, for the right to economic independence.

To commemorate International Women's Day, we asked four questions to different profiles of IGTP researchers to find out about the difficulties they have encountered as women scientists and how they see the future: Dr Carolina Armengol (CA), leader of the consolidated Childhood Liver Oncology Research Group (c-LOG), Dr Raquel Guillamat (RG), junior leader of the emerging group Translational Research in Pulmonary Immunity, and PhD student Daina Martínez (DM) from the ICREC laboratory of Cardiology Research.

  • Have you encountered problems in your studies and/or research career because you are a woman?

(CA) I have not encountered any problems in my studies because I am a woman. However, when it comes to advancing in my research career, as many studies show, I have seen that there are very few women who become group leaders. As a mother, it has been very difficult to lead and consolidate a research group because it is a very competitive task and there has been little support from the administration and institutions in terms of family reconciliation.

(RG) In general, I have not encountered too many impediments to my studies and my research career. However, I have noticed throughout my career that my position has been questioned, especially in the, mostly male, bodies of power in institutions, where you always have to prove that you deserve your position, and where I have had to justify myself a few times.

(DM) In my case, and taking into account my short experience, I don't remember having encountered any specific problems because I am a woman, neither during my time at university nor now in my doctorate. I think the problems come later on, when you want to grow professionally and, above all, if you want to opt for leadership positions.

  • What do you think scientific institutions can do to achieve equality?

(CA) I believe that it is necessary to work throughout the research career to support women in their professional growth, taking into account their needs. For example, in the first years of maternity, extending the time to obtain merits in evaluations, facilitating the work-life balance with more flexible working hours... It is also important to work towards parity in the institutions, especially in the highest positions of responsibility. I am not in favour of establishing quotas based on gender, but at this time I believe that they are absolutely necessary to compensate for the current situation of inequality and to provide female role models for future generations.

(RG) They have to give space and visibility to women scientists in the different institutional bodies, and also ensure equality in salaries and working conditions.

(DM) I think each institution should carry out an internal review, see how its female workers are doing, analyse what the inequalities are and address them. In particular, I think that the position of women in leadership areas should be made more visible. There are women researchers with a lot of potential but few in these positions.

  • Do you have hope for the future or do you see the situation as stagnating?

(DA) I am hopeful because I believe that we really are at a moment of change, if I think back to my beginnings, there was no talk of this issue! It is true that the actions are too slow and there are not as many as one would like, but I would like to think that this social movement for change is unstoppable. I am an optimist by nature and I think that these changes are here to stay, there is no turning back and there will be more and more equality and that will make us better as a society.

(RG) I am very optimistic, and I believe that in the last few years we have made great progress and that my generation and all those to come will continue to demand our position and will continue to fight to ensure that there are no gender differences in career development.

(DM) I am hopeful. I think we still have a long way to go, but from my perspective and thanks to the insistence of the present and recent generations, these aspects that are fundamental rights are beginning to be taken into consideration. I think that the consideration is a first step, now concrete changes must be implemented to make them real.

  • What is your message to young women who want to go into research?

(CA) I would like to encourage them to pursue their dreams. It truly is not an easy profession, but if it is what they like, I advise them not to give up, to persevere and they will reap the rewards. For me, it is one of the most exciting and rewarding professions there is. On a personal level, being a researcher has enriched me enormously, and on a professional level, I like to think that I have contributed to making the world a little better by promoting research into childhood liver cancer, a rare disease.

(RG) Don't just think about it and do it! The field of biomedical research is exciting, you learn new things every day and it makes you very open-minded to change. If you are attracted and interested give it a try, it is a wonderful career in many ways, although as with all professions, there are downsides.

(DM) I would like to tell them that not to be afraid, to be brave and go for whatever they want to achieve. I would not want any possible obstacles they might encounter in the future to hold them back, we will work and fight together for a better future for all of us!

Did you know that...

The Institut Català de les Dones (ICD), through the Observatori de la Igualtat de Gènere, has published the fifth edition of the Statistical Dossier "Les dones a Catalunya". This compilation of official data provides an X-ray of the inequalities experienced by women and girls in Catalonia. The dossier offers a look at areas such as work, training, culture, ICT and health, among others. The indicators have been chosen according to criteria of timeliness, relevance, quality, comparability and validity, following the European consensus on gender issues led by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

Catalonia ranks eighth in the European Union Gender Equality Index