Celebrating International Women's Day: the voice of our professionals

- Institutional

Today, 8 March, marks the celebration of International Women's Day, recognised by the United Nations (UN). This day is traditionally used to advocate for feminism and denounce sexism. It commemorates the struggle of women for equal opportunities in the workplace alongside men.

To commemorate International Women's Day, we asked four questions to researchers from various profiles at IGTP and professionals from different research support areas. The aim is to understand the difficulties they have faced as women in their professional field and to gain insight into their perspectives on the future.

Silvia Andrade, Accounting and Fiscal Management

1. Have you encountered problems in your studies and/or professional career due to being a woman?

I finished my degree in Business Administration in 2008, many of my classmates were girls, I do not recall experiencing any gender discrimination during my student years. However, female role models in the academic field were non-existent; university professors were men, and the great economists of contemporary history were also men. At the start of my professional career, I became aware of the glass ceiling and the limitations I would face simply because of being a woman, access to executive positions, and maternity are just some examples of the challenges I encountered.

2. What do you think scientific institutions can do to achieve equality?

Promoting equality in the appointment of executive positions is essential. Currently, female leadership in the economic management of research centres is high in contrast to managerial and directorial positions, which are still predominantly led by men. In our institution, in recent years, we have been working on the Equality of Opportunity Plan, developing a protocol against sexual harassment, and on 8 February, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. I believe this effort is positive, and the work of the IGTP's Equality Committee should be recognised.

3. Are you hopeful about the future, or do you think the situation is stagnant?

Yes, overall, I am optimistic, although I believe that the fight for equality and sexual education should still be very present in our society, in order to achieve real equality in the future. However, when I broaden my view to the world, I find that there is still a long way to go; many countries still violate women's fundamental rights. That's why I think the feminist movement and the celebration of International Women's Day are so important.

4. What message do you have for young women entering the professional field?

My message would be to have self-confidence, effort, and courage to break all the glass ceilings they encounter along the way. Fortunately, now there are many female role models to be inspired by.

Sandra Fernández, International Projects Manager

1. In my case, I did not encounter any problems in pursuing my studies due to being a woman. However, I have faced some challenges in my professional career, even more so as a mother. Although situations and entities are changing, it remains challenging to reach and maintain a leadership position as a woman and mother.

2. As I mentioned earlier, although situations and entities are changing, there is still a long way to go. In my opinion, it is necessary to support and accompany women in their professional development, taking into account both their abilities and their needs. In addition to having the same working conditions, it is essential to give women much more visibility.

3. Honestly, I am quite optimistic. I believe women's empowerment is changing society and its perception. We must continue to fight, keep insisting to improve the situation and make ourselves more visible, but we can see that we are in a better position than in previous years. My hope is that in the future, the situation for women will improve.

4. My main message to young women is to do what they genuinely enjoy. If they want to, they can achieve it. They should not hold back, be brave, and go for it. Effort, perseverance, patience, and enthusiasm are key.

Marcel·la Franquesa, Emerging Group Leader (Miguel Servet), Coordinator of the REMAR Research Group and Principal Investigator of the IVECAT Research Group

1. I didn't have problems, but there was a lack of female role models in leadership positions. When I started, leadership and maternity seemed incompatible. This preconceived idea has been changing but still penalises many professional fields.

2. I don't know, because many of the aspects that condition women's access to some positions are the result of social constructions that are difficult to change. However, we are living through years of attitudinal changes and gender shifts at the helm of some institutions. Positive discrimination is a concept that doesn't convince me entirely, though in some cases it is necessary to break some deeply rooted dynamics.

3. Change is already here and palpable in many areas, and what remains to be seen is whether it will stabilise and continue advancing or if we will face new times of regression. Currently, the social and professional dynamic is unstoppable, but we must be alert to reactive and retrograde waves.

4. The most important thing is to believe that there are no barriers associated with sex/gender. Often, the enemy preventing our progress is integrated within ourselves, or so we have been made to believe. We need to be convinced and show our potential, and to do this, it is not necessary to follow male patterns; we can create our own paths.

Carol Gálvez-Montón, IGTP Core Facility Manager, Deputy Director of ICREC Research Group (Insuficiència Cardíaca i REgeneració Cardíaca)

1. Generally speaking, being a woman has not conditioned my research and professional career. It is worth mentioning that I have chosen not to be a mother and to dedicate myself fully to my professional career, so I do not know what my response would be if I had been a mother. However, looking at my female environment, it is true that as their professional careers progress, my colleagues have opted for professional positions that involve less leadership, despite having had the same opportunities. Currently, combining motherhood with leadership is not a highly compatible option, and often the professional finds herself in a situation where she has to decide which way to tip the balance. Even so, I have also seen close cases of women with three children and a high level of leadership, and often their own colleagues refer to them as SuperWoman, which very graphically describes the current situation.

2. Honestly, I believe that achieving equality should not only fall on the institutions. I think there is still much to work on within society and, even more, within our homes. In most cases, there is no equal maternity/paternity, and many women yield to their partners and lead the maternal role. We all need to change this situation. However, as for institutions, they could indeed help mothers or fathers, especially in the first years of a child's life, by incorporating childcare services within the facilities of the institution itself. This would strengthen women's leadership and facilitate a much more collaborative and understanding scientific community environment.

3. Hope is never lost, and I believe that if we look back, the current situation differs greatly from twenty years ago. At least, the problem has been acknowledged, and work is being done to achieve equality. However, more resources are needed for it to become a reality and for changes to be more than just phenotypic; we need to reach the genome of the situation and modify it. It's a task for EVERYONE.

4. Perseverance, effort, and enthusiasm! But this message is extended to all genders. The scientific career is complicated, with many obstacles and instability, but enriching on a personal level and very satisfying when you achieve some of your challenges. To women, I would say not to give up, to believe in their dreams, and to surround themselves with good people to achieve them. They are essential! The management committees need them, need their point of view and experience, their virtues and flaws. An institution will be much more effective the more inclusive it is.

Alicia Lacoma, CIBER Respiratory Diseases, Research Group on Innovation in Respiratory Infections and Tuberculosis Diagnosis

1. The truth is I do not remember having had problems while studying at university. Similarly, during my professional career, I have not encountered obstacles because of being a woman. However, during pregnancy and maternity, it is sometimes complex to maintain scientific and work productivity.

2. Each scientific institution should reflect on the real situation of their female workers, what obstacles they face, and propose realistic actions to solve it. In this regard, in recent years many institutions and scientific organizations at the regional, national, and international levels have developed equality plans to ensure equal opportunities.

3. I am hopeful about the future, and yes, I am optimistic! Changes are not made overnight, so it is necessary for administrations and institutions to plan and prioritize actions jointly and realistically, considering the time it takes to implement them. There are increasingly more initiatives to give visibility to female scientists, create real role models for new generations, and promote the interest of girls and adolescents in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM careers).

4. If they are interested in biomedical research, I would say go for it without a doubt! From my point of view, it is a very interesting, stimulating, and exciting area of science. People around me often say, "For you, every day is different; you participate in various projects, meet people from other countries, travel...". And yes, this aspect is true, but just like in other professions, I would also tell them that you have to be constant, persevering, and very hardworking.

Cristina Vilaplana, Head of the Experimental Tuberculosis Unit, Microbiology Department

1. Not in my studies, but yes during my professional career. Perhaps not so much problems, but rather unpleasant situations and comments. My male colleagues have generally been very correct, but as I have progressed in my career, I have found that some have addressed my male pre-doc as if he were the IP and not me, or I have been told things like "Will you have time to take care of the family?", and of course, I have had to endure a lot of mansplaining from people much less qualified than me.

2. Firstly, to apply fair compensations in time for the gap represented by maternity leave in evaluations and project prioritizations, as mandated by Europe. Also, of course, to ensure that men and women are paid equally across all professional categories, something that still does not happen today.

3. We are very stagnant, moving too slowly, with little real commitment, but I have hope because I am convinced that everything we do will someday serve a purpose, and that those who come after us will be much better than us.

4. Set a goal and no matter what they are told, let it go in one ear and out the other; many will try to trip them up, to prevent them from getting there, and it's important that they do not stray. Also, they should not be afraid to say no, I don't want to do this, I don't think this is right, etc. And if they are looking for a partner, make sure it is someone who does not want to hold them back.

Did you know that…

Catalonia ranks fourth in Europe according to the Gender Equality Index, a tool that measures the level of equality between women and men in the 28 European Union countries using a methodology developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

With 76.5 points, Catalonia is fourth, below Sweden (82.2), the Netherlands (77.9), and Denmark (77.8). It is ahead of Spain overall (76.4), Belgium (76), and France (75.7), among others, and is six points above the average of the European Union countries, which is 70.2 points. Catalonia has risen five positions and 2.4 points this year, as it was in ninth place the previous year with 74.1 points.

The data allow for the assessment of the achievement of equality objectives and are based on 31 indicators distributed across six dimensions - work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health - prepared by Idescat and the Observatory of Gender Equality, attached to the Catalan Institute for Women, with data from 2021, as established by the EIGE.

In Catalonia, the gender equality index is 76.5 out of 100, more than six above the European average, and has risen five positions. See press release.