by Tommaso Dorigo

As the few regulars of this blog know, the AMVA4NewPhysics network has in its genes a strong will to fight for gender neutrality in its areas of operation – research in Particle Physics and Applied Statistics. We started off this endeavour 2.5 years ago by including three women as PI of beneficiary nodes out of a total of eight, which was *almost* good. But their research record was outstanding, too, which helped us getting funded!

So that was easy. What was less easy was to deliver what we promised in our programme – a hiring practice capable of producing a gender-balanced pool of employed ESRs. We tried hard, by making it clear in our calls for application our policy of supporting equal opportunity, by having an equal-opportunities officer as a member of all our selection committees (thanks, Niki!), by ensuring as large a female-to-male ratio in the committees (thanks Giovanna, Daniela, Nathalie, Cecile, and the others I forgot!), and by fighting our own cognitive bias with active means. And recently, as we completed our planned recruitment phase, I was able to announce that four out of 10 ESRs in AMVA4NewPhysics are female researchers. That is also *almost* good!

Perhaps I should also mention that we hired with AMVA4NewPhysics funds also a female Press Office coordinator, and an excellent one, too – Sabine Hemmer. So, five out of 11, or 45% of the personnel employed with EU funds, are female. Not bad, really, if you think that in Physics the averages float at about 20%.

Today I came across a very interesting document – it was pointed out by Sabine Hossenfelder, a colleague who is a researcher in theoretical physics and a famous blogger. The document,  titled “Science Europe – Practical Guide to Improve Gender Equality in Research Organizations“, lays down important guidelines and provides a collection of references which are extremely useful if you really care about this topic. Spreading the word on it and its contents is, to me, mandatory.

Here I will just mention the table of contents of this booklet, hoping that many of you download it and use it to improve awareness on this important issue in today’s society. But perhaps before I do, I’ll go as far as to quote from the “Introduction to bias”, in the first section of the document:

Science is stereotypically associated with senior white men. This
stereotype evolves early on in childhood, in boys and girls alike, and is consistently found in different national contexts, stemming from exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes (Devine, 1989). A recent meta-analysis into gender stereotypes in science in 66 countries shows that in many places science is associated more with men than with women (Miller et al., 2015). The number of women researchers present in a country correlates with explicit, but not unconscious, gender stereotypes about science. However, in countries with more women researchers, science is still implicitly associated more with men than with women.

So yes, we have a problem. And we are still on step 1 of the way to a solution  to the problem – we must recognize it. I think this document does a good job at providing a quick introduction to the issue, links to useful material, and information on how the different research entities in EU countries implement actions to improve the situation.

The index is as follows:

Foreword by Dr Eucharia Meehan, Science Europe Champion
for Gender and Diversity 4
Introduction 8
How to Avoid Unconscious Bias in Peer Review Processes 11
Introduction to Bias 12
General Recommendations 14
Selected References on (Gender) Bias 20
How to Monitor Gender Equality 26
Introduction 28
General Recommendations 29
Indicators for the Gender Distribution in the National Pool
of Researchers 30
Indicators for Research Funding Organisations 31
Indicators for Research Performing Organisations 33
How to improve Grant Management Practises 38
Introduction 40
Summary of Findings on Grant Management Practises
in Science Europe Member Organisations 41
Organisation-specific Grant Management Initiatives 50
Glossary of Grant Management Terms 60
Notes and References 63

I leave this column with a simple question you can ask people around (it was even done systematically for a video, see here).

So the story is the following. Bob and his father are driving and have a car accident. Bob’s father dies on the spot, while Bob is in critical conditions and is brought to the ER. Upon seeing him, the surgeon on shift cries: “I cannot operate him, he’s my son Bob!”. Explain.

A different one is also useful in this context: “In the town of Tricoria nobody shaves oneself – it is forbidden. So everybody gets shaven by the barber. And there is only one barber. Who shaves the barber?”