Men May Dominate Academia, But Culture and Creativity Go Beyond GenderA CAREER IN RESEARCH IS STILL A MAN'S WORLD. WOMEN HAVE PASSED MEN IN EDUCATION, BUT NOT IN ACADEMIC PROFESSIONS. BUT THE STORIES OF TEN BOCCONI ALUMNAE SHOW THAT THE ROAD IS ALWAYS LESS UPHILL
by Jacopo De Tullio, Dept. of Decision Sciences
Many women have worked in science since antiquity, but for a long time they were the exceptions and their lives comparable to those of mythical heroines. One of these women was the Russian mathematician Sonia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891; to learn more about Sonia Kovalevskaya, the following are available: S. Kovalevskaya A Russian Childhood and A.-C. Leffler Sonia’s Life), who contracted a façade marriage in order to go abroad and continue her studies. Then, after graduating with Karl Weierstrass, she participated in the Paris Commune, met Karl Marx in London and, in 1884, with the intervention of Gosta Mittag-Leffler, she was asked by Stockholm University to become the first woman in the world to obtain a mathematics chair.
Today the situation has certainly changed and in the majority of European countries, the rate of female education is higher than male education and, even in Italy, women receive better grades and complete degrees more quickly than men do. European women who completed a PhD in 1999 were 38% of the total number of research PhDs, while in 2012 they hit 49.5%, leading in medical and educational fields but with greater difficulties in the sciences. In Italy, for instance, 71% of PhDs in education are women, against 35% in engineering.
It is also true that the outstanding situation of women in instruction is not reflected in the professional field. Analyzing the number of women working in the sector of post-graduate education (universities, academies, laboratories, research centers, etc.), in Europe there is not only no “overtaking of women” but there is quite a large distance from a balance between the sexes. For instance, in our country, the relationship between men and women researchers is 3 to 2.
This is called the leaky pipeline phenomenon, which occurs almost everywhere in Europe, but also in the United States: during the path from graduation to PhD and an academic career, a larger percentage of women than men stop at the lowest rungs of their career or quit.
Much has been done in the past 25 years to remedy the issue of gender: chairs and projects reserved to women researchers, research funds for women scientists, etc. In 2005, the European Commission wrote its Charter for Researchers, in which public and private research institutions are encouraged to comply with so-called gender balances during recruitment and career promotions. In Italy, a law on 31 May 2003 introduced a change to article 51 of the Constitution, according to which “the Republic shall adopt specific measures to promote equal opportunities between women and men.”
In order for organizations to change profoundly regarding gender balances, both in research institutions and in society, cultural changes are required that are not limited to “gender quotas,” but which invest in human relations in all their complexity.
History proves that despite gender obstacles, women in science have been capable of transforming these challenges into opportunities to invent something new. They have ventured into unknown fields, following their desire for knowledge or the urgency to find solutions to collective problems, without focusing on what is considered important at institutions, where, as women, they have not been able to achieve the careers they deserved.
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If Gyro Gearloose were a woman…
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