A few days ago, I had drinks with some fellow scientists. The group was quite heterogeneous, with representatives from all life stages of research (PIs excluded); and in the middle of a generic conversation, one of the younger colleagues interrupted the conversation and yelled “hot topic!”. To which followed: “what about women in science?” A discussion started that occupied most of the rest of the evening. And that’s great, because it’s an ongoing discussion which will probably continue for the next fifty years.
So, what about women in science? In the last ten-fifteen years, medicine, veterinary and biology faculties have seen a shift in the gender orientation of their students, with a steady increase in female applicants. The engineering faculties are still mostly attended by males, but there is undoubtedly increasing attention to women and a growing will to attract them in areas where they are less represented.
Utrecht University has a page dedicated to women in science, with short movies portraying some very inspiring women present in the university. The university has committed itself to closing the gap between male and female professors: in 2018, as the 101th anniversary of the first female professor (Johanna Westerdijk) was celebrated, the percentage of female professors was 24.2%. The university aims to increase it to 27% by 2020, with a future target of 50% that has a predicted date of 2054.
But, what about regenerative medicine?
The general trend that emerges is that women in science are catching up and gender gaps are closing. Despite PhD students being every day more equally divided between men and women, women in leading positions are still under represented. How long will it really take us to close the gap? And what can we do in the meantime?
Although it looks like most of it may be out of our hands (after all, it seems a question of time), what we can do is be open about the topic. Many people may not even notice that some behaviours could be considered gender-conditioned. Creating an environment where such occurrences can be kindly pointed out (without being confrontational and litigious) to turn a potential incident into an occasion for personal growth, is up to each one of us.