Gender in research or how to successfully include female researchers in the scientific world.


Professor François Pérès (Laboratoire Génie de Production Toulouse INP-ENIT)

Sponsoring IFAC Body: 

French NMO


You may not have heard of them, but these women from five continents are at the forefront
of several major scientific and technological breakthroughs:
• Katalyn Kariko is the developer of the Covid-19 messenger RNA (Ribonucleic acid) vaccine
• Laurence Devillers, a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence ethics, has launched the debate on
the respect of rights, freedoms and democracies in the digital age.
• Esperanza Martinez Romeo is behind the creation of micro-organisms to boost agricultural
production while respecting the environment.
• Ritu Karidhal is part of a program that has made India the fourth nation in the world to
successfully pilot a Mars exploration mission.
• Catherine Ngila has engineered nanotechnology-based solutions to analyze and remove
contaminants from water, a technique that is essential to managing the world's water supply.
So many more success stories like these, contributing to advances in women-led research
could be told. They all share one thing in common: the many obstacles they had to overcome
to succeed in their respective fields. Already in school, they must deal with the prejudice that
women are less competent in mathematics than their male counterparts, despite empirical
evidence to the contrary! As a result, women in science and technology account for only 34%
of all graduates across the world. In the workplace, the situation is much worse. Women only
represent 28% of all scientists and engineers in the world today.
Although the enrolment of women in scientific institutions is now regarded as a matter of
course, women still face many challenges in their attempts to achieve acknowledgment and
visibility. The unequal distribution of women in science is generally attributed to the
individual choices of boys and girls and the work-life balance that women face throughout
their lives. Women's publication rates, access to important networks and financial resources
all point to these discrepancies in status and credit. As a consequence, these inequalities in
treatment are indirectly reflected in terms of salary, responsibility and recognition.
Some surveys revealed the extent to which scientific organizations were responsible for the
drop-out or slow advancement of women. On the one hand, despite the fact that women have
a dual role in the professional and family world, the reward system ignores family issues. On
the other hand, women scientists seem to be more stimulated by flexible and non-hierarchical
work-based organizational structures than by competitiveness.
Planned activities
Note that the theme of this discussion goes beyond the thematic contours of the workshop,
but as all the events are oriented around dedicated issues, no other scientific conference led
by IFAC would be legitimate to address this topic.
Within this global framework and following discussions with Carlos Pereira, IFAC Vice-
President for Technical Activities and Mary Doyle Kent, head of the newly created Diversity
and Inclusion Committee (Mary has accepted to be on the organizing committee), we decided
to make this event a pilot case for addressing diversity issues and in particular the role and
opportunities given to women researchers.
In addition to the gender aspects in the different committees (IPC, organizing committees,
keynote speeches or presentations in sessions), activities will be organized on the theme of
the place of gender in research.
The actions planned will be divided into several activities.
1. Conferences of invited researchers, specialists in the question of the place of women in
research will be programmed. Contacts are being established with Spanish, American and
Canadian researchers (for the time being, we
details of the programme
are waiting confirmation for finalizing the
2. Following this, a round table, moderated by a specialist in this type of exercise and in
which the speakers will be able to take part, will broaden the debate and give the public
present or connected the opportunity to question and discuss the theme of the place of
women in the scientific careers.
3. Eventually, short courses based on case study will probably also be offered to raise
awareness of the place of gender in the writing of calls for proposals, the definition of scientific
job profiles or the recruitment of female researchers. A French expert in this type of exercise
will be called upon to carry out these tutorials.
Other actions are currently being considered to challenge the research community on gender
issues. It should be noted that the subject is complex because it can be counterproductive and
go in the opposite direction of the intended objectives. By explaining why a conference is
interesting for women (thus differentiating their interests from those of men), we are
segregating the genders. This is however a question that an IFAC event organizer must answer
in the application for approval of the planned event by the supervisory authority. A discussion
on this complex subject will take place also during the conference, maybe together with the
IFAC authorities.