As part of the International Day of Women in Science, we wondered about their place today, in Belgium and in Wallonia. Has the situation evolved here since the time of Marie Curie, who still inspires female scientific vocations today? Talk to women!
Despite the many requests she receives, Professor Sarah Baatout is keen to take part in initiatives that promote scientific careers among young girls. She also admires the personality and career of Marie Curie, who remains a model in her eyes. The internationally renowned scientist who heads the radiobiology unit at the Mol nuclear study center in particular, gave an interview to RTBF this week in which she makes a mixed observation: "There are still gender biases in professions related to to science and technology, although great changes have taken place in all walks of life. The young women, despite their great talent, whom I meet in my laboratory sometimes lack a bit of self-confidence. highlight the importance of putting tools in place that could empower young girls and give them confidence to pursue their careers, even though many still choose to put their families first.” She is nevertheless delighted to see the lines move concerning sexism within the academic world following the #MeToo movement or to see a greater proportion of women applying to the European Space Agency (24% instead of 15% previously ) especially since, among the last finalists, there were as many women as men. “Women are more hesitant to apply, but they are more competent!” she smiles.
Senior researcher at the FNRS, professor of geochemistry at the ULB, Vincianne Debaille also participates in NASA operations and has just given a conference in Brussels with Ambassadors, where we met her. Her vision is quite positive, even if there is still a long way to go: "Wallonia has made a lot of efforts in this direction in recent years and they are reflected in the female representation in scientific fields or within boards or boards of directors, much better than in other parts of Europe or the OECD Despite everything, we still lack this female role model, especially in the age of choices and the formation of identity and some fields remain very gendered, such as computer science or psychology. Personally, I consider myself very lucky to start my career at a time when it was already less complicated for a woman to evolve within scientific circles: I probably would have had to fight a lot harder if I had been born twenty years earlier. One of the greatest advances has been thinking about work/life balance, not just to enable women to work but also to offer to men the possibility ability to be more active in the home and in the upbringing of children. Relieved of some of the domestic chores, women can focus more on their careers."
For her part, Agnès Flémal, Managing Director of WSL, the engineering science incubator, is more nuanced: "In Wallonia as elsewhere, raising awareness of science for girls remains a problem. In engineering studies, they represent around 20% of students, which is very few. There is no miracle: the only solution is to discuss it in the family sphere. Parents must encourage their children in this direction, I am convinced that this family awareness is essential to change things. The situation is changing, but not fast enough: women remain an extremely small minority in decision-making positions, we are very far from parity, just look at the ceilings of glass in terms of responsibility which remain a reality for women entrepreneurs or general managers. The positive point is that from the moment they decide to study science and when they are supported by their family, they have the possibility of doing so without the slightest difficulty, but that is not new. Then, of course, there is the career..."