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International Women's Rights Day

Marie-Laetitia Gambié - 8/03/2018

To end gender discrimination, let's start with language!

A public science and technology institution, Inria has - even more so than the other French public scientific and technological institutes (EPSTs) - a lower proportion of women among its staff than in civil society, with regard to both scientists and the research support personnel. This proportion is also well below that of the female talent pool available at PhD level.

On the occasion of the 41st edition of International Women's Day, Inria wanted to highlight one of its strong points in 2017: the signature by its former president and CEO, Antoine Petit, of the Commitment agreement for public communication without gender stereotypes.

For the institute - on the occasion of its 50th anniversary - it was a matter of clearly and visibly demonstrating its determination to reach a better gender balance among its staff by making it a rule in the future, in all of its communications, to respect all of the principles announced by the French High Council for Gender Equality (HCEfh) concerning inclusive, equal communication excluding neither women nor the feminine aspect. 

Send a strong signal that women are welcome

Ensuring equal communication without gender stereotypes, as Liliana Cucu-Grosjean and Serge Abiteboul - co-presidents of the institute's Commitee on Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities since its creation - remark, means "sending out a strong signal that women are welcome ". Liliana Cucu-Grosjean adds that the objective here is not to implement a system of positive discrimination, but simply to "offset the effects of discriminatory mechanisms with regard to women. "

The representation of women among scientists at Inria was, for a period of time, somewhat better than the national average, she tells us, however "when we look at the evolution over 10 years we can observe that, at some point, the curve was clearly inverted, and that the proportion of women wishing to come to the institute and of women selected by the panels ceased to increase and began to decline.  We had stopped the measures aimed at women, believing that we had made enough effort and that it was sufficient, and we felt the impact of this very quickly. It is essential that we remain vigilant!

A Gender Equality Committee to implement countermeasures

Faced with a sex ratio which is clearly unfavourable to women in its recruitments and internal promotions, the institute legitimately questioned itself on this state of affairs - one it did not wish to see as a fatality. At the instigation of the Commitee on Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities, it put in place several working groups (GTs), including the 'Recruitment' GT, which worked hard on every level in order to understand the reasons behind the decline in female applications over the course of years of study then throughout careers, and to propose counter-measures. Thanks to this analysis, each panel now has an equality reference person to highlight poor reflexes such as cognitive bias when examining applications.  Work is also being carried out in parallel in order to understand the - different - mechanisms at play in the careers of the women working in research support, for whom we are also seeing significant differences in their progression and the presence, again in this case, of a'glass ceiling'. 

The analysis of the figures that are starting to come in concerning female researchers demonstrates that this initiative has begun to produce positive effects. They are nonetheless insufficient for the time being in order to offset the fall in the number of talents - which began far too long ago - but which marks the start of an inversion of the curve.   They have had the tremendous merit of scientifically showing that, "contrary to the perception of numerous researchers and ITAs (engineers, technicians, administrators) within the institute ", as Serge Abiteboul underlines "it's no better at Inria than elsewhere !"

Raising awareness for long-term work

A real wake-up call is under way. For the institute therefore, it is not a question of settling for this'little sign'and, on the contrary, it must continue with, and reinforce, the efforts undertaken. "Now, Liliana Cucu-Grosjean insists, we also need to play the devil's advocate! It really is not because the first measures have worked over two years that we are home and dry: we need to see the evolution over several years. (...) This has been observed in Northern European countries: as long as the presence of women is supported by political measures, the percentage increases; as soon as we let go the reverse happens, and bad habits come back. " Here we are talking about support on the scale of "one, even two generations " in order to establish a "profound change in mentalities ".

And "beyond the recruitment stages, it is also a matter of providing women with a professional environment conducive to their blossoming " Serge Abiteboul insists. "We have a tendency, when a man and a woman work in tandem, to give the man credit for any successes - and this must not continue either! "

Rational deconstructing discrimination in a rational way

The implementation of equal communication is therefore consistent with a desire to firmly and rationally deconstruct discrimination - both conscious and subconscious - with regard to women. Giving them their rightful place, making them visible on a par with men by renouncing a language that effaces them; this is an important signal aimed at the young women.

"We cannot just simply deprive ourselves of 50% of potential talent ", Serge Abiteboul and Liliana Cucu-Grosjean also remind us. The aim is that, at Inria, women can "feel like a researcher, consider themselves senior lecturers " or author of an article, without the words used bringing about a belittling of their work, qualities or intelligence simply because they are feminised.

In 2017, Inria celebrated its 50 years. 2018 is the year it dedicates to gender diversity and equality.

Keywords: Serge Abiteboul Parity International Women's Rights Day Liliana Cucu-Grosjean