Editorial – Women in physics: challenging the established stereotypes?

By . Published on 22 September 2015 in:
Editorial, September 2015, , , , ,

An equitable gender balance in physics would be beneficial for the quality of research and education, which are key elements in the economic, social and cultural development of our Society. The under-representation of women in physics is very widely debated and is central for a Society caring about the well-being of its members.

Lucia Di Ciaccio, chair of the EPS EOC
Lucia Di Ciaccio

Many analyses of the reasons for an asymmetric presence of the genders among the population of physics students and at the various levels in academia exist. It has been observed that, in general, the phenomenon is present at different quantitative levels in the different European countries, being less pronounced in Italy, Greece and Spain. This confirms that the reasons for the gender imbalance are multiple and include a different way of perceiving physics as a discipline in different countries. Very likely, in some countries, in people’s minds, physics studies have a smaller technical connotation and the physicist is seen more as “a philosopher” of nature. From this perspective, physics fits better with the common stereotype: women are supposed to make less money than men so they may indulge in cultural activities.

Luckily, several actions to guarantee a balanced gender representation in physics have been proposed and also taken up in all European countries (and abroad) in order to address the issue. Generally speaking, the situation is continuously improving thanks to different initiatives even though there is still a lot of room for improvement, in particular concerning the men-women asymmetry in high responsibility positions.

The Equal Opportunity Committee of the EPS was established in 2013 with the mission of looking at the barriers that contribute to the under-representation of women in physics and of promoting actions to facilitate a gender balanced participation in the field.

In 2013 the EPS launched the Emmy Noether distinction to recognise noteworthy women physicists. The distinction is awarded to excellent female physicists for their personal achievements in physics research, education and outreach. At the same time, the laureates represent role models for the younger generation of physicists.

A new initiative of the EPS-EOC has been launched which consists of preparing and publishing short portraits of young female researchers in the very early stage of their careers in academia or in industry, in e-EPS. The first portrait is published in this issue and the initiative will continue aiming to present a portrait every two months.

The idea is that a young female considering the pursuit of a career in physics (student, post-doc or young researcher) might find positive answers through learning about the experiences of someone only a few years older regarding their choice of pursuing a career in physics.

Motivation and confidence in oneself (“Yes, I can”) are necessary qualities for reaching leading positions.

L.Di Ciaccio
Chair of the Equal Opportunity Committee of EPS

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