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Equal parenting is fundamental to overcome gender imbalances in leadership positions

27 Oct 2017

This year the association of young researchers of the Institute Curie (ADIC), the student organization of Pasteur (StaPa) and the Central European Institutes of Technology (CEITEC) organized a joint retreat in Brno (Czech Republic). Prof. Adrian Liston was one of the invited keynote speaker. In addition to an excellent scientific talk Prof Liston also spiced up this retreat with a truly inspiring "My Life in Science" talk.

Besides being a successful group leader at the VIB in Belgium, Prof Liston is also the father of a 6 years old boy. Becoming a parent is a huge responsibility and task that clearly interferes with working ability and hence career progress. Prof. Liston explained by his experience how complicated it can get to successfully manage both: family and career. Unfortunately, the scenario where women perform the lion’s share in child caring and education is very common. Thus, mothers commonly have to face a more challenging situation to advance in their careers when becoming a parent than fathers. During his talk, Prof. Liston took up this unfairness towards women. He argued that equal parenting is fundamental to overcome gender imbalances in leadership positions in science. Men in this process impose major responsibilities to women by their lack of engagement. This situation should evolve to a shared and proactive attitude in child caring and education for the next generations.

In the second part of his talk Adrian Liston took us back “behind the curtains of PI hiring panels”. The representation of women in PI positions is still remarkably low. It remains inexplicable to Adrian Liston why in so many cases not a single woman is even invited to PI hiring interviews. The hiring panels often explain their decisions by arguing that they are seeking to hire excellence regardless of gender. It cannot be their task to solve a society issue. However, Adrian Liston questions if this can really justify an extremely unbalanced female to male ratio in group leader interviews or PI positions. He believes that it is even utterly offensive to women to state that there hasn’t been a single woman equally qualified for the position that at least deserved to be invited for an interview. In reality he thinks that PI hiring panel are too often influenced by misogynists. Even when underrepresented, misogynists can drive the decision of the entire hiring panel by applying unfair standards to female candidates. This remains often unnoticed by the residual panel. Consequently, a single misogynist can often put the candidate in disfavor for the job. Raising awareness of misogyny and acting against misogynistic behavior are essential to overcome gender imbalances in leadership positions in the future. 


Sebastian Hoffmann, PhD-student at Institut Curie, Paris