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"Seeing women excited will make girls want to experience the adventure of science"

“Seeing women excited will make girls want to experience the adventure of science”

Make sure there are more tags. This is the mission that the L’Oréal Foundation has entrusted to itself for nearly twenty years. Each year, the For Women in Science programme, implemented in partnership with UNESCO, honors researchers from around the world – such as Emmanuelle Charpentier (in 2016), the 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry – for their work. Meeting with Alexandra Balt, CEO CSR* of the L’Oréal Group and CEO of the L’Oréal Foundation, and Claudie Hainery, the first European astronaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS), member of the Board of Directors of the L’Oréal Foundation and a supporter of the L’Oréal-Unesco Women in Science Program since its inception in 1998.

she. Where are the women in science?

Alexandra Balt. In France, there are now 28% of women researchers, compared to 25% in 2010. Things are progressing. But this is an insufficient development. When you look at the top academic positions, there are now only 14% of women. They are not in decision making positions.

Claude Heignere. There is improvement, but it is still fragile. Not all areas matter. In engineering, mathematics and digital, women are still a very small minority, while these topics are key tools for writing today’s and tomorrow’s world. The Covid crisis affected them as well, because they could not take on the tasks of publishing and interfering as easily as their colleagues.

she. What are the brakes on feminization of science today?

CH First, there is a real lack of knowledge of these professions. You should be able to meet enthusiastic people who share their experience with you. Then, the cliches are numerous and start very early. Female models are barely visible. Finally, there is a demanding image of excellence that sticks to the skin of this material, which can be frustrating. Science at school is not seen as fun: you have to change the story that surrounds it, and complete it. Let us cease to present a science so abstract, without obligation, always in its rationality, in its presentation. Many young people want to feel useful and it is our responsibility to make them understand that science can be a way to achieve this.

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AP The scientist is modest for two reasons! First, because she is a woman, both historically and culturally, she has learned not to get too far ahead. And because as a scientist she must be in doubt all the time: this is the essence of the profession. These two humiliations combined put the signs at an even greater disadvantage. We conducted a study with our previous winners to find out the main sticking points they faced. They decried on the one hand the difficulty of reconciling private life with professional life, and on the other hand the sexual culture prevalent in these circles. Among the respondents, one in two women was a victim or witness to cases of harassment. For me, scientific research is one of the areas most resistant to the changes brought about by the #MeToo movement. We still suffer from the image of the world: this man who is supposed to be objective, and on a high intellectual level. But it’s a competitive system where there is a lot of humiliation and pressure. It is also very hierarchical: in research, the thesis director has almost unlimited power, favoring transgressions. It’s time to do some self-criticism.

she. Define Claudie, you’re saying that the leftovers of science…

CH Yes, because it allows you to develop a critical mind. to strengthen his free will. Then there are a lot of interesting jobs to be filled. There is a place. Financial liberalization is what allows for social concentration and participation in economic life.

AP Then knowledge is the place of strength. Look at the history of computers that have been erased by women: in the years 1950-1960, it was women who started programming in the United States. At first, it was seen as a sharp razor blade. Then, in the 1970s, the company realized it was a growing sector with a lot of money to be made. At that time, women were excluded from these professions, as they were the majority.

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she. L’ORÉAL creates networks of women scientists. Do you consider network capital in science too?

AP Absolutely. I’ve been told my whole life, ‘You’re too insistent, too bossy, this too, this too. When I dated other women, I realized they were criticized for being too much. Too cold, too cold, etc. This conversation with the sisters was liberating, because I I realized it was really a problem that came from the system, not from me.

CH In 1996, I was the only woman to fly in the astronaut group. It was a choice, which I was proud of. But the eyes of others forced me to explain why I was there. This was not my point…by talking to other women we can advise each other to move forward together despite any obstacles.

she. Alexandra Balt, you say that the science of “men in the science of reality” is for men…

AP It has been decided that the word of man is a place of neutrality, but it is a delusion. Neutrality does not exist. The way a scientist views his research is necessarily related to his career. Science shapes the world of tomorrow, women must be a part of it!

CH And for this, we must also review the working interface. When I trained in spacewalking, there was only one type of male, a size XXL. It was complicated. The fact that the work interface is adapted to this diversity, transforming the work community, makes progress for all. And to be open to this diversity, you have to be amazed. The spatial theme is unusual! Seeing excited women will make little girls and sisters want to experience the adventure of science.

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* Corporate social and environmental responsibility.