Ms. Stanikowski, There are fewer women in leadership positions in the natural sciences at universities and research institutes around the world than one would expect based on the proportion of female students. They believe discrimination against mothers is the reason. What does an academic work environment that treats mothers fairly look like?
We need a profound change in our academic culture: the academic world must recognize and respect the differences in life and professional paths. Flexibility, especially towards mothers with young children, is essential. This also means that commitment and productivity can be expressed differently than the number of posts, and that success stories do not always follow a straight line. A truly equitable academic environment takes mothers’ requirements into account, provides support such as on-campus childcare, flexible working hours or mobile work, and promotes understanding of the parents’ situation. This goes beyond superficial commitments to diversity; Institutions must actively promote it.
As a professor of molecular biology at the University of Rio Grande do Sul, you founded the Parent in Science network after having children yourself and experiencing all the difficulties that college mothers face. What obstacles did you face? Is this percentage particularly high in Brazil?
They are similar to those in many parts of the world: there is a lack of support mechanisms, no strategies to retain mothers at universities, and few opportunities for women to continue their careers with children. There is often a lack of funds for research or scholarships to return to work. In addition, mothers’ commitment and abilities are often questioned.
Parent in Science has now been around for six years. What did you achieve during this period?
Our initiative’s work has been crucial in ensuring that regional and national policy in Brazil targets mothers in science and research. This is reflected in improved working conditions, increased opportunities for financial support, and more career options for scientists with children. We are the driving force behind positive changes that make mothers’ experiences in science more valuable.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a decline in equality: women have had to take on more childcare tasks and deploy less. Has that changed again?
The pandemic has been a serious blow to the fight against discrimination. The scientific community has not yet fully recovered from this, despite some progress. But the lack of publications in particular will impact career paths for a long time to come. Especially when scientific institutions declare that the consequences of the pandemic have been overcome and ignore the difficulties mothers have faced as a result, there is a risk that inequalities will become permanently entrenched.
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