Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

"There should be quotas for men in scientific institutions" | Science

"There should be quotas for men in scientific institutions" | Science

"There should be quotas for men in scientific institutions." With this motion was opened yesterday a debate raised by the L'Oréal Foundation within its program For Women in Science [por las mujeres en la ciencia] in Paris. The proposal comes from recognizing that men are overrepresented in the discipline: they are more, they charge more, they are more recognized. Instead of requiring a minimum of scientists, moderator Allison McCann asked to "consider putting a limit on the number of men in science" to tackle inequality.

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The organization of the debate, in the style of Oxford -with several rounds of conflicting papers, in favor and against the motion-, was the responsibility of the New York Times (NYT), means for which McCann works. The address of the American newspaper chose five female researchers, doctors in fields from medicine to geology, and a man, expert in diversity and leadership, to face two teams of three people. Although more males were invited, several refused to attend when they were on paternity leave.

The Oxford debates, close to the British parliamentary tradition, are characterized by polarizing the discussion around a strictly defined motion. "Although it may seem like a restrictive framework, nuances emerge from the process," said Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, the international president of the NYT. And so it was: out of the 40 minutes of debate emerged a single winning team but more than one valuable reflection.

In favor

Central to the defense of the motion was the idea of ​​reformulating the concept of quota. "It has negative connotations subconsciously associated with women," said Stephen Frost, founder and director of Frost Included, a company specializing in hiring advice and inclusive leadership. "The debate is usually about how to help women and not about the behavior of men", Frost pointed out.

At that point also influenced his teammate, endometriosis expert Marina Kvaskoff, of the Inserm research center in Paris. "Instead of inviting women to the table, some men should leave the table to allow more competent colleagues to come up," he said. With this comment he touched another argument of the team in favor of quotas: strengthening of meritocracy. In fields such as engineering, mediocre boys persevere, while only outstanding girls reach the top. A limit on the number of men will allow the presence of more excellent people in senior positions, they argued.

In her presentation, the researcher from the University of Manchester Franciska de Vries recalled that "the problem is not that it is difficult Encourage girls to enter science, is to get them to stay. " De Vries studies the consequences of climate change for the land we tread and its organisms, and is a member of the 500 Women Scientists network, which supports the presence of minority groups in science. "[La discriminación] it does not arise from an explicit bias, it is implicit, "he said yesterday. "It will not be resolved by putting women on the hiring committees because we have the same prejudices against women that men have."


"The idea of ​​quotas for men is not fresh: we have had 100% quotas for men in many disciplines, by law," countered the energy scientist Rose Mutiso, co-founder and executive director of the Mawazo Institute, an NGO that supports female researchers. in Kenya. By her own description, Mutiso is "African, woman, immigrant, scientific ... and also quite short, that is, the dream of any diversity committee."

She and her two colleagues, scientists Emma Liu and Kaisa Snellman, denounce that quotas turn men and women into interchangeable tokens and eliminate their individuality. "That they invite you to be a woman is better than not being invited. But I want to think that I have been invited to this debate because of my experience, not because of my gender, "said Snellman, who studies the effects of inequality about social mobility, from the Insead business school. For her, being the symbolic woman is "reductionist and humiliating".

In addition, Snellman argued that quotas, for men or for women, can be counterproductive; He cited cases in which, after completing the implementation of a mandatory quota, the management of certain Nordic companies has reduced their hiring of women, perhaps because of the ego of disgruntled directors. He also argued that there is no evidence that companies that have adhered to women's quotas have improved their productivity.

Liu, a volcanologist at the University of Cambridge, argued against quotas claiming unsustainability: "The underlying problems that harm women at work will not change." Negative fees for men only hinder the conversation, he says, and distract from useful solutions such as the implementation of "inverse mentorships" (young women sharing knowledge with older men) or "critical work hours" in which essential meetings are held at that can be attended by working mothers and fathers.

The verdict

After a few comments from the jury, a spokesperson for each team synthesized the arguments of their proposal. "If you are considering voting against this motion, ask yourself first: 'What are you for?'" Was the provocation Frost launched, on behalf of his side. "Nothing has worked. We need women now [...] and we can design excellence, because it's not going to happen alone. "

Liu, spokesman against the motion, said: "When they reach the quota, do the scientific institutions they will think that they have won, that they have achieved equality? "The focus will be on the numbers and not on the people, he lamented, although it really should be in the underlying problems that hinder the permanence of women in science. "I can not deny that quotas will increase the presence of women in the highest positions, but at what price?" He concluded.

The format, a mere reflection exercise, only admits one winner. Finally, it was the public - largely made up of scientists and journalists - who decided with cheers and applause. The motion passed.


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