ECMWF’s first Women in Science Lunch took place during the Using ECMWF’s Forecasts (UEF) meeting from 6 to 9 June 2016. The networking lunch brought together around 30 women and men from around the world to analyse the challenges women in science and technology currently face. The participants discussed the role that international bodies and individuals can play in addressing these challenges.
Googling ‘famous meteorologists’
Professor Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society, gave a keynote talk on ‘Inspiring women in meteorology’ and presented the biographies of four outstanding scientists: Professor Dame Julia Slingo (Chief Scientist, UK Met Office), Dr Florence Rabier (Director-General, ECMWF), Professor Jo Haigh (Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London) and Marianne Thyrring (Director of the Danish Meteorological Institute). She showed how searching for ‘famous meteorologists’ in Google produces a list of 100 men and not a single woman. On refining the search to ‘famous female meteorologists’, the top story was an article about why so many female weather forecasters wear the same 23-dollar dress. According to Liz, the Google search results illustrate the misconceptions women in science have to contend with. Liz suggested that women do not tend to advertise their successes. She said one way to increase public awareness of their achievements in meteorology is to nominate outstanding women for awards, such as the ones granted by the Royal Meteorological Society (www.rmets.org/our-activities/awards/details-our-awards).
Problems and progress
Julia Wagemann produced a summary of the key findings of the SheFigures 2015 report by the European Commission. The report highlights that:
- Less than a quarter of researchers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines are women
- Women researchers earn on average 18% less than their male counterparts. This gender pay gap widens with age and amounts to almost a quarter in the older age groups (45 years and older)
- Women become increasingly under-represented when progressing through academic career paths.
Despite all these inequalities, the report underlines that noticeable change has occurred. Between 2005 and 2012, the proportion of women researchers increased in some European countries, e.g. to around 40% in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Figures also show that the highest proportion of women in top positions (e.g. professor level) can be found in the youngest age group (<35 years). This suggests that the situation is improving for a younger generation of women researchers.
Leading by example
In smaller groups, participants discussed what individuals and international bodies can do to help address the challenges faced by women in science. The key outcomes of the discussion were that:
- Gender equality can only be achieved in cooperation with men.
- International organisations (including ECMWF) have to lead by example. Key responsibilities include raising public awareness of gender inequalities, fostering women's talents in their organisations and supporting outreach activities to showcase outstanding female researchers in STEM disciplines.
- A joint initiative across national meteorological services and ECMWF would be welcome, to coincide with next year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017.