Women in Czech science

18-11-2003

In this week's Czech Science we'll be looking at a topic relevant not only in the Czech Republic - and that is women in science. I talked to Marcela Linkova from the National Contact Centre Women and Science, whose aim is to promote women in scientific professions, and asked her first why women could be considered a separate category in Czech science.

"Because the gender order in society basically divides us into two categories: women and men, and the whole gender order is organised by the gender or sex principle. And since women are still a minority in science and the gender roles ascribed to women are completely antithetical to science: women are defined as submissive, sympathetic, emotional, irrational, hysterical etc., and men on the other hand are defined as aggressive, assertive, rational, objective, then you see there is a correlation between masculinity or how we define men's characteristics in society and how we define science. And I think this is the basic problem, that the symbolic and value systems correlate with how we define masculinity. And women are really the other something that is valued differently and less."

Do the figures, the numbers of women in and men in science, correspond with this?

"Well, this is really interesting. Because if you look in the Czech Republic at the overall figures, you see that women represent approximately 33 percent of all personnel in research and development but if you look at researchers as such, then the figures drop dramatically. And if you look at technical employees and lab personnel, you see that the number of women goes up. So I think that we really have to distinguish personnel figures and research and development workers because there the discrepancy is quite large. It comes to about 25 percent. If we look at sciences horizontally, then the representation of women in technical sciences is really minimal and it goes up through biological, medical, social sciences and humanities where it's the most but it does not reach parity even there."

Can we talk about discrimination?

"I definitely use the word discrimination. I think that the general setup of the gender system in society is discriminatory as such. Then there are particular discriminatory practices that you see in your everyday life in the conduct of directors of research institutes, of labs etc. And I think that one of the problems that is quite pressing, I would say, for women in science is the impact of motherhood on their careers and also pay discrimination. And I think that since directors of research institutes in the Czech Republic, for example, have very much, or complete say in how they value and remunerate their employees, there is basically nothing you can do because there is no board that you can go to and complain."

Views on the situation of women in sciences may differ - for example according to generation. Blanka Rihova is the head of the Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences. I asked her whether she had ever felt discriminated against in the workplace.

"Never, I don't think that discrimination does exist in science, especially in natural science. I am an immunologist by education and I am microbiologist and virologist and as I already said, never in my life have I felt that I cannot or I am not allowed to do something because I am a woman. I would say that it was not discussed during the totalitarian regime. I don't think this question was important. At that time what was important was to be a member of the Party or not to be a member of the Party. But this discussion is probably an influence of the West and I feel it has existed only in the last few years."

I also talked about the issue of discrimination of women in scientific professions in this country with a male scientist in his late thirties. And what he told me was, I thought, quite interesting. He said: "I am really worried about discrimination of women in science because... I have three bright daughters."

18-11-2003