The Royal Observatory of Belgium commits to gender equality in science
Although their numbers are increasing, women are still under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and their potential is not sufficiently recognised and taken into account. At the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ORB-KSB), initiatives to promote women in science have been carried out by several collaborators in recent years. In addition, the ORB-KSB has very recently started working on a Gender Equality Plan (GEP), which aims to achieve a better balance and an inclusive practice of science in our institute.
Initiatives in the ORB-KSB for the promotion of women in science
For several years, ORB-KSB staff members have been involved in the promotion of women in science, notably within the BeWiSe association and the very recent Soapbox Science Brussels initiative.
BeWiSe is a non-profit association founded in December 2003 by eight scientists. Currently, several colleagues from the ORB-KSB are members or honorary members. The aim of BeWiSe is to support women scientists in their careers, to create a support network for women scientists in Belgium and to connect it with similar associations in Europe. BeWiSe has carried out a number of activities to this end, including mentoring programmes between young female PhD students and women scientists with more experience in their careers. In Septembre 2021, together with several other organisations, including the Planetarium and the ORB-KSB, it organised the WiseNight event to promote science as part of the European Researchers’ Night.
More recently, several colleagues from the ORB-KSB and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy have organised Soapbox Science Brussels events, a science outreach initiative in which women scientists talk about their research in public places on a small podium (their ‘soapbox’). Two Soapbox Science Brussels events took place in 2021 and 2022 and were quite successful. A third event is currently being prepared and will take place on 24 June 2023 in Brussels.
Through this initiative, the organisers of Soapbox Science Brussels hope to bring science to the public and change people’s perception of scientists as old white men in white coats.
The ORB-KSB commits to gender equality
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 33.3% of the researchers are women. This percentage is of the same order of magnitude as that of ORB-KSB’s researchers, which shows a general trend of between 30 and 35% of women in its scientific staff, with a slight increase since 2016.
Recently, the ORB-KSB a Gender Equality Plan (GEP), which aligns with the European Commission’s “Strategy for Gender Equality” that requires every scientific research organisation to have a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place in order to qualify for funding. The ORB-KSB’s GEP is itself an adaptation of the Gender Equality Plan of the Belgian Science Policy Office, the body that coordinates the Federal Scientific Establishments of which the ORB-KSB is a part.
A strategy for gender equality notably includes measures favouring work-life balance for men and women. For example, the ORB-KSB already gives to the majority of its staff flexible working hours and extensive teleworking opportunities.
Of course, there is still work to be done to better promote gender equality at the ORB-KSB, and the GEP will serve as a roadmap to guide our institute towards this ideal. A first step will be to analyse in detail ORB-KSB’s gender-disaggregated staff statistics, identify any imbalances and determine their origin and, if possible, suggest ways to correct them.
For more information:
The BeWiSe website: https://bewise-be.squarespace.com/
The website of Soapbox Science Brussels: https://soapboxsciencebrussels.oma.be
The Gender Equality Plan at the Royal Observatory of Belgium: https://www.astro.oma.be/en/gep-gender-equality-plan/