Fifty-fifty ?  

On the occasion of International Women's Day 2023, I would like to take a look at the salary analysis recently carried out by our Human Resources Department. Although it shows that the University of Lausanne respects the constitutional principle of "equal pay for equal work", it also shows that women earn on average 14% less than men. 

Why is this so? Simply because there are even fewer women in leadership positions (they represent 27.9% of our teaching staff according to statistics from the Office of Equality). We are far from parity and the goals of our EDI 2022-2026 action plan, which includes achieving a more equitable representation of men and women in all positions! Beyond these facts and my management team's stated desire to reduce inequalities through a set of good practices, I would like to take advantage of this March 8 to give the floor to the first people concerned. How do the young female professors recruited by our faculties perceive the environment in which they work? How do they feel about possible measures? Do they have any criticisms or suggestions?

Georgina King (Faculty of Geosciences and Environment)

Appointed as a conditionally pre-tenured Assistant Professor for an Associate Professor position in the Institute of Land Surface Dynamics in the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment in August 2018, Georgina King obtained her Bachelor's degree in Geography from the University of Oxford and her Master's degree in Quaternary Science from Royal Holloway (London) in 2007. She then completed a PhD in Earth Sciences at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (2011). She defines herself as a geomorphologist interested in Quaternary environmental change by relating luminescence dating to the influence of climate on denudation processes. In other words, she likes to understand when things happen in order to understand why, and has developed new methods that can fill in some important chronological gaps.

Of British origin, Georgina King emphasizes how French is a gendered language, which imposes more binary thinking than English. In the end, does gender matter? We should not pay attention to it. If the situation has evolved positively in the last few years, the society in which we live remains very conservative. Therefore, it is still necessary to work to change mentalities. In her opinion, it is a question of working on preconceived ideas (Does a field have to be exhausting? Is a woman necessarily hired as a junior and a man as a senior?) and to put in place concrete measures, such as encouraging dual careers or imposing a time slot between 9am and 3pm for decision-making meetings. Her worst enemy? The fatalistic "it's too bad, but that's the way it is". Or the latent jealousy, which implies that women would now be hired for their gender and not for their skills, which would level the playing field downwards. An opinion certainly not shared by the SNSF or the European Research Council when they awarded her an Ambizione and ERC grant... In this sense, it seems crucial to her that the institution supports women in the face of unfounded criticism in order to avoid their early departure. Her greatest pride? She has become a role model in spite of herself for many students and doctoral students. She encourages them to aim high and to constantly question old patterns in order to identify ways of improving.

Céline Weyermann (Faculty of Law, Criminal Justice and Public Administration)

Céline Weyermann is an associate professor (2015) and then a full professor (2021) in forensic science at the Faculty of Law, Criminal Sciences and Public Administration. She obtained her degree in forensic science at the Institute of Forensic Science of the University of Lausanne in 2000, and then completed a doctoral thesis at the Institute of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry of the University of Giessen (2005). She is working on many subjects, from the dating of inks to the study of gunshot residues and the composition of papillary traces. She also collaborates with several colleagues on environmental projects dedicated to the investigation of micropollutant sources in aquatic environments. Transversal in nature, her discipline allows her to regularly exchange with the civil society, in particular with the cantonal police services.

Although Céline Weyermann confirms that there are still a minority of women who pursue an academic career in her field of research, she considers that her gender has had little impact on her career path, during which she has benefited from the support of several mentors. She did not necessarily intend to be a professor, but realized that it was the position that best suited her expectations and motivations. Her advice to her doctoral students? Be proactive, work collaboratively, always have a plan B and be flexible when things don't work out as planned. Remain neutral, too. For her, a engaged posture induces biases that can undermine the quality of the research. In general, the forensic field attracts curious people who want to help society. This positive attitude generally makes it possible to work serenely among colleagues, women and men alike. According to her, attitudes have changed in recent years in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. The people around her have adapted the way they talk and young fathers/mothers have helped to introduce more flexibility in the schedules. In his view, the work and study climate at UNIL is generally good compared to society and does not require the use of divisive affirmative action practices. More effort could be invested proportionally in the schools, well before the arrival in the academic world.

Sara Mitri (Faculty of Biology and Medicine)

An assistant professor (2017) and then associate professor (2023) in the Department of Fundamental Microbiology at the School of Biology and Medicine, Sara Mitri earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the American University in Cairo and a Master's degree in Computer and Cognitive Science from the University of Edinburgh. She completed a PhD in Computer Science between UNIL and EPFL, during which she discovered biology, followed by a Postdoc at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard, and at the Department of Zoology at Oxford University (2014). Her research studies microbial communities, their interactions and adaptations. She develops theoretical hypotheses and designs computational models that she tests on simplified ecosystems, with possible applications in waste degradation, biofuel development or antibiotic resistance prediction.

While Mitri initially thought her gender was an advantage in a field where female profiles are a minority, her opinion has evolved over time: being both young and female has an intersectional impact on how she is listened to and taken seriously by some male colleagues. Not that it affects her confidence, however, which is great enough that she manages to distance herself from it. As the 2016 recipient of the faculty's Pro-Woman Fellowship, she knows she is privileged because she is spared the harsh problematic behavior she has sometimes witnessed. The power and responsibility of being a professor now makes her think about how to improve things. For example, she would like the institution to communicate more about inappropriate cases and to require awareness training for anyone in a leadership position. For her part, she is aware that she must be able to serve as an example to her students and doctoral students and takes this role very seriously. She tries to teach them to recognize their value and skills, gives them visibility at her side whenever she has the opportunity, systematically proposes female candidates for existing awards and proactively recruits women when an ad is published. The biases, whether societal or internalized, are still numerous and persistent, and it will take time to overcome them... hoping, however, that gender will no longer be an issue in ten years!

Constance Frei (Faculty of Arts)

Assistant Professor in Musicology for the Art History Section of the Arts Faculty since 2016, Constance Frei obtained a PhD in Musicology at UNIGE in 2008. She is also a violinist, pianist, and has worked as a sound engineer. All of these skills allow her to combine theory and practice in a position that leads her to teach in three very different realities: in Humanities at UNIL, in an interdisciplinary dialogue with Art History or Ancient Sciences, in the Humanities and Social Sciences program of the College of Humanities at EPFL, which allows her to approach the more mathematical aspects of music as an integral discipline of the quadrivium of ancient theory, and at the heart of HEMU, where she teaches a musicology centered on the interpretation of works. A rich and stimulating specificity of Lausanne!

According to her, the integration and visibility of women in the academic world have greatly progressed in recent years, particularly within her faculty, which is an example, since 44.4% of the professorships are held by women. UNIL has done a lot for inclusion. As a historian, Constance Frei defends a posture of gradual modification of traditions and enhancement of improvements in order to consolidate achievements rather than an attitude of frontal struggle. Interestingly, her research has led her to give space to people who are invisible to her discipline - women, for example, who in the 17th century harvested the fibers for the production of paper for sheet music. However, they were unable to gain access to the institutions that would have allowed them to become composers! Few traces remain of their musical influence until the advent of the prima donna. A revolution, because the stage was until then forbidden to female singers, to whom castrati were preferred... Nowadays, the music world can be both gendered (the harp has a feminine connotation) and impartial, since blind auditions have multiplied since the 1970s (when women represented only 6% of American ensembles, compared to one third of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and half of the New York Philharmonic today). This is a practice that could be inspired by encouraging anonymous applications...

Virginie Lurkin (HEC Lausanne)

Conditional pre-tenure assistant professor in the Operations Department of the Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC) since August 2021, Virginie Lurkin obtained a Bachelor's degree in Management Engineering from the University of Liège, followed by a Master's degree from the Solvay Brussels School in 2012. She then completed her thesis between HEC Liège and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta (2016), followed by a Postdoc at the "Transport and Mobility" laboratory of EPFL (2018). She was then hired as an Assistant Professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology before joining HEC Lausanne. She now puts her dual background in engineering and business studies to work on innovative micromobility projects (e.g. e-cargobikes) by studying who uses them and why in order to help model sustainable delivery and travel solutions in the heart of urban centers.

Virginie Lurkin is clear about the flaws of the system to which she belongs. While she considers herself lucky and has always felt comfortable in a predominantly male environment, she notes that the culture of men talking to men is still prevalent. She is also well aware that she represents the "woman under 35" quota at events. A "good conscience" guarantee that she welcomes with the self-derision that characterizes her. With the same humor, she teases male colleagues who deplore the fact that only women are being hired (38.5% of professorships at UNIL in 2021). Yes, it is frustrating to think that you are invited because of your gender... and, in the same movement, to have your abilities questioned. But there is no question of falling into victimism. For Virginie Lurkin, it is necessary to set an example by offering models of women who are fulfilled in their academic careers, without denying their passions. Writing, the summits of the Pre-Alps... All this allows her to acquire the distance required to communicate with her cheerful frankness about what is wrong. And there is still work to be done. How do you instill confidence in women by valuing sisterhood and the values of empathy and listening that they give up to be taken seriously? Why shouldn't a young, fun-loving teacher be competent? In her eyes, you have to stay free, stay yourself. And shape the profession "out of the mold". In her own way.

Five profiles. Five realities. If the above-mentioned professors all have in common excellence, authenticity, awareness of their responsibility to set an example and lucidity in the face of the challenges of the current context, their complementary and differentiated opinions attest to the disparity of their experiences. In this case, it is impossible to find the magic formula for promoting equality capable of achieving unanimity. And yet. In her book What works: Gender Equality by Design, the Swiss economist Iris Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard and specialist in gender bias, recommends a few techniques which, like musical auditions behind a screen, have already proved their worth: using predetermined interview templates, thinking about the stereotypical vocabulary of job advertisements, renouncing self-assessments, putting forward role models, combating tokenism or the queen bee syndrome, and communicating about each small step taken towards equality. .. These are some of the concrete ideas put forward by our management that I would like to submit to you for your consideration, because I am convinced that diversity strengthens the scientific and human quality of an institution. May these suggestions, like our five colleagues, inspire change, so that the future of our university can be conjugated - also - in the feminine!


en_GBEnglish (UK)