2008 is the tenth year of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science awards to remarkable female scientists from around the world. Indeed, our sister-site, ScienceBlogs.de, covered this year’s award ceremony and is celebrating women in science more generally with a For Women in Science blog. (It, like the rest of ScienceBlogs.de, is in German. Just so you know.)
In addition to the global contest, three further scholarships are given to women scientists in Germany. But, the only women eligible for these awards are women with kids. (The rationale for this is that childcare options in Germany are not as good as they should be for working mothers, so women scientists with kids need special support.)
I was chatting about these awards with some woman friends of mine with science backgrounds, and there were some mixed views of these awards.
On the one hand, children are labor-intensive (as is science), so help caring for children is a good thing. But in theory at least, this would also be an issue for male scientists with kids.
It’s possible to interpret scholarships like this as saying that no woman, remarkable scientist or not, could be completely fulfilled if she is not also a mother. Is this a social pressure that really needs to be reinforced with cash prizes?
On the other hand, it is still not uncommon for women in science to feel like having kids will be taken as definitive evidence that they weren’t really serious about being great scientists — because if they were, they would never sacrifice the time and energy children require, but would devote all of that to their research. (For some reason, kids aren’t counted against the seriousness of male scientists in quite the same way. Maybe it is still assumed that they have wives who will carry the burden of the care-work so their husbands can attend to the mind-work.)
In the grand scheme of things, three prizes don’t accomplish much more than helping three female scientists in Germany piece together some of the additional resources they need to take care of their kids and their scientific careers. Real change would be more structural, whether in terms of societal support of childrearing more generally, societal acceptance that not having kids is a perfectly reasonable choice, scientific workplaces that recognize that even scientists might have important things in their lives beyond their scientific work, etc., etc.
But until real change comes, what kind of message does an award like this send to you? Do you think it’s a step in the right direction, or does it entrench assumptions that ought to be abandoned?