International Day of Women and Girls in Science falls on Sunday, February 11th.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, observed on February 11th, commemorates the achievements and challenges faced by female scientists. In its Equal Opportunities Plan for the period 2022–2024, the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň (UWB) monitors the representation of women and girls across the university and has introduced regular data monitoring for further assessment. Thanks to these efforts, it can enhance the position of women and girls in science. Since the beginning of the year, UWB has also dedicated attention to this topic through its ombudsman.
Experiences of women and girls in scientific environments vary. While some observe no differences between men and women in academic settings, others encounter discrimination and lack of understanding.
Professor Ludmila Kučerová from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UWB specializes in materials engineering. In her laboratory, she addresses issues such as processing and characterization of steels manufactured using conventional and additive technologies or hydrogen storage possibilities in metallic materials.
At conferences where she represents UWB, she regularly finds herself in almost exclusively male-dominated environments.
"The most helpful thing for women and girls in science would be if gender were not an issue at all. Let's focus on everyone's abilities and expertise instead. However, I must say that the university is a good choice for girls in engineering. It is possible to have part-time positions and work from home here," says the professor from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UWB.
Associate Professor Lucie Rohlíková works at the Faculty of Education at UWB as a didacticist. She focuses on the use of modern technologies in teaching, e-learning, and distance education and is also a member of a nationwide platform representing artificial intelligence as a tool for educational use. She perceives women in science as irreplaceable because they view the world and its problems from a different perspective than men.
"It is necessary to constantly seek ways to support women in science in balancing their personal and family lives. I am glad that our society is gradually removing barriers, and we don't have to face the same problems as women who first celebrated International Women's Day in 1909," says the scientist.
However, according to
Lenka Strnadová, a political scientist from the Faculty of Philosophy at UWB who has long been devoted to the topic of women's equality, discussions about the unequal status of women and girls in society often occur in vague terms that allow pretending that such problems do not exist.
"The primary barrier is the family environment, which often significantly discourages girls from pursuing scientific careers and later dissuades mother-women from top careers in science. Another set of problems concerns the dynamics of relationships among students and in the workplace, persistent sexism, and inadequate flexibility and understanding from superiors," she explains.
Lenka Strnadová describes situations that she, as a scientist, has had to deal with many times.
"As a working mother of a ten-month-old daughter, I have often heard on my way home from a lecture well-intentioned lamentations that I should enjoy going home to relax with my daughter, while others have to spend demanding hours at work," she says. According to her, individual activism by women has so far contributed only to slow change:
"In my opinion, change must come from institutions, it is not achievable purely from the bottom. We need strong scientific and university authorities, mostly men in today's Czech Republic, who will push through this institutional and normative change and become its active drivers."
Lenka Strnadová welcomes the introduction of the ombudsman role at UWB as an institutional move towards improvement. As of January, both students and university employees can submit suggestions for resolution to the ombudsman.
Ombudsman Petr Šimon is also responsible for evaluating the implementation of the Equal Opportunities Plan. For example, the report for 2022 states that women account for less than a fifth of academics at the Faculty of Applied Sciences and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. The highest proportion of women was at the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Education. Women make up no more than 60 percent of teachers at any of the faculties. At the level of associate professor or professor, women represent only 16 percent of UWB.
"UWB has committed to preparing a concept for balancing personal and professional life as part of the Equal Opportunities Plan, which will propose steps towards equal conditions for female academics and scientists, as well as for male academics and scientists on parental leave. This includes options such as remote work and the establishment of childcare facilities or groups. The first such group, called Hlídárna, was opened in 2023 at UWB premises on Jungmannova Street," describes Ombudsman Petr Šimon, who is preparing the report for 2023.
According to him, another important measure is considering parents' career breaks when evaluating career growth or creating an adaptation process after returning from maternity or parental leave.
"In the second half of this year, we will begin preparing the Equal Opportunities Plan for the period 2025–2027. I will strive to include even more concrete measures in this plan to equalize conditions for female scientists and academics," adds the ombudsman.