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Observing, analysing, acting, informing, sharing

Although their numbers are increasing, women are still under-represented in STEM research and their potential is not sufficiently recognised and considered. Studies show, however, that diversity fosters the dynamism of research, and is essential for a proper understanding of challenges with a societal impact such as climate change. BIRA-IASB is committed to promoting women in science and some of its employees are involved in diversity research in geosciences. The aim is to achieve a better balance and an inclusive practice of science in all its richness.

Despite their increasing numbers, women are still under-represented, under-recognised and under-valued in geosciences. Based on reliable figures, some members of BIRA-IASB are studying the place of women in science, following an approach in line with the scientific method and the Institute's missions: observing, analysing, informing and sharing.

Wetenschapster in het labo
Women are still under-represented, under-recognised and under-valued in geosciences.


The evolution of human resources statistics at BIRA-IASB for the period 2008-2018 and the gender distribution in 2020 shows that, while a minimum 1/3 female employment rate was achieved a decade ago, the rate of female employees with a science and technology education (STEM) has since barely reached this recommended proportion.

Vrouwen in wetenschappelijke teams
BIRA-IASB is committed to promoting women in science.

BIRA-IASB is far from being alone in this deficit. A revealing study of the problem published in Nature Astronomy and in which a BIRA-IASB employee participated shows that in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of scientific articles published in astronomy in the first half of 2020 was lower than the average for the previous three years. However, a closer analysis shows a much more contrasted reality: this decrease in fact only concerns women, and the number of publications with first male authors has increased by 10%.


BIRA-IASB employees have also studied the participation of women in the scientific teams of ESA missions to study the solar system. Published in Advances in Geosciences, this analysis of 10 missions shows that although the number of women is steadily increasing, the gender imbalance has persisted over the 38-year period to the present day.


Recently, a handful of BIRA-IASB staff members became involved in the promotion of women in science by organising, together with the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the first Belgian edition of "Soapbox Science", an international initiative to promote women in science and their work. Normally intended for a busy public place, this 2020 edition took place online because of the pandemic.

Soapbox Science
Image courtesy of Soapbox Science Ottawa.


Finally, a group of scientists from the institute has engaged into the "Wiki edit-a-thon" initiative to highlight diversity within the planetary science community. This project, launched at the Europlanet Science Congress 2020 by the Diversity and inclusion Committee of the Europlanet Society, aims to contribute articles to Wikipedia in order to make the contribution of women playing a leading role in this area more visible.