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Accueil / Groupes de travail / Europe / French Women in Physics: Status and Actions

French Women in Physics: Status and Actions

C. Thibault, A. Pépin, M. Ducloy, E. Giacobino and M. Leduc

Par FERNANDEZ-VEST M.M.Jocelyne, le 20 October 2008

Communication présentée au Colloque ICWIP2008 (International Conference for Women In Physics) organisée par l’IUPAP, Séoul 8-10 octobre 2008, dont Catherine Thibault, responsable de la délégation française, a bien voulu confier le texte à SLR-Europe.

C. Thibault
- French Physical Society (SFP), Paris, France
- “Women and Sciences” Association, Paris, France
- CSNSM, CNRS/IN2P3 and Univ. Paris-Sud 11, Orsay, France

A. Pépin
- Mission for the place of women at CNRS, Paris, France

M. Ducloy
- French Physical Society (SFP), Paris, France
- Laser Physics Laboratory, Galilée Institute and CNRS, Univ. Paris 13, Villetaneuse, France

E. Giacobino
- Interdisciplinary Mission , CNRS, Paris France

M. Leduc
- French Physical Society (SFP), Paris, France
- Kastler Brossel Laboratory, CNRS and Univ. Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France

Abstract. We present statistics on the current lack of female students entering scientific studies and the persistence of a glass ceiling for women physicists –and scientists in general– in France, as well as examples of actions undertaken by French research institutions, associations, companies and professional societies since 2005, to improve this situation.

Keywords: women, gender, physics, science, glass ceiling, CNRS, SFP PACS: 01.40E-


Although girls in France have a slightly higher success rate than boys in high school and account for over 45% of students in the standard scientific track, attrition becomes significant in higher education. Throughout undergraduate and graduate university studies, the proportion of female students in fundamental sciences is constant, around 27% [1]. In the selective parallel track of Engineering Schools (a French peculiarity), women account for 25% of the students, but 18% in physics-oriented disciplines [2]. As already pointed out in previous ICWIP editions, other French distinctive features include: a favorable –although not perfect– social situation (low-cost public daycares, paid parental leave), and the fact that a large portion of women physicists are civil servants, hired for a permanent position in the public research system in their early thirties, after a short postdoctoral period. Women account for 21.2% of physics faculty at French Universities and 18.6% of physics researchers at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, the major public research institution in France, and the largest in Europe) [3]. Although these numbers are high compared to other countries such as USA, Canada or Germany, they remain unsatisfying and the progression is very slow (16% women in physics at CNRS in 1987). The average percentage of women junior researchers in physics recruited at CNRS since 2005 has decreased from 25% to 19%, although there is no male advantage in physics at this entry level3. However, the so-called glass ceiling remains very real. In physics, at Universities, 27.5% of associate professors but only 10.3% of full professors are women (respectively 27% and 10% in 2003) and the male advantage (ratio of the proportion of senior researchers –or full professors– among men over the proportion of senior researchers –or full professors– among women) is as high as 2.3. At CNRS, the situation is slightly more favorable, with 22.2% and 13.6% women among junior and senior researchers respectively, and with a male advantage of 1.4. Although significant, the male advantage for physics is lower than the overall male advantage at CNRS including all disciplines, which is 1.553.


Encouraging Girls to Choose Scientific Careers

- This is one of the main goals of the “Femmes et Sciences” (F&S, Women and Science) Association [4], working in close partnership with “femmes et mathématiques" (F&M, Women and Mathematics) and the “Association Française des Femmes Ingénieurs" (FI, French Women Engineers). Their members visit high schools to meet students, particularly girls, and inform them about scientific studies and careers, and to bear testimony to how rewarding they find their profession. As an example, in 2007, an action towards Parisian pupils was organized with the participation of more than 100 scientific female students from University or Engineering Schools who were trained by the three associations. Some other programs of these three associations are: (1) the common “elles EN SCIENCES” website [5] (She in sciences), aimed at girls as well as their parents and teachers, launched in 2005 with support from the Ministry for Higher Education and Research; (2) a booklet to help teachers to tackle stereotypes about girls in science, published in 2006; (3) mentoring for teenagers; (4) a yearly colloquium organized by F&S where high school students are invited to meet women scientists.

- The Mission for the Place of Women at CNRS [6], established in July 2001, has developed various educational outreach tools, including the Women in Physics exhibition, created for the World Year of Physics in 2005. Now coming with a DVD, the exhibition continues to travel through France (already over 70 showings and debates in high schools, science centers and museums, conferences, etc.) and is now touring abroad in its English translation through partnerships developed with the USA, Canada and South Africa.

- In the private sector, some companies have recently started positive actions like the “Elles bougent !” (Women on the move!) [7] Association created in 2005 by aviation, rail transport and automobile industries, in collaboration with related Engineering Schools, to present the careers available to girls and offer mentoring.

Promoting Women in Science and Gender Equality

- In France, as mentioned in the ICWIP2005 report, several institutional structures are now operational, such as the Mission for Parity created in September 2001 at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. The yearly “Irène Joliot-Curie” Award created by the Mission, in collaboration with EADS, to promote women in research and technology, was awarded to several physicists since 2005.

- At CNRS, the Mission for the Place of Women [8] has remained very active, collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data, producing surveys and studies, sponsoring various colloquia, nominating CNRS women researchers for awards, promoting gender research, organizing gender trainings sessions across the country, and fostering gender equality within CNRS.

- France is also actively involved in the European Platform of Women Scientists [9] created in 2005, particularly through former F&S founder, physicist Claudine Hermann, now on the administration board of EPWS, and through CNRS.

- The 14th International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists, ICWES14, was hosted by France in July 2008, in partnership with the Mission for the place of women at CNRS and the F&S, F&M and FI associations.

- The “Société Française de Physique”(SFP, French Physical Society) [10], as the three above-cited Associations, pays much attention to promotions and appointments in leading positions and governmental committees, often unfair to women, and lodges complaints when necessary. The SFP also lobbies for more women as chairpersons and speakers in scientific conferences and colloquia.

- New awards for women scientists have been created in 2005. (1) The Excellencia Trophy for high-tech women engineers (fundamental research, applied research, R&D, production, and students preparing to enter high-tech professions). (2) The City of Paris Award for a young (<35 years) female Parisian scientist. In collaboration with the French Academy of Science, L’Oréal-UNESCO also launched new national doctoral fellowships for women in science in 2007.

[1] http://www.eduscol.education.fr/D0234/filles_garcons_chiffres2008.pdf

[2] http://www.femmes-ingenieurs.org/offres/gestion/menu_82_perso_82_1363/statistiques.html

[3] A. Pépin, “Status of women in physics in France”, Internal CNRS Report (2008), including data from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research; M. Crance, “The place of women at CNRS: Key figures”, IPAM-CNRS (2008). http://www.cnrs.fr/mpdf/IMG/pdf/2006_PlacedesFemmes.pdf

[4] http://www.femmesetsciences.fr

[5] 5

[6] http://www.cnrs.fr/mission-femmes/

[7] http://www.ellesbougent.com

[8] http://www.cnrs.fr/mission-femmes/

[9] http://www.epws.org

[10] http://www.sfpnet.fr