Balance for Better

The 2019 theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter. As we move into a revolutionary phase of this campaign, we are reminded to always strive for gender balance in the workplace by also taking into account intersectionality to allow for equal opportunities and diversity. The Lancet theme issue on Women in Medicine and Global Health does a great job in discussing these issues at length.

Although, a lot of systems have been put into place to allow for gender equity, structural barriers and negative stereotypes still hinder promotion and access, leading to women dropping out from STEM fields.

Akhila Melarkode-Vattekatte is currently pursuing her PhD in computational biology at Inserm. She says, “Gender bias is only a part of the problem crippling female representation in any profession. In my opinion, millennia of social conditioning to be unflawed in thinking and action is a significant factor. It is so lethal, that it makes us loop over infinite conditions (some of them surreal) to check if our idea could ever fail, ignoring the numerous times it could succeed. This internal monologue is like a rat wheel that prevents us from timely assertion, which we and rest of our world perceive as incapability. We must remind ourselves that out of all the reasons for not accomplishing a task, “we cannot” isn’t one.”

So, what is BioExcel doing about gender and diversity?

As an interdisciplinary field, women are still underrepresented in computational biology as compared to other fields in science.

Rosa Badia, Workflows and Distributed Computing Group Manager at Barcelona Supercomputing Centre says, “While I consider that engineering and IT is not of outmost interest for girls in general, there are few that are enthusiastic in these areas. What I would like to see is a change in the culture, society and family attitudes, by providing the necessary support to girls who want to pursue these careers, and not promoting the notion that this is a man’s field”.

BioExcel and our partner institutions have outlined clear policies to support researchers irrespective of their gender, nationality, religion, disabilities, age, cultural background or sexual identity and encourage underrepresented minorities to get involved in our activities. To ensure our policies are translated into actions, we are looking to invest into long-term initiatives which include running Train-the-Trainer workshops, where we will push for more women participating in these courses. BioExcel will also actively work with related initiatives such as Women in HPC to further address this issue.

We are making an active effort towards achieving faculty gender balance in our training courses. Travel grants are offered on selected courses to support early career researchers and we highly encourage women to apply for these workshops.

Moving into phase 2 of the project, much work has to be done and we will continue to maintain and strengthen our efforts in the sector.

As Marie Curie famously said, “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”

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