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March 18th 2019

FOM is participating in the European programme GENERA. GENERA is a project to increase the proportion of female researchers in physics via specific measures. The participants in GENERA are investigating the best way to tackle gender differences. Therefore on 1 November 2016 FOM organised the first Gender in Physics Day. FOM employee Ans Hekkenberg, ambassador of the Technologiepact, gave the opening lecture. In a personal story about her time as a student studying physics she illustrated the need for the GENERA project.

Organiser Sandra Hesping from the GENERA-project: 'We believe it is important to learn from everyday experiences. Another aim of this day is to form a network." The GENERA organisation also wants to create awareness, to ensure that people are aware that they are consciously or unconsciously guided by stereotypes about men and women in the decisions they make. The day was for scientists, administrators and HRM professionals. After a morning programme with lectures the participants gave the GENERA team advice in four workshops.

The administrators group gave the advice to organise gender policy through a top-down approach. 'It must be absolutely clear that administrators find this subject important and act accordingly," said Sijbrand de Jong (Radboud University). At his faculty there used to be the rule that least one in every four professors appointed had to be a woman. 'I can remember that shortly after that rule was introduced three men in a row were appointed in my faculty. Therefore the fourth would have to be a woman. However the appointment committee stated that it only had male candidates. The message from the president of the Executive Board, at the time De Wijkerslooth, was crystal clear: then I suggest you quickly look for female candidates. Such an attitude is what you need. Then you take the problem seriously and you force others to act accordingly.'

There was also criticism about the GENERA project. Eric Eliel (Leiden University) thinks that the European programme is far too complex. 'We simply do not have the time for a long discussion about what the best Gender Equality Plan is. We must get down to work.'

Compulsory gender awareness training
The day was closed with a debate. The proposition 'A course in gender awareness should be compulsory for everybody' led to a lively discussion. Forcing people to do a course, a recommendation from the young physicists, met with resistance. However the counterargument was that people who do not want to attend such a course are often the very people who need it most. Andrea Baldi (DIFFER) thought the requirement was a superb idea: "Why not? After all, our employees are required to do safety training. And a gender training is no different: it ensures that people work in a healthy, safe environment. I think that we must offer people the course."

Opinions were also divided about the proposition 'Conferences with fewer than 30 percent female keynote speakers must be boycotted'. Annalisa Fasolino (Radboud University) was in favour of this: "A good sanction". Should FOM then refuse to remunerate participation in such events? Or withdraw sponsoring from events with too few women? Petra Rudolf (University of Groningen): "If a conference has too few female speakers then I send them a list of suitable candidates. Then you don't have to threaten with sanctions." Once again the consensus was that raising awareness, in particular, is important and not exactly how you organise that.

The findings from the day were symbolically presented to FOM. Gender in Physics Days will also be organised by GENERA in the other participating countries.