on May 22, 2023
  • Research

Published on May 22, 2023 Updated on May 22, 2023

ETIS, Ten Inspiring Women Scientists

The ETIS laboratory (Equipes Traitement de l’Information et Systèmes), consisting of the CNRS, ENSEA, and CY Cergy Paris Université, has promoted equality and gender parity within its teams for several years. One of the recent initiatives by its “Equality, Parity, Otherness” committee is to highlight the achievements of ten female researchers through a bilingual book and an accompanying English-language film. This critical work addresses the underrepresentation of women in various scientific disciplines.

Commitment to equality

Numerous initiatives have been launched in recent years to showcase the contributions of women in science. For example, the CNRS initiated a project called Les décodeuses du numérique, which translates testimonies of women researchers in the digital sector into comic books. In 2020, Katerina Tzompanaki established an Equality and Parity section at ETIS to put the suggested plans into action. She spearheaded the creation of the book “ETIS: 10 Inspiring Women of Science”, and the accompanying film. As an engineer and a mathematics enthusiast since her early years, she aimed to send a clear message: that women, like men, can excel in scientific and technical professions and that ETIS is a laboratory that values gender issues.

In January 2023, Lilyana Valentinova Petrova assumed the role after Katerina. She proposed adding “otherness” to the committee’s name to foster even greater inclusivity. Her goal is to promote acceptance of diversity in all forms, engage in philosophical reflection to understand individual needs and respond to them in the best possible way. In effect, she encourages discussions and exchanges within the laboratory on these subjects.

Inequality across scientific domains

Achieving a balance remains challenging despite increased attention to equality and parity in scientific research. At ETIS, internal statistics from 2021 reveal that women account for 34.7% of teacher-researchers and 22.8% of doctoral students. The disciplines themselves undoubtedly influence these disparities. Data published by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research in 2020 indicates that women represented only 20% of tenured teacher-researchers in engineering sciences and 23% in physics, compared to 63% in languages and literature and 54% in pharmacy. Only biology and biochemistry (49%) and the humanities (48%) come close to achieving a gender balance. In the book’s editorial, Katerina Tzompanaki, along with Olivier Romain and Lola Cañamero (director and deputy director of ETIS, respectively), express their concern over this situation: “If we consider the academic performance of girls at the end of compulsory education, we can quickly see that girls outperform boys in almost all fields. So, if girls have all the necessary background and intellectual capabilities to continue and excel at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)-related professions, why don’t they choose them? This question has gained global societal interest in recent years. Women have been either intimidated or discouraged from pursuing STEM careers in academia and industry.”

Research and Passion

The ten women featured by ETIS work in a wide range of scientific disciplines, including data science, embedded systems, psychoacoustics, robotics, and artificial intelligence. They tackle ethical dilemmas in technology and explore the applications of algorithms. Whether PhD students or professors, each has a unique background, yet they all share an intense passion for their respective disciplines. Reading and listening to them, it becomes evident that they possess a spark that drives them and has undoubtedly helped them to define a space for themselves in a predominantly male field. Gender-related challenges play a minimal role in their daily work. However, one drawback they face is the need to balance their professional ambitions with family life. Camille Simon Chane, a lecturer at ENSEA, highlights the continued impact of maternity leave on the careers of female researchers: “Since our profession is so personal, it differs from a typical corporate setting where leaving would mean the company’s responsibility to find a replacement. Anything left undone here during maternity leave directly affects our projects, responsibilities, and, ultimately, our careers. In my case, my colleagues took over many tasks, and everything went relatively smoothly. Nonetheless, the nature of our work is akin to being self-employed. It is our responsibility, and if we don’t do it, it won’t be done.”

Towards a Society that Values All Talents

Katerina Tzompanaki and Lilyana Petrova share a common objective: to bring society to a stage where such issues need no longer be a concern. Katerina emphasizes the need to move beyond quotas, stating that reflection must occur at the educational level. “The goal is not to coerce women into becoming scientists but to create an environment where those who aspire to pursue scientific careers can do so freely”. Arsenia Chorti, a professor and co-leader of the Information, Communications, and Imaging team at ETIS (predominantly composed of women), echoes this sentiment in the concluding remarks of the film: “The issue at hand is that there are countless talented individuals out there who remain unseen due to a lack of opportunities. I’m not only referring to women but also other minority groups and the importance of diversity in general. It is crucial for us, as a society, to actively address this, as we never know where the next groundbreaking idea might originate.”