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A documentary on women in science

Women in high-level scientific positions are strongly underrepresented in Western society compared to men. The project tackles this problem in a constructive way, which is not pointing just at claiming rights that should be granted, but showing how women with their diversity can genuinely improve the current scientific environment.

Some numbers

In recent times, the number of female students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has increased significantly, bringing to an almost equal representation of both sexes in the student body. Also, in media and previously dominated male fields, women occupy now a larger space. All of a sudden, it seems that the possibility for women to affirm themselves is open and walkable. But is it so?

Despite the appearance, the presence of women in leading roles has not changed that much.  The percentage of women currently working in leading positions in academia is much lower than the corresponding number of men. However, this trend is not following the tendency observed in the student body up to the Ph.D. level (see Figure 1 for the University of Cologne).

But why is it so?

Why are there so few women in Western society pursuing scientific careers? Recently, a lot of research has tried to shed light on the main reasons for such discrepancies, finding various motivations (Corbett et al., 2015). Isolation, lack of role models and no sense of belonging, perception of the working place as competitive and hostile, unconscious and/or implicit biases driven by stereotypes, and incompatibility between the demands of work responsibilities and family life. All these causes often push women to choose family over work. Biases are still present also in the evaluation process,

All the info on the project

The project started from an idea discussed during a coffee break at the Institute of Geophysics and meteorology and a bunch of people helped in different ways to make that tiny idea evolve into a video documentary. So, even if the project was created and led by Claudia Acquistapace, and the final authors are Claudia Acquistapace and Valeria Lo Meo, we try here to mention all those that contributed to it: Thirza van Laar, Julia Munchowsky, Carolina Doran, Feray Ünlü, Rene’ Weißing, Anna Werma, Ute Gärtel, Susanne Crewell, Dario Valenzano, Miriam Janke, Annika Dähne, Nina Steinweg, Sigrun Korsching, Karin Boessenkool, Adam Polczyk, Fabio Magnifico, Jürgen Rees, Katrin Schrader, Markus Ritschel, Harmonie Jimenez, Selin Kandemir.

It would not have been possible without the administrative support of Alma Bojcic, Ramize Iseni, Estelle Knoblauch, Annika Dahne, nor without the members of the gender equality commission that approved the project: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Thomas Langmann (Chairman), Dr. Martina Fuchs, Dr. Katrin Schrader, Dr. Jan Kruse, Silke Koppenhöfer, Dr. Ralf Müller, Viktoria Labus, Metin Serefoglu.

Many institutions were involved in the filming:

  • Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences
  • Gender Equality Commission of the University of Cologne
  • Referat Gender & Diversity Management  
  • University Administration Communications & Marketing
  • Institute for General Didactics and School Research
  • University of Cologne
  • Division 44.2 Travel cost center 
  • CECAD – Cluster of Excellence
  • Research Vessel Maria. S. Merian board

as well as some external partners:

Our goal

We believe that this video documentary can encourage young female researchers to believe in themselves and connect with other women, breaking the loneliness they face from gender discrimination. Moreover, these stories can inspire teenagers to pursue a scientific career.

The wetoo documentary on women in science was funded by:

  • The Financial Fund for the Implementation of the Statutory Equal Opportunity Mandate of the University of Cologne
  • The Atmospheric Water Cycle and Remote Sensing group from the University of Cologne
  • The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

Finally, I want to especially thank all the female scientists who spent their time contributing to the project: Lena Pernas, Fernanda Pinheiro, Jane Reznick, Simone Morak, Eva Karatairi, Tamara Gigolashvili, Sabine Graf, and the ones that were interviewed in the documentary, for being so strong, direct and sincere: Natalia Kononenko, Hajar Maleki Anna Kathrin Schmidt-Verma, Claudia Acquistapace. Shaista Ilyas, Sanjay Mathur.

The backstage was curated by Tina Burg and Luciano Perbellini.
Below, a selection of the images taken by Luciano Perbellini during the filming of the documentary.