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Former Professor at the École Polytechnique
Women and science: an impossible love story?
In 1992, Claudine Hermann was the first woman to be appointed as a professor at École Polytechnique. But there was no reason why she should be the only one... She gradually began a campaign to raise awareness of the lack of women in the scientific world. The universities were pioneers in the field compared to the grandes écoles, as Marie Curie was the first female professor in 1906.
In the mid-90s, the subject of equality became a fashionable theme in politics and research was begun into the place of women in science. Claudine Hermann was given the task of representing France. She discovered that the issue affected the whole of Europe and, in 2000, set up the Women and Science association.
The association aims to strengthen the position of female scientists in the public and private sectors, promote the image of science among women and, reciprocally, encourage girls to embark on scientific and technical careers.
The faults are shared, acknowledges the founder. Women don't put themselves up as candidates in sufficient numbers, and men compete with each other, which excludes the women. Men therefore have twice as many opportunities as women of reaching a high position in research. And France is one of the better countries compared to its European partners!
The first female students joined X in 1972. Since then, their proportion has increased to 15% with a few fluctuations, with the 2006 year group reaching a peak of 70 students.
Female Polytechnique graduates have been invited, at the request of students, to talk about their successful careers to future generations and show that there are ways round the obstacles thrown up by society.
The Women and Science association works constantly against the prejudices found in society, among young people, parents and even teachers. For example, one of the doctoral student winners of the 2007 L'Oréal-Unesco Women and Science prize told the story of how she studied biology against the advice of her secondary school teachers. So there's still a lot more work to be done to change mentalities.