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"50 years of women @ École polytechnique: Celebrating and Inspiring"

Fifty years after the opening of the Ingénieur polytechnicien program to women, the École Polytechnique inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to the feminization of the school and the inspiring careers of its alumnae, in the presence of many of the women honored on this very special occasion.
"50 years of women @ École polytechnique: Celebrating and Inspiring"
31 Mar. 2022

The exhibition "50 Years of Women @ École Polytechnique: Celebrating and Inspiring" was inaugurated in the presence of many alumnae whose inspiring careers are presented on this occasion.

"Through this anniversary, the École Polytechnique wishes to celebrate women polytechnicians and inspire others," said Eric Labaye, President of École Polytechnique, in an opening speech.

"This exhibition not only highlights women polytechnicians, but also women from the École's doctoral programs and the first women graduates of the programs set up only a few years ago: the Bachelor's degree, the Master of Science & Technology and the Executive Master's program. They too are part of the history of the École Polytechnique and are shaping it," he carried on.

"Over the years, École Polytechnique has continued its feminization process, particularly through these new programs (...). The results obtained through the actions implemented by the School’s Diversity and Success Center and thanks to the commitment of the School’s students, encourage us to ramp up our efforts to contribute to the feminization of our programs, but also our staff, including our faculty," emphasized Eric Labaye, stating the School's ambition to reach 30% of women by 2026 within its education programs and 40% of women in terms of recruitment of professors and researchers.

Anne Duthilleul-Chopinet, valedictorian in 1972 and one of the first seven women to enter the Ingénieur polytechnicien program, whose career is presented in the exhibition alongside that of more than fifty women polytechnicians and alumni or students from other programs, then took the floor.

She paid tribute to the memory of Michel Debré, who, as Minister of Defense in the Pompidou government from June 1969 to March 1973, had taken the decision to open the École Polytechnique to women after having given them access to careers as officers in the armed forces.

Referring to the two parts of the exhibition "Celebrating and Inspiring" she called for celebrating the very high level of scientific training associated with the humanities and social sciences offered by l’X.

"This School inspired me not only by the rigor of reasoning (...) but because it opens our intelligence to the maximum. This search for understanding of what surrounds us, this search for the truth in a way, inspires our freedom," she said.

She also testified that, for her, one of the inspirations provided by l’X was "to give back to society what the School has allowed us to acquire and to be able to make ourselves useful to the extent of what we had received" by working for "the common good".

Eulalie Chabert (X2020), co-chair of the "X au Féminin" student association, pleaded for a reinforcement of the feminization and social diversity of the School. She recalled that the proportion of women in the Engineering Cycle is still only 17% - a figure comparable to that of other Engineering Schools - despite the efforts made by l’X and its Diversity and Success Center.

"We have to ask ourselves why girls are so reluctant to study sciences ? Self-censorship certainly needs to be worked on," she said, but "we must not neglect the sexist biases on a daily basis, the difficulties encountered at all stages of the training pathway by girls, the need to be encouraged, to be able to assume having ambition as girls."

She also stressed the "low number of female role models around us that makes it difficult to imagine even today what it is to be an engineer as a woman. It contributes to maintain gender inequalities that we must fight," she said.

Welcoming an exhibition highlighting the careers of "inspiring and powerful" women, she insisted on the progress needed to strengthen the feminization of l’X and said she hoped that "we will all do it together so that the objectives that the School has set for itself in this area are achieved.

The exhibition "50 Years of Women @ École Polytechnique: Celebrating and Inspiring" has two parts: the first traces nearly two centuries of women's presence-absence at École Polytechnique and shows how a male-only School made up for the absence of women, emphasizing that gender identity issues are far from new; the second showcases the often pioneering and always inspiring careers of female graduates and students at École Polytechnique through portraits highlighting their successes and achievements to inspire future generations.