BOWomen, gender balance and the scientific community


BOW is a multidisciplinary project whose main objective is to create hybrid magnetic nanoparticles with a membrane surface made from an extracellular vesicle. March 8th celebrates our commitment and the challenge that women put on daily basis in the scientific community.

While drafting this project, priority number one was to create a complementary group that would correctly execute BOW’s Science and Technology and the partners’ choice and network composition was based on the skills needed. Later, when writing the proposal and shaping its objectives, gender balance emerged naturally as a cross-cutting criterion. We firmly believe that gender balance should be “the new normal”.

There is no alternative: if projects are not balanced in terms of gender representation, simply stated we are doing something wrong. It is not -only- a matter of politically correct, rather we recognize that the project success relies on the creative energy input and skills of men and women, which increases the “collective intelligence” of the group, as widely demonstrated. Yet, we are fully aware that gender balance does not yet come naturally, and it requires a conscious effort now if we want the situation to change for the next generations. This should be our goal, as scientists and women and men.

Women in science

Debora Berti is an Associate Professor at the University of Florence and Italian Center for Colloid and Surface Science – Department of Chemistry “Ugo Schiff” and Dr. Antonella Bongiovanni is a Principal Investigator, leading the “Cellular Dynamics Lab” at the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation of the National Research Council of Italy in Palermo.

Prof. Berti and Dr. Bongiovanni explained that as senior BOW women scientists they always pay extra attention that young female scientists feel comfortable in sharing their points of view. Perfectly aware of unconscious bias and of the positive efforts that we must put in overcoming them. “We can say that we have been successful so far. For this reason, we are proud to be part of BOW”, continued Antonella and Debora.

BOW is a balanced blend of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and Life Science backgrounds. These fields have witnessed a different degree of gender underrepresentation over the past decades, even if the gap is nowadays thinning. Rather than the glass-ceiling, we are now facing a leaky pipeline, with gender split increasing as we go from PhD students to top academic positions.

Debora Berti explained: “I am Full Professor of Physical Chemistry, so I come from hard-science, a traditionally male-dominated field. 20-30 years ago, women in my research field were a rarity and my impression was that they tried their best to make peers not realize they were women. When I was not yet permanent, I was interviewed for a Post-doc position by a male Professor-now retired- who told me: I think that women have lower scientific skills than men, but they keep the lab clean and tidy, so I am ready to hire you. I declined. From what I see, nowadays such a statement would not be conceivable. But unconscious bias and the leaky pipeline are always around the corner. We must work on this pipeline of talent and make sure it is no longer leaky”.

They explained that they try to be a role model for young women scientists. “Our attitude is to highlight diversity. I think I have been successful so far, as in my group -says Debora- women are surely over-represented with respect to the department average composition. If they have family and small children, I do my best to encourage them to find a balance and not being under pressure. I have been there too, I used to say, do not worry, and do not give up. I hope that they feel how sincere I am by being on their side”.

Low representation of women in decision-making bodies is a very wide and varied matter. The low employment rate of women is certainly not a problem in the BOW project, as demonstrated by the high number of women even in leadership positions.

Women in BOW

These are PhD’s, WP’s leaders and researchers:

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Partner Team
CSGI Berti Debora
CSGI Caselli Lucrezia
CSGI Montis Costanza
CSGI Paolini Lucia
CSGI Radeghieri Annalisa
CSGI Tegliai Simonetta
CSGI Zitelli Patrizia
CNR – IRIB Adamo Giorgia
CNR – IRIB Bongiovanni Antonella
CNR – IBF Carrotta Rita
CNR – IRIB Longo Alessandra
CNR – IRIB Longo Valeria
CNR – IRIB Picciotto Sabrina
CNR – IBBR Pocsfalvi Gabriella
CNR – IRIB Riccobono Daniela
CNR – IRIB Spera Donatella
CNR – IBF Tomasino Antonella
USC Piñeiro Yolanda
MPG Bouvier Natacha
MPG Göbel Sonja
MPG Landfester Katharina
MPG Laura Dietz
MPG Morsbach Svenja
ZAB Pérez Mónica
ZAB Rodríguez Blanca
ZAB Sala Carla
HBM Eliaser Kairi
HBM Loria Francesca
HBM Zarovni Natasa
RR Candini Olivia
RR Fiammenghi Laura
RR Frabetti Stella
RR Guidi Simona
MPG Meiyu Gai
HMGU Svenja Offer
HMGU Jana Patke
HMGU Miriam Romano

Prof. Berti expressed that working in science is hard and fantastic at the same time. “Finding the balance between personal and professional life is even harder than for most jobs. The pandemic has worsened -in our opinion- the situation as, in terms of child-care, the negative impact on careers will be much higher for women. We should try to do everything we can to level the playing fields”, outlined.