Last Monday the first lunch meeting of women researchers in Kumpulan Kampus took place. The meeting was an attempt by Prof. Hanna Vehkamäki and myself to start a network of women researchers in Kumpulan Kampus.
There is an existing association of women researchers in Helsinki called Helsingin tutkijanaiset ry (The Helsinki Association of Women Researchers) and Hanna is the current chairwoman, but it is not as active as they would wish it to be. Also, many female colleagues often talked about how nice it would be to have such connecting network.
The idea is to keep this lunch meetings regularly, for instance the first Monday of each month. The next is scheduled for February 2nd at 11.30 and the meeting place is the Dynamicum building lobby, in Kumpulan Kampus.
What are the potential benefits of such network? Even though Finland is a great place in the world regarding gender equality, there is a long way to go still. There are some issues that need attention and raise questions. For instance, how come the Math department at University of Helsinki has never had a female professor? A similar situation happens in Physics, with still really few women being professors in Finland. It would be interesting to discuss with other colleagues to understand why. Is it discrimination or are there social reasons?
There are common situations and problems that may be discussed among female colleagues: how to combine family life and academic career? Is meritocracy effectively spread? Are there prejudices on women we want to change in STEM o, in general, in research? Can we organise mentoring activities for younger female students? And much more.
To give a concrete example of the current local situation on the matter of equality, I would like to quote a study of 2008 by K. Severi Hämäri on matters of equality in the University of Helsinki Mathematics Department. Such report can be found here (in Finnish only). Quoting Doc. Hämäri himself,
Through the answers to the questionnaire quoted in the report, it is also evident that the reasons why women drop out, are much the same as found in earlier studies: employment and salary are insecure compared to alternative careers; there is a significant difference in mathematical self esteem among men and women; teachers approach male and female students differently; women have a harder time networking, and as a result are more isolated; there is a lack of female role models; and there is a lack of understanding of non-traditional needs, in particular with respect to family life. (Aasa Feragen and K. Severi Hämäri, 'Women and Men in Mathematical Sciences', EWM-Newsletter 15, March 2009).
Now, my sincere question is: how come that in a such progressive country as Finland, where welfare and social aids are so well-established, we are dealing with this situation in STEM?
If you feel this is an interesting topic of discussion, please feel free to contact me or join us for lunch at the next meeting.