• The selected researchers receive financial support and coaching sessions to strengthen their leadership skills.
• “As a scientist and mother, I rarely think about my wellbeing” (Lorena Ruiz, IBEC researcher)
Barcelona, 1 June 2022. Ten women scientists from seven leading research centres came together for their final group coaching session last week at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST). The researchers were selected for the third edition of the “To the Mothers of Science” programme, which supports women researchers with children. The programme includes four coaching sessions focused on increasing leadership skills, and a €400 monthly salary top-up over one year. “To the Mothers of Science” is a programme developed by BIST in collaboration with the seven BIST research centres (CRG, IBEC, ICFO, ICIQ, ICN2, IFAE, and IRB Barcelona).
“We hope in the near future programmes like these will no longer be necessary, but at the moment they still are,” says Victòria Conesa, a psychologist and coach for wellbeing and stress prevention. Conesa has run two group sessions and two individual sessions with each programme participant.
Scientist mothers, a rara avis?
On 26 April 2022, the winners of the third edition of the “To the Mothers of Science” programme met for the first time: Laura Pascual Reguant from CRG; Anna Seriola, Lorena Ruiz Pérez, and Zaida Álvarez Pinto from IBEC; Monica Marro from ICFO; Eugenia Martínez Ferrero and Katherine Villa from ICIQ; Maria Chiara Spadaro from ICN2; Malgorzata Siudek from IFAE; and Carme Cortina from IRB Barcelona.
During the first coaching session, the winners shared their experiences. Understanding and sympathy were at their peak when researchers shared feelings of loneliness around being the only researcher and mother in their lab. But what do the numbers say?
While the number of women and men pursuing PhDs at the seven BIST research centres is roughly equal, the proportion of women falls as the research career progresses. Women account for only 23% of group leaders at BIST, a finding that is echoed in scientific research institutions around Europe. Studies indicate that the reasons for this lack of representative leadership are diverse, motherhood being among them. Indeed, of the postdoctoral and senior research staff at the BIST centres (some 700 people), only 9% are women with children. This is why initiatives such as the BIST “To the Mothers of Science” programme are so valuable. Nurturing the leadership and career progression of women who do not want to give up either side of the coin, and who in fact work to integrate the two sides into one, are key.
“The ‘To the Mothers of Science’ programme represents a unique opportunity not only to share your experience with other mothers in the same position, but also to learn how to better manage the emotional and professional burden we are all under,” says Laura Pascual, postdoctoral researcher at CRG and mother to Jana, who has just turned one.
One of the barriers to the advancement of women in the workplace is so-called impostor syndrome: the belief that one is not sufficiently trained and/or intellectually equipped to take on positions of greater responsibility.
Some programme participants have said the coaching sessions helped them to “recognise their strengths” and to become more confident. Malgorzata Siudek, a postdoctoral researcher at IFAE and mother to two children explains that “the coaching sessions have allowed me to find peace in the decisions I am making, and to trust myself to stick to my beliefs“.
The researchers have also learned techniques for managing stress. “As a scientist and a mother, I rarely think about my wellbeing,” explains IBEC researcher Lorena Ruiz. “Thanks to the programme I’ve started to implement strategies to become more assertive in my work,” she adds.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently published a study that reviews impostor syndrome, concluding that sufferers tend to have strong teamwork, cooperation, and social skills. Programmes such as “To the Mothers of Science” therefore help give a much needed impetus to women researchers who already have the skills to become great professionals in the sector.