ESOF2018 Session | Family Friendly Research to boost Women Research Career

How to address Work Family Conflicts
and balance Professional and Personal Life in Careers’ Development in Research

G.Avellis, MCAA

The session was introduced by G.Avellis, the session’s organizer, who gave an overview of Work Life Balance history, starting from US, when company such as Apple and Oracle funds company perks, and then it was spread to UK and Europe. She draw the attention to the EU Parliament resolution of 9.9.2015 on Women‘s careers in science and universities and glass ceilings encountered, and the report of Serenella Molendini, one of the speakers, and Elena Gentile, member of EU Parliament, on the report “ Work Life Balance in Europe”, which have been inspirational for the session.

The talk of G. Avellis stressed some key indicators in France and Scandinavian Countries concerning parental/paternity/maternity leave and teleworking for both the parents and outlined how these measures brought a high female presence in the labour market and high fertility in these countries with respect to the rest of Europe.

The speakers undelined how a key element for a successful career of European researchers is played by Work Family Conflict (WFC), an open issue of enquiry in human resource management research, and Work Life Balance (WLB) between professional and personal life, actually very relevant especially for women scientists. As far as employment and reconciliation of WFC are concerned, they have also underlined how female employment rates remain low especially in Southern Europe and Eastern Europe and in general even more for women with low education. Antidiscrimination laws have been adopted, but gender gaps are still large. Lack of services for children and above all for the elderly combined with rigid work arrangements make it hard to reconcile work and family life.

Since 2016, Europe has intensified the elaboration of several resolutions, recommendations, and directives to improve the conditions for women employment and career through Work Life Balance (WLB) measures. The European Pillar of Social Rights (March 2017) is acting as a compass for a new convergence process towards better life and work conditions in Europe: Gender Equality and access to Labour Markets are primary among the principles of the Pillar. Moreover, it is very important the proposal of a new directive of the European Parliament on Balancing Professional and Personal Life, which encompasses parental leave, maternity leave and paternity leave, leave for caregivers and flexible working modes, as stated in the conclusions by Serenella Molendini, President of CREIS (European Center for Sustainable Innovation) and National Vice Counsellor of Equality Deputy of Ministry of Labour, Italy.

Further, young early-career researchers needs role models of women scientists who succeeded with their WLB to boost their careers in Science: our session discusses both the opportunities and the obstacles appearing over the course of European researchers’ careers taking into account their scientific mobility by presenting a portal on Role Models funded by HUMBOLDT and MCAA by G. Avellis.

In the session, we aimed to share our personal experiences in WLB and underlined the current State-of-the-Art of WLB in Europe by drawing on the experiences in Germany and Central Europe, by Claudia Dobrinski talk from EURODOC, who performed a very interesting survey in those countries, UK by Katie Wheat, from VITAE who reported from a UKRSA project supported by VITAE, and finally Finland from Sirpa Salenius, from University of Eastern Finland. The male perspectives on Family Friendly Universities were given by Brian Cahill, former chair of Marie Curie Alumni Association and current board member of EUROSCIENCE, and Gordon Dalton, current chair of ICORSA, who also introduced Responsible Research Innovation issues with the HORIZON 2020 project RRING recently won by ICORSA and University College of Cork, where Dalton is currently working as senior researcher, and addressing societal question of the SECURE COST ACTION proposed to the EU Commission, such as it examines the lack of career progression to senior researcher for women.

For example, it was shown as “family-friendly“ university certificate is awarded by berufundfamilie gGmbH, an initiative of the non-profit Hertie Foundation, to universities and colleges that pursue a family-friendly personnel policy and create a work environment for employees, researchers and students that guarantees a balance between work/study and family life. It provides advice and service to support combining studying/working with actively caring for children, teens, adult or elderly family members. It is awarded also by University of Graz (UniKid, UniCare, KinderUniGraz) and University of Heidelberg (Payment components, nonmonetary perquisites and funding for students, Services for families).

The male perspective of family friendly university at University of Cork was underlined by Dalton Gordon pointing out the handbook that UCC developed to provide a comprehensive source of information for fathers working in University College Cork recognising the importance of supporting fathers in balancing work and family life. Relevant policies and information, coach and advise and supports designed to provide a positive environment for staff availing of family leave. Fathers at Work  (Downloadable booklet). Further the UCC promoted Paternity Leave with effect from the 1st September 2016, university staff are entitled to revised Paternity Leave entitlements of a period of two consecutive weeks paid leave to a relevant parent on the birth/adoption of a child.

The conclusions underlines the fields to focus the attention of the political, academic and company decision makers as follows:

  • Organizational Innovation in the work context to integrate better productivity with the wellbeing of the researchers (better retention and less absenteeism) through the flexibility of working hours, recognition of home working and smart working
  • Effective Management of Work Life Balance for all to produce cultural changes on the “care” issue (not only women should take charge of it)
  • Execution of a “constant connection/ tutoring ” system , use of technologies during maternity/paternity leave, and keep the women in maternity leave informed on the opportunity and changes on the working places.
  • Extension of leaves (as foreseen by the new European directive on the leaves currently under discussion) of mandatory paternity leaves (at the least 10 days) of parental leaves (a not transferable period not less than 4 months long) and leaves for caregivers.
  • Offer of a target programming of the most important meetings and events during the standard working hours, without taking extra-working hours, when possible.
  • Implementation of initiatives of awareness , especially to directors and top managers , with the aim to address the gender myths and deconstruct bias and stereotypes.
  • Identify the women who reached high levels of their career as Role Models. Identify and take as example also the men who take a break in their career to choose a part time work, such that “the priority given to the care to the family is not only shown as only a feminine issue” (GENDERA European Project);
  • Quality Services and with flexible times for the care activities for children, elders, and disables
  • Introduce a mentoring system for the younger researchers to involve them in the informal networks to give them support and awareness of their role;
  • Assure that promotion criteria are clear, transparent and right. It is justifiable to use criteria such as visibility, availability and mobility, but they can be represented in innovative way. For example, the availability to travel is an important factor in the career progression in many company concerning STEM. However, it is possible to use alternative methods of communication such as video-teleconferences.
  • Intervene on the “alleged neutrality” of the evaluation systems which even today do not allow an equitable balance both in the recruitment and the progression of the career of the women researchers (for example a proper assessment of the maternity and parental leaves).

The session was successful also in terms of active participation of the audience and there were some final questions addressing the issues of mobility and parental leaves related to mobility.