Generation equality: Empowering and giving visibility to women in robotics
 

On March 8, International Women's Day (IWD) we celebrate the political, socioeconomic and cultural achievements of women and the women right’s movement towards gender equality. “Whilst the social and political rights of women are greater in some places than others, there is no country where gender equality has been achieved” says Mary Evans, professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science in her book “The persistence of gender inequality (Polity Press 2017). In 2022 this situation has not changed either globally or at the European level as indicated in the EU Gender Equality index for 2020 where the average of the EU is 67.4% and the maximum is Sweden with 83.8%. Although there has been a clear commitment from the European Union on gender equality (specially in innovation and science), there are still structural forms of inequality that must be challenged and changed. It is not the aim of this article to analyse or comment on those, but to show what is being done and is available, especially in the European Union, for us to contribute as individuals and as a community towards gender equality in the field of robotics. 


Any journey starts with a first step, so I asked Maja Hadziselimovic, member of the Board of Directors of euRobotics and active United Nations (UN) Generation Equality champion of women and girls in STEM, how a person (no matter the gender) can contribute to gender equality. She told me There are three actions you can take to be part of Generation Equality:  Empower women and girls in science; raise awareness about gender equality and raise the visibility of women in science”. So, let’s explore different activities linked to those actions.  

 

A person standing next to a machine

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Maja Hadziselimovic (Photo Credits: Marijana Bicvic / UN Women) 

Empower women  

Although inequalities still exist, the EU has a well-established regulatory framework on gender equality and has made significant progress over the last decades. In March 2020, the European Commission published the EU Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, setting out their commitment towards a Union where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are free to pursue their chosen path in life, have equal opportunities to thrive, and can equally participate in and lead our European society. 

Thus, it is not surprising that the EC is making an eligibility criterion for all public bodies, higher education institutions and research organisations to have a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in order to participate in Horizon Europe. Those looking for extra information on GEPs, can take a look at the work of EU-H2020 project SPEAR (Supporting and Implementing Plans for Gender Equality in Academia and Research) which provides the SPEAR’s compass guide, to help you draft and implement gender equality measures in your Research Performing Organisation (RPO); and GEARING ROLES: Gender Equality Actions in Research Institutions to traNsform Gender ROLES with examples of implementation of GEPs in universities and research organisations, because ensuring effective implementation and avoiding resistance is not always easy. 

Empowering women can also be done outside the EC sphere, at a national or local level. This is the case with the work of Ana-Maria Stancu, CEO of Bucharest Robots, founder of the association E-Civis, and member of the Board of Directors of euRobotics. She has a personal and professional mission to empower women and girls in the field of robotics in Romania: One of the hashtags we are using in our work in Romania is #vinrobotii (robots are coming). We are not using this as a threat, but as a reminder that the robots are here and will develop further. So far, what I can see in my day-to-day work is that women are generally perceived as outsiders in this industry. Every time I talk to a potential client or public authority, the general discussion is led by me, but the minute they have a technical question, they unconsciously turn to my male colleagues. The main problem I see is that most of them do this unintentionally – which makes it even more problematic. It means that this perception is deeply rooted in people’s minds.” This probably sounds familiar to you and gender bias can be found in different fields. A good read in this regard is the book of Invisible Women” (Chatto & Windus 2019) by Caroline Criado Perez.