International experts question the excellence model in science given its negative effects for talented women
Women in Movement 2013

International experts in university mobility spent two days analysing the conditions and motivations that lead to highly skilled women emigrating to other countries in search of new opportunities. The Challenges of the International Mobility of the Highly Skilled in the 20th Century, Women in Movement conference organized by the UOC IN3 Gender and ICT research group highlighted the vulnerability and invisibility of these women in terms of their professional career. They often have to emigrate due to the lack of opportunities in their home country, with the corresponding consequences that this has on their personal lives.

A study mentioned by Louise Ackers, Chair in Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool's School of Law and Social Justice, shows that 44% of female scholars in Austria have no children. Indeed, the women researchers present at the conference agreed in saying that "working part-time in the academic world is suicidal for your career, especially in field of science".

Engineers in Spain

In Spain, one of the clearest cases of the problems for professional women to find work is that of engineers "with a rate of international mobility that doubles that of their male counterparts, as they have difficulties gaining a foothold in this profession, which is dominated by men," explained Ana M. Gonzlez Ramos, a researcher on the programme and conference organizer.

The excellence model questioned

Migration policies in a number of countries continue to focus on attracting individual talent, regardless of gender, but without providing measures to aid the work-life balance. This is particularly noticeable in the academic world, where international mobility polices are not designed to adapt to the personal needs and circumstances of female researchers. Nor are they designed for their male counterparts, but the effects on their professional careers are not as pronounced, as was seen in the study presented by Gonzlez Ramos.

"Given that the mobility strategies among female scientists and scholars differ from those of their male counterparts, it is vital that we revise the excellence model in science," in which international stays predominate, she said.

"Proof of this lack of attention for female talent can be seen in the fact that the majority of bodies funding European research offer long-term stays," said Ackers. In the words of this expert in international mobility and gender, we need to open up to other models of internationalization. "We need to make knowledge mobile. I know many women scientists who cannot leave home for two weeks. Long-term mobility programmes are discriminating against women who cannot sign up for them due to the personal circumstances."

Ackers believes that, thanks to new technologies, international collaborative research should not necessarily mean "spending three years in a foreign country. There can be video-conferencing, short stays at conferences, etc. I want to offer a positive message: you can be mobile and a good mother at the same time," said Ackers, who is internationally renowned in her field and mother of four, two of whom are university researchers.

Insecurity in international academic mobility

The precarious conditions in which most scientists work internationally – for example, 80% of overseas researchers at the University of Cambridge have temporary contracts – means that international scientific mobility is no longer as "sexy" as it used to be, explained Ackers. Indeed, this insecurity affects their personal lives (long-distance relationships, living away from one's children, etc.) and employment situation (lack of social security in home country, etc.).

Partial migration

In this context of insecurity in international mobility for male and female researchers, a new phenomenon is becoming increasingly popular: the so-called partial migration. Researchers combine work and residency in two countries at the same time, in order to keep their employment options open.

Even greater difficulties: highly skilled women in under-developed countries

The researchers Rose C. Amazan, from the University of Sydney, and Camilla Spadavecchia, from the University of Genoa, explained the further difficulties encountered by skilled women from Sub-Saharan Africa. In this case, one of the main reasons for emigrating – alongside personal factors, such as reuniting family members – is the discrimination they face in their home country for being women. However, they also face discrimination in EU countries for being non-EU immigrants. In the words of Spadavecchia, "European countries are not prepared to integrate these skilled women into the workforce, which leads to brain waste".

Amazan presented the Giving Women Voice project which highlights the contributions made by skilled Ethiopian women to society, and how they are agents for change in their society, despite the cultural obstacles they have to face up to.

You can follow the comments made by the conference participants via the Twitter hashtag #womeninmovement.

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