Highlights from e-EPS: Women in physics: challenging the established stereotypes?

An equitable gender balance in physics would be beneficial for the quality of research and education, which are key elements in the economic, social and cultural development of our society. The under-representation of women in physics is very widely debated and is central for a society that cares about the well-being of its members.


Many analyses of the reasons for the asymmetric presence of the genders among the population of physics students and at the various levels in academia exist. It has been observed that, in general, the phenomenon is present at different quantitative levels in the different European countries, being less pronounced in Italy, Greece and Spain. This confirms that the reasons for the gender imbalance are multiple and include a different way of perceiving physics as a discipline in different countries. It is very likely that, in some countries, in people’s minds, physics studies have less of a technical connotation and the physicist is seen more as “a philosopher” of nature. From this perspective, physics fits better with the common stereotype: women are supposed to make less money than men, so they may indulge in cultural activities.

Luckily, several actions to guarantee a balanced gender representation in physics have been proposed and also taken up in all European countries (and elsewhere) in order to address the issue. Generally speaking, the situation is continuously improving thanks to different initiatives even though there is still a lot of room for improvement, in particular concerning the men-women asymmetry in high-responsibility positions.

The Equal Opportunity Committee of the EPS was established in 2013 with the mission of looking at the barriers that contribute to the under-representation of women in physics and of promoting actions to facilitate gender-balanced participation in the field.

In 2013, the EPS launched the Emmy Noether distinction to recognise noteworthy female physicists. The distinction is awarded to excellent female physicists for their personal achievements in physics research, education and outreach. At the same time, the laureates are role models for the younger generation of physicists.

A new initiative of the EPS-EOC has been launched, consisting of preparing and publishing in e-EPS short portraits of young female researchers in the very early stage of their careers in academia or in industry. The first portrait was published in this issue of e-EPS and the initiative will continue aiming to present a portrait every two months.

The idea is that a young female considering a career in physics (student, post-doc or young researcher) might find positive answers through learning about the experiences of someone only a few years older regarding their choice to pursue a career in physics.

Motivation and confidence in oneself (“Yes, I can”) are necessary qualities for reaching leading positions.

This article is from e-EPS News.

by L.Di Ciaccio, Chair of the Equal Opportunity Committee of EPS