Does creativity have a gender?
Diversity in research expands the pool of prodigious minds, bringing new perspectives, talent and creativity.
At the end of October 1927, the fifth Solvay Conference was held in Brussels. The central theme of the meeting was "Electrons and Photons" and it allowed the best physicists of the time to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. Thanks to the contributions of these prodigious minds, a new way of understanding the universe was constructed, thus abandoning many of the preconceived ideas of mankind throughout history.
The photographer Benjamin Couprie was responsible for capturing one of the most iconic images in the history of science, which is History in itself. The picture shows almost thirty of the best brains that science has ever given us, more than half of whom were already or would become Nobel Prize winners. Among these great geniuses were Albert Einstein, who proposed the no less famous Theory of General Relativity, Werner Heisenberg, known for formulating the Uncertainty Principle, and Max Planck, the founder of Quantum Mechanics. Without the contributions of these minds, our understanding of nature, as well as the subsequent rapid technological development, might never have taken place.
The iconic photo that immortalised the 1927 meeting sums up possibly the most extraordinary period in the history of physics, and yet it is notable for another, much less positive fact. In that feverish, effervescent atmosphere of ideas that brought together 29 of the greatest minds in history, there was only one woman. Sitting in the front row, at the age of 60 and with two Nobel prizes, Marie Skłodowska-Curie appears with her hands in her lap, looking serenely at the camera. One question that inevitably arises when looking at the photo is where the rest of the women researchers were.
Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, Marietta Blau, Nettie Stevens, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Mary Whiton Calkins, Gerty Cori, Marthe Gautier or Marian Diamond are part of a long list of women scientists better known for suffering from what is nowadays labelled the Matilda effect than for their own contributions to science. The Matilda effect is the prejudice against acknowledging the achievements of women in science, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues. Fortunately, history has put each of them in their rightful place, bringing them out of the dark corner where conscious neglect and systematic discrimination had pushed them aside. However, let us think of all those women who were not so lucky, depriving humanity of such a prodigious mind as Albert Einstein.
Fortunately, this situation has improved considerably since then. Nevertheless, science, like other aspects of our society, still does not enjoy full equality in the participation of women and men. The data available at a general level in Spain show inequality in different dimensions. Although women's access to higher education today represents 58% of the total, they continue to suffer more difficulties in the development of their careers. Thus, of the total number of research personnel in Spain, women represent 41%, a figure that decreases to 24% as we approach the higher levels of the scientific career. But it is not only a question of the number of female researchers, but also of excellence, as evidenced by the lower success rate of female researchers (35%), who also receive proportionally less funding (32% of the total) than their male counterparts. Any limits placed on women's full access to the R&D system will not only hinder scientific progress but also reduce prosperity and wealth, as we will be missing out on the potential usefulness of those breakthroughs that have not materialised.
Science and innovation are the engine of human progress. This is why it is essential to achieve full and equal access and participation in the R&D system for all people, regardless of their gender identity or expression. Diversity in research expands the pool of prodigious minds, bringing new perspectives, talent and creativity. Full equality is not just one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, but is itself an integrated goal in all the other goals and a basic principle of our society.