Communication, workshop: Do we need 'gender-tailored' or 'unisex' life science communications?
The question of whether life science communication should be tailored specifically for men and women or whether communicators should take a one-size-fits-all approach was the off-beat subject of a recent Commission-hosted workshop.
Entitled 'Talking life sciences to both sexes', the workshop took place in Brussels on 9 February and was jointly organised by the Research Directorate-General's 'Biotechnology, agriculture and food' directorate in collaboration with the 'Health' and 'Science and society' directorates.
"The elimination of inequality and the promotion of gender equality have always been key objectives of the European Community," Line-Gertrud Matthiessen-Guyader told the opening session. "Creating gender equality in science is, therefore, a key objective of the EU's research policy." And that is why the Commission funds research by, for and on women, she noted.
"Communicating science effectively to the public is another important aspect of EU research policy," she went on to say. "As in all areas of communication, keeping the target audience in mind when deciding on a communication strategy is crucial." This raises the question of whether the life sciences need to be communicated differently to men and women.
This timely event brought together specialists from a wide variety of disciplines -including life scientists, biologists, food experts, gender researchers, psychologists and sociologists - with policy-makers to construct a vision for communicating life sciences to the different genders.
Around a dozen speakers and panellists shared their expertise with the audience through a number of presentations that touched on the physical and behavioural differences between men and women, as well as the gender aspects of health, education and learning, and the perception of science.
A lively open discussion between the speakers and the audience - also made up of leading experts - raised a number of interesting questions (as well as answers). One of the biggest talking points at the workshop was the consequences of tapping into gender differences when communicating life sciences. Some members of the audience feared that gender-targeted communications could end up entrenching certain gender stereotypes.
While acknowledging the risk, an agreement, in principle, emerged that the very individual issues faced by the two sexes should be addressed in a way that takes account of their gender identity. In addition, there was a consensus that gender was just one - albeit important - factor amongst many that affect the nature of the communications process.
"We've been dealing with gender issues for over 40 year... Today, the focus is shifting away from what caused barriers and who's to blame, and towards how to build a society that gives men and women an equal quality of life," said the chair of the morning session, Suzanne Gage Brainard, executive director of the Centre for Workforce Development and affiliate professor of Women Studies at the University of Washington (USA).
In the coming weeks, an in-depth report of the presentations and discussions that took place during the workshop will be published both in print and on-line.