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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Women and science: Engendering European research culture >Jacqueline Beckers-Lecomte
Graphic element Jacqueline Beckers-Lecomte: Do we want to fight?
Jacqueline Beckers-Lecomte

Jacqueline Beckers-Lecomte is a Professor in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science at the University of Liège, where she heads the Special Metallic Materials section. Under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) She acted as member for Belgium in the management committee on Co-operation in Science and Technology (COSTS). She has also served as an expert evaluator of project proposals with the External Advisory Group for the Growth Programme's 'Materials and their technologies for production and transformation' Key Action.

"No, life would not have been easier if I had been a man," remarks Beckers-Lecomte. "I realised early on in my career how important it is to be competitive if you want to get ahead. That holds true equally for both men and women. You must want the best, and not be satisfied with anything less. It means being aware of all the opportunities, and believing that they are open to you. I tell my daughter to adopt the same attitude, and I hope to encourage her by my example. Women need role models, and I think that is part of the problem. Although I see more and more women coming into science and technology, very few of them reach positions of leadership. Sadly, little has changed in that respect over the years."

Gentle nature

"Some 20 percent or more of the scientists working in my field are women, but only about 5 percent are heads of a university department, or decision-makers in industry," says Beckers-Lecomte. "I noticed that the number of women submitting proposals for projects in the Growth Programme were very, very few. I always seemed to be dealing with proposals from men - who were heads of their department. It is not easy to explain the huge shortfall in women leaders in industrial research. It is probably due both to the prevailing culture and to various forms of discrimination. Women are certainly less aggressive by nature than men, and possibly less inclined to compete for promotion. Yet how much of this reticence is a result of the way girls are brought up? I am sure much of it would disappear if there were more female scientists. For this to happen, change has to take place at an early age, by schools and families encouraging girls to take up scientific studies. So far, we have not done enough."

The Walloon region of Belgium frequently calls upon Beckers-Lecomte, as a respected expert in her field, to supervise locally funded projects. She is presently working on two separate studies. One examines the inclusion and carbides in high alloyed steel and the other, the characterisation of the general properties of metallic materials. These will help in the search for new materials with improved properties, and accompanying economic benefits.

Family values

"It really can be harder for women with families, though attitudes are changing gradually," says Beckers-Lecomte. "When you are the head of a department, or leader of a project, the work can be very time-consuming. If a woman has a family to care for at the same time, the demands on her may be great. Ideally, the husband would accept his wife's situation, and consequently play a bigger role in looking after the home and children. Unfortunately, in reality, the family takes up more time for a woman than it does for her husband. A woman with a family faces a real obstacle to advancing her career. Her own sense of responsibility towards her family may prevent her from applying for promotion. On the other hand, people tend to think a woman will need to take time off work occasionally - when her children are ill, or there are other family matters to deal with. It makes no difference if she hires a baby-sitter. People usually think the same way even about women who are single and devoted to their careers. They are afraid women will have more difficulties at work, even if it is untrue. Therefore, there are both practical and psychological reasons for the general lack of career progression."

Greater acceptance

"The way working women are regarded is quite different in the northern and southern regions of Europe," explains Beckers-Lecomte. "In Spain, for instance, I was surprised to see so many women working in my particular field. The differences between countries are the remains of long-standing traditions and cultures. As the Member States in the European Union integrate more thoroughly, positive changes should occur rapidly. People will discard out-dated thinking that serves no purpose. As the Union expands to accommodate new countries, women in work should find greater acceptance as barriers -real and imaginary - break down."

"I have benefited personally from the initiatives for women introduced by the European Commission. I am offered contracts as an evaluator of projects relatively more often than a man. Concerning the general participation of women in European projects , I believe many more women would become involved in European Commission projects if they were run by smaller organisations. When big consortia are responsible for the research, creativity is lost and it becomes vulnerable to aggressive lobbying of members. Women tend to be excluded from this environment - they are less aggressive. But they more than compensate for that by being more co-operative and communicative with their fellow workers."

University of Liège
Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science
Building B52/3
Chemin des Chevreuils, 1
4000 Liège 1
Phone: +32-4-3669193
Fax: +32-4-3669113

Gentle nature
Family values
Greater acceptance

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