Science: It’s a girl thing! Statement from members of the gender expert advisory group

Science: It’s a girl thing! That’s the name of the campaign launched last week by the European Commission. The campaign has a website with many online resources that will be followed up with activities in various Member States. Included in the launch was a teaser video designed to “go viral” and attract attention to the campaign. And, indeed, the video did go viral. But the reactions were so negative that the Commission removed the video from its website after 30 hours.

We were appointed as independent experts to give background advice on gender issues for this campaign; we met in the spring of 2011, submitted a set of recommendations, and then the Commission took the process further, advised by communication experts.

The communications experts were challenged to translate our recommendations in ways that would reach young women in different countries and of different backgrounds without falling into stereotypes and simple clichés. While we had no involvement with the general campaign or this particular video, we see that this challenge was difficult; the debate around this process is important and must continue.

However, the European Commission should not let itself be derailed by this controversy. The Commission makes many important contributions regarding gender equality and women in science in particular, including positive features of the “It’s a girl thing” campaign, that can be seen at the website.

Improving gender equality in science is essential to increasing the quality of science. Extensive research shows the positive effect of gender balance in workplaces, the contributions of women to the performance of teams, and the value of gendered-perspectives in achieving higher quality research and innovation results for everyone.

Increasing the number of women in science is necessary to maximize societies’ use of available talent and to attain the number of scientists and engineers required by the economy.

We encourage the EC to move forward both with the specific campaign and with its broader work to support women in science. The European Commission is uniquely positioned to play a crucial role in moving Europe forward by emphasizing the evidence-based perspectives we advocated in ways that draw young women into careers in science.

Inés Sánchez de Madariaga          Monique Chalude          Suzanne de Cheveigné          Curt Rice

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more



  • Alex says:

    A translation for those not fluent in Brussels-speak:

    Paragraphs 1 and 2: background.

    Paragraph 3: it wasn’t our fault, please exhonorate us.

    Paragraphs 4 to 7: please give us more consultancy work like this, despite this debacle.

    My question would be: why?

    • Curt Rice says:

      I’d agree that paragraphs 1 & 2 are background. But I think the rest can be read a little differently. But you’re quite right that there’s a bit of fog to be penetrated here, under the burden of the NDA.

      Paragraph 3 could also be read as, “If you’re curious about how the EC operates, we’d like to tell you that even though there was an expert group at one stage of the process, it might have been advantageous to keep them around longer.” No exoneration is necessary, in part because no one is blaming us. Indeed, until now, no one has known that there was such a group. Indeed, you could read para 3 as a fairly strong negative statement about the video — admittedly in Brussels-speak, as you put it.

      Para 4 says something more like: Ok, the video wasn’t good, but there’s other stuff that is.

      Paras 5 & 6 show the kind of arguments we think are actually the relevant ones.

      Para 7 says the idea behind the campaign is really important.

      So, I might translate it a bit differently, but I appreciate that there’s a need.

      • Michael says:

        If that’s what you meant (the video wasn’t good, the expert group should have been kept around for longer), why didn’t you say that in your post?

  • Darlene says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I agree that the European Commission should not let itself be derailed by this controversy. The video felt misguided but the rest of the site looks very promising. I, for one, look forward to the development of the full campaign.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Thanks for that note. You’re a Science Cheerleader? I love that video! I know Randy Olson and it’s such great stuff. I’m actually writing about this EC thing for the Guardian right now “as we speak” and I mention the Science Cheerleaders in that piece. Thanks for dropping by!

      • Annabelle says:

        Curt, if Darlene’s name had been Darryl, would you have asked if she was a Science Cheerleader?

        • Stephen says:

          Annabelle, if you click on the link for Darlene’s profile, you will see that she has made a number of blog posts about being a “Science Cheerleaders”. That was clearly the context for Curt’s question.

  • Mike Poller says:

    As a US advertising guy, I figured they did not consult any gender experts and that is why the teaser video seemed so very “tone deaf.” Instead I learn that they simply ignored the experts. I don’t know which is worse…

  • Sarah says:

    As a scientist and a woman, I have to say I’d rather not dive into science after having visited that website yesterday. It’s so girly! And the careers it advertises! They seem very stereotyped female, and personally, I’m interested in none of them.
    I can only hope that girls who are already interested in science (careers that are not mentioned there) won’t be driven away by this.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Thanks for your input, Sarah. I’m with you in hoping for the best! It was, I must admit, surprising to me to experience how many teenage girls actually liked the infamous teaser video …

      • Sarah says:

        They did?
        Oh well, how look would they last in a scientific environment? Maybe I’m thinking in stereotypes, too, but I assume once girls who liked that video learn that you have to keep legs and feet covered in a lab (no skirts and most likely also no high heels), they’ll be gone again.

  • James says:


    It was real. I had assumed, because it was just so tacky, as well as being gratuitously offensive, that it must be a spoof, perhaps a teaser trailer for a TV comedy show. Or is this site too part of an elaborate internet hoax? Anyway if this is real it deserves an Oscar for taking self parody into hitherto uncharted realms.

    • Curt Rice says:

      I think that we’re going to need a snappier name for that Oscar before the Academy will go for it 🙂

  • Pat Morton says:

    There are some important messages in this furore and in the ‘teaser’. The media itself is a problem in stereotyping gender roles – so why are we surprised that the video is so stereotypical? We need a campaign to tackle this issue as well as getting girls in science. As far as the reaction to the video – as some bloggers have said – women in science are not the target group. But I really hope the target group are not impressed with the video…and they do the research about careers themselves. For more on the media and stereotyping women in science – check out and look at the research.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Good points and good link, Pat. One thing I find interesting in the work on do on gender balance in academia is that younger women seem to think this problem is solved. It’s not until they’re mid-career that they start to personally experience discrimination — at least some of them seem to have that experience. Similarly, with the video. The feedback I get from teens is not nearly as uniform as the feedback from mid- and senior-career women (and men). What’s to make of that?

      • Daniel Taylor says:

        Too true. Especially in science, where a lot of the serious career obstacles for women hit around the postdoc level.

  • Anna says:

    Dear Curt

    If you have any influence, can you please get them to remove the lipstick from the word ‘science’ in their campaign. The lipstick is iconic of a highly offensive stereotyping of women – an image which many serious women have been struggling to overcome as they pursue their careers in science. Like all cosmetics, it is produced by companies whose marketing methods are designed to exploit and increase women’s insecurity about their appearance in order to increase market share. Its presence in the EC’s campaign will merely strengthen the perception that it is the ‘norm’ for women to have to cover their natural appearance before they are fit to be seen in public.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Thanks for that input, Anna. I will pass it along. In fact, I know that there are EC folks monitoring this discussion. My experience so far is that my influence is rather limited, alas 🙁

  • Reena Pau says:

    Hi, I did a study with 38 girls to find out thoughts on the clip ‪#sciencegirlthing‬:

    Its worth a look to get a different perspective.


  • Hi Curt,

    As a scientist and father to young daughters, I have to say I find the whole notion of trying ‘genderize” science absurd. What we’re essentially doing is swinging the pendulum to the other extreme as evidenced by the fact that university graduates are now 60% women and increasing, the number of boys dropping out of high school rising in many Western nations, etc.

    The reality is that when we shine a light on our differences – be it gender, ethincity, beliefs (or non-beliefs), etc, we only serve to insert wedges between us instead of creating what we really need – bridges of commonality and demonstrations for how our collaborating with one another benefits both.

    Yes, there is still a gender gap in the workplaces – in pay, in the number of women in leadership positions, etc. But to identify a field, a position, etc as being gender-specific does no one a service. Science is not male or female – it’s the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, something men AND women both have an interest and need to participate in and explore.

    I hope your work with the EU in the future does something more instructive to further the cause of encouraging collaboration between sexes, etc. instead of trying to put one ahead of the other.

17 Trackbacks


I encourage you to republish this article online and in print, under the following conditions.

  • You have to credit the author.
  • If you’re republishing online, you must use our page view counter and link to its appearance here (included in the bottom of the HTML code), and include links from the story. In short, this means you should grab the html code below the post and use all of it.
  • Unless otherwise noted, all my pieces here have a Creative Commons Attribution licence -- CC BY 4.0 -- and you must follow the (extremely minimal) conditions of that license.
  • Keeping all this in mind, please take this work and spread it wherever it suits you to do so!