Interviews with Research Policy-Makers: Michel Spiro (06/2022)

EPWS interviews a high-level EU research policy-maker in some crucial questions.

In this section EPWS is interviewing European research policy-makers concerned by gender equality goals. In this series of interviews we wish to offer women scientists the state of the art about the EU policy agenda on gender equality in research and the gender dimension in science content. On the EPWS website portraits of research policy-makers are alternating with those of distinguished women scientists.

We have the great honour to interview Michel Spiro, President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), President of the Board of the CERN & Society Foundation, and promoter and Chair of the Steering Committee for the Proclamation of an International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development in 2022 (IYBSSD 2022), proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly and under the auspices of UNESCO).



Dr. Michel Spiro is Doctor in Physics, Doctor Honoris Causa of JINR, the Joint Institute of Nuclear Physics, fellow of the European Physical Society and was Professor at École Polyechnique. He is “Officier dans l’ordre de la Légion d’honneur” and “Officier dans l’Ordre du Mérite”. His initial research in particle physics led him to participate in the discovery of intermediary W and Z bosons at CERN. He then became involved in the study of particles from the cosmos and participated to the Gallex experiment for the detection and measurement of solar neutrinos. He was then the spokesperson of the EROS (Expérience de Recherche d’Objets Sombres), pioneer experiment searching, through microlensing effects, for massive astrophysical objects in the halo of our galaxy which could be a component of the dark matter. From 2003 to 2010 he was appointed Director of IN2P3 (National Institute for Nuclear Physics and Particle Physics) in CNRS. Beginning of 2010, he was elected President of CERN Council for a period of 3 years. He is now Emeritus Research Director at CEA (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique et aux Énergies Alternatives) and Past President of the French Physical Society. He wrote many books and got many prizes, the last one in 2019 the Prize André Lagarrigue from the French Physical Society (FPS).




As past president of the French Physical Society (FPS) and current president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), would you please give us your opinion on the state of the art and on which actions are needed to improve the gender equality and diversity in the field of physics research and innovation?

Physics has a long and honorable tradition of participation by women who have made significant and highly creative contributions to the field. However, the percentage of female physicists remains low. It is increasingly clear that scientific careers are strongly affected by social and cultural factors and are not determined solely by merit. The search for excellence that unites all scientists can be maintained and enhanced by increasing the diversity of its practitioners (both in terms of gender and in terms of territories of origin). Great discoveries thrive on cross-cultural diversity. The attainment of such diversity needs revised criteria for judging excellence, free of cultural perceptions of talent and promise.
Current available data on the relative numbers and career histories of women and men in science reveals widespread discrimination: access to the profession, like graduate education, hiring, promotion, and funding, is not always independent of gender. Discrimination can be subtle or unintentional and yet creates a non-conducive atmosphere that not only discourages and distresses women but also alienates them from the field. Such discrimination can only damage the profession. Current recruitment, training, evaluation, and award systems often prevent the equal participation of women. Formal and informal mechanisms that are effectively discriminatory are unlikely to change without intervention.
The IUPAP has long assumed the responsibility of implementing strategies within its own organization to improve the situation and increase the number of women physicists. The IUPAP is not only committed to introduce changes in its own structure but also to encourage the adoption of policies by institutions, scientific societies, funding agencies and other key players of the scientific endeavor that may enable women to succeed within the existing structures of physics and allow the desired acceptance of diversity to develop fully. To achieve these goals, IUPAP has developed a charter (the Waterloo charter), largely inspired from the charter for gender equality developed by the French Physical Society, to improve gender equality in Physics. A set of policies, action and recommendations pertaining to affirmative action, career paths and institutional policies are spelled out in the Supporting Information.
We hold as our guiding principles that:
• People of all genders are equally good in doing excellent science and deserve equal opportunity;
• Diversity contributes to excellence in science so that the full participation of people of all genders will enhance excellence in the field of physics;
• Both thought and action are necessary to ensure equal participation for all;
• The attainment of equal opportunity should be measured by outcomes. Thus, as long as the percentage of women in the next level of advancement does not equal the percentage in the pool, equal opportunity cannot be considered to exist;
• Long-term change requires periodic evaluation of progress and consequent action to address areas where improvement is necessary.
The IUPAP is committed to continuously update and disseminate this list. The IUPAP strongly advises the Physical Societies of its member countries to abide by the principles of this Charter and to encourage the adoption of the recommended policies adapting them to the particularities of their own countries.


Please let us to know what role IUPAP -that you represent- plays in shaping the global gender equality policy in science in general and, in particular, in physics. Please give a brief overview of the most important equality policy decisions in research that have already been implemented, and which ones you consider important to implement in the future.

The implementation of the IUPAP Waterloo charter for gender inclusion and diversity in Physics is one of the IUPAP priorities.

IUPAP Sponsored Conferences
The main activity of IUPAP is sponsoring conferences. All IUPAP sponsored conferences are required to submit forms with information on the gender breakdown: of attendees, invited speakers and organizing committees. This has been done since 2015 so we are beginning to build up a picture over time, with 115 records to analyze. It can be seen from Figure 1 that there is a slight increase in female ratio for invited speakers and on the organizing committee. All show a higher percentage of female invited speakers compared with attendees.


Figure 1 – 5 female participation over time, by role: attendee, invited speaker and organising committee

Overall, there is reason to be optimistic that the statistics are improving, that physicists are becoming more and more alerted on these issues, although this goes very slowly, the pertinence of these indicators might be questioned and there is still much to be done.

Early career scientific prizes
The Young Scientific Prizes given by each commission each year, with an age limit, have recently been transformed into an Early Career Scientific Prize to accommodate breaks in the career and so be more inclusive.

Governance of IUPAP
The “day to day” governance of the IUPAP is achieved by the Executive Council and Commission Chairs. A sizable step has been achieved in the percentage of women in these instances. We are now reaching 40% which was not at all the case in the past. One of our four Vice President at Large with a given responsibility is Dr. Gillian Butcher as the IUPAP Gender Champion. Most of the material given here is coming from her.


In your opinion, which are the new challenges concerned with rapid changes in the society rising for ensuring gender equality, equity, diversity and inclusion in research?

The Gender Gap is still quite pervasive in most STEM areas. In this regard, the Global Survey of Physicists, conducted in 2009–2010 with 15,000 respondents from 130 countries, provided very useful information. It revealed sex-based differences in resources, professional opportunities, and family responsibilities. Differences across regions and countries were also observed. The situation, however, needed a regular monitoring to design best strategies and apply them.

Although the IUPAP’s Working Group on Women in Physics , established already in 1999 under the guidance of the IUPAP President Burton Richter, was aware of this need, conducting a new survey required funds that are not always available. The scheme of international grants introduced in 2016 by the International Science Council (then ICSU) provided an excellent opportunity to obtain those funds. With this in mind, the Working Group partnered up with the International Mathematical Union (IMU), the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), and other scientific unions to conduct the project entitled “A Global Approach to the Gender Gap in Mathematical and Natural Sciences: How to Measure It, How to Reduce It?” (GENDER GAP IN SCIENCE).

The project received funding from ISC for the period 2017-2019 and was carried out with the coordination of Mrs. Marie-Francoise Roy (IMU), Mrs. Mei-Hung Chiu (IUPAC) and Mrs. Igle Gledhill (IUPAP). It now continues with support from its 11 international partners, among them, IUPAP. The very fruitful exchange across disciplines led to the definition of other tasks besides the realization of the survey.

Finally, in order to promote gender equality in science, a number of international organizations who took part in the above-mentioned GENDER GAP IN SCIENCE wish to act together to further promote this goal by continuing and enlarging the work accomplished so far, in particular by supporting women and girls’ equal access to science education, fostering equal opportunity and treatment for females in their careers. For this purpose, they established a Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES) in September 2020.

Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES)

The International Science Council funded project “the Gender Gap Project”, which is detailed in the report of Working Group 5 Women in Physics, came to its conclusion at the end of 2019. Arising from this successful collaboration of numerous scientific unions and bodies, a new entity has been created as an inter-union agreement, the Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES). Nine of the bodies signed a Memorandum of Understanding, with representatives attending its first meeting (online) at the beginning of September 2020. The IUPAP representatives are the (Acting) Vice President Mrs. Gillian Butcher and IUPAP Associate Secretary Mr. General Rudzani Nemutudi. The aims of this committee are:

-To help partners to promote gender equality within their organizations, and in particular:

-To follow the progress of the implementation by partners of the recommendations of the Gender Gap in Science Project;

-To endorse projects and initiatives to promote gender equality in science proposed to it by partners;

-To facilitate communication among partners.

Worth stressing, IUPAP is a strong partner and member of SCGES.


What impact IYBSSD2022’s activities, in terms of gender equity, diversity and inclusion, may have on basic sciences policies and improvement of existing working culture as well as working conditions and careers of researchers?

As an example of action within the framework of the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, IYBSSD, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is overseeing the Global Women’s Breakfast (GWB) again in 2022. The aim is to celebrate accomplishments of Women in Science and to inspire younger generations to pursue careers in science. The Global Women’s Breakfast is an event that takes place on a single day in February each year. They invite women and men from all types of science organization to come together to share breakfast either virtually or in person dependent upon the situation.

Another key goal is to establish a network of individuals to help overcome the barriers to gender equality in science. The GWB helps to facilitate this at the local level, but also on a national and international scale. They start planning now for #GWB2023 on February 14, 2023, so that they can close the Gender Gap in Science.

In 2023 it will be “Breaking Barriers in Science” by including groups from all areas of science as part of the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development to strengthen the professional network across disciplines and across the world.

Other events are being considered.

More generally speaking, IYBSSD intends to promote the spirit of collaboration, openness, equity, diversity, and inclusion in all Basic Sciences. Large collaborations can be a test bench with indicators, to follow the progress in these directions.

The 2019 French Physical Society André Lagarrigue Prize has been awarded to Michel Spiro by the French Physical Society (SFP) President (2018-2021) Catherine Langlais.


Please let us know your opinion about the role of women scientists’ associations in the creation of gender equality policy. Which actions do you think are most suitable for ensuring a more effective collaboration between the women scientists’ associations and the science policy makers?

The role of women scientists’ associations in the creation of gender equality policy is essential. Femmes & Sciences in France plays a decisive role in promoting sciences to young women, in promoting gender equality and in constituting a network influencing science policy makers. The European Platform for Women in Sciences (EPWS) has the same ambition at the European level, as well as international unions at the global level. Viewed from my side, a special tribute should be paid to Claudine Hermann who was instrumental in establishing Femmes et Physique at the French Physical Society, Femmes & Sciences in France and EPWS in Europe. We will deeply miss her.


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