Weizmann female-friendly project wins Spanish prize

Weizmann female-friendly project wins Spanish prize

A program that helps young women pursue their research amid financial pressure on their families wins plaudits from Barcelona

Israeli Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath, who is also a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, at a press conference in Rehovot (Photo credit: FLASH90)
Israeli Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath, who is also a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, at a press conference in Rehovot (Photo credit: FLASH90)

A program by the Weizmann Institute for Science that provides a financial boost for female academics to help with their household needs while they work on their research has helped dozens complete important projects and has had a real impact on advancing women in science. As a result, the city of Barcelona has decided to honor Weizmann with one of its most important marks of recognition: the Maria Aurèlia Capmany Award for Women’s Advancement, being presented to the Institute, the Barcelona City Council said, for its “commitment to advancing young women in science.”

The award is to be presented on March 8, in commemoration of International Women’s Day. A representative of the institute will accept the prize at Barcelona city hall from members of the city council section for Women and Civil Rights, a spokesperson for Weizmann said.

The innovative program was inaugurated in 2007 to increase the number of women who choose science as a career and the percentage of women in top academic faculty positions. It’s designed to help young women through the main bottleneck that prevents many of them from continuing on to academic positions in Israel — the need to conduct postdoctoral research in the world’s leading labs.

In many cases, by the time women academics have completed their PhDs, many have married and have young children, forcing them to balance their work and family lives. It’s struggle faced by women in almost all walks of life, but for academics, there is an added factor; often they need to do post-doctorate work abroad, and the expense of moving the entire family abroad for several years can be prohibitive.

The program provides grants for living expenses, household help, and other assistance that will enable the academics to work on research projects without having to curtail their innovative projects for family reasons. These Weizmann grants — $20,000 a year for two years – are given on top of the fellowships awarded by the host institutes or other sources, and are specifically intended to help these young women bring their families along.

The program is headed by the Weizmann Institute’s adviser to the president for Advancing Women in Science, Prof. Varda Rotter. The program does not end with the handing out of awards: Rotter stays in contact with the women throughout their stay abroad, encouraging them to return to Israel afterward and helping to ease their return. The program is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation in New York, the Clore Israel Foundation and additional philanthropic sources that come through the Weizmann Institute.

To date, 64 young women have received awards. Of these, 17 are now on the faculty of Israeli research institutes, another two are in information-based industry, two have accepted positions abroad, two left the program and the rest are still pursuing their postdoctoral training.

In addition to the program, the Weizmann Institute has since 2006, given biennial awards of $25,000 to female scientists of international stature. While this prize is given in recognition of groundbreaking achievements, its goal is also to encourage positive role models and inspiration for female students and young researchers.

Maria Aurèlia Capmany (1918-1991) was a Spanish author who worked in Barcelona, especially noted as perhaps the first political feminist in Spain. Many of her later writings discussed the status of women in Catalonia, and she urged more equitable and fair treatment for women, especially in the workplace. The prize is sponsored jointly by the Barcelona City Council, the Province of Barcelona, the Catalan Women’s Institute, and the Maria Aurèlia Capmany Foundation. The Foundation runs numerous programs to encourage gender equality at home, in the legal system, and in the workplace.

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