ASTRON Director Jessica Dempsey: 'The time when we didn't want women in science is over'

ASTRON Director Jessica Dempsey: 'The time when we didn't want women in science is over'

Women in senior positions in science are rare. Jessica Dempsey, Director of ASTRON, knows this better than anyone. She wants to turn this tide, so she is appealing to interested women parties today, on International Women's Day, to come and work for her.

Since taking over as president of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, Australian Jessica Dempsey has had a clear goal in mind: to make science more attractive to women. “As a woman at the top of radio astronomy, you look around and realize you are the only one,” she said in 2022 upon her appointment. “This is a tough place to be and there has to be room for improvement.”

She has now been at the helm for nearly two years, and says she is going completely against the grain. “We have succeeded in giving women equal expertise in other fields, but this is lagging behind in science. More specifically in the technological branch of science. We have to change that. The time is over when we did not want women represented.”

Sometimes women start out in a scientific or technical career, but feel discouraged, according to Dempsey. “What we know so far is that the share of women in science, including radio astronomy, is between 22 and 23 percent. But the higher you look up the career ladder, the lower that percentage is. It is so low that if you are at the level of Professors or managers, only a small percentage are women. “So we lose a lot of women along the way as a kind of 'leaky pipeline.'”

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However, women are urgently needed. According to Dempsey, a mixed team of men and women provides more creative solutions and people with different backgrounds and opinions can come up with better insights together.

Women should not replace men, but the ratio should be balanced. “If we attract more women, more will reach the top. From a 40 percent female quota, you can create a self-balancing, sustainable system.”

But when it comes to finding those women to reach the 40 percent mark, she notes how difficult it can be. “I really struggle “Finding suitable candidates,” Dempsey says. That's how she ended up with recruitment agencies who told her that the women she was looking for didn't exist.

how is that possible? Dempsey went looking for other entrepreneurs she could work with together. “Companies that create specific programs to bring women back into the field and within organizations like ours.”

The most important thing these companies do is give women confidence and remove doubts from them. Because, according to Dempsey, many women subconsciously believe that they cannot do something. She also received this support when she needed it.

“I was lucky enough to have good mentors at the time,” Dempsey recalls of the beginning of her career. “There are a few influential men who saw the talent in me and helped me develop it further. That's why mentoring is a good way to connect women with science and technology and help them take steps in that career.”

Dempsey also posted one Pray for Which was followed by several responses from interested women. “Young girls, in school or at the beginning of their careers, need to see women in management positions. And even though I don't like receiving such a message and being at the forefront, I think it's important for them to see: 'If that's the case,' 'If that' If possible, I can do that too. “Then we'll eventually get more women and we can take the sting out.”

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