“Your sexist jokes are so clever, hilarious, brilliant, witty. I’m going to tell them to my lawyer.” This is one of the messages posted on the walls of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) headquarters, as part of a new anti-sexual harassment campaign created by the equal-opportunities office at the University of Geneva.
The posters went viral after they were tweeted by linguistics researcher Eva Hanna, whose husband sent her the images from inside the CERN buildings. The other poster reads, “How about not mentioning my legs, my dress, my chest, my walk and talking about my research instead?”
The campaign, #uniunie, aims to both stop sexual harassment across the university and encourage victims to report their own experiences. As well as hanging posters, events and discussions are being held to highlight the prominence and seriousness of the cases the equal-opportunities office are presented with. Leaflets handed out to students detail the law on sexual harassment and include a log book for detailing their own experiences, to make reporting easier.
Men make up a majority of CERN staff and fellows across every professional category, with just 1.47% of female staff members holding research positions
Home to the Large Hadron Collider, the CERN headquarters also hosts the largest particle-physics lab in the world, with over 11,000 scientists using the equipment and machines in the building. According to last year’s personnel stats, men make up a majority of staff and fellows across every professional category at the organisation, with just 1.47% of female staff members holding research positions. Of the 318 students selected to enrol in CERN’s technical and doctoral student programme, just 77 of the successful candidates were women. A small sliver of hope comes from that fact that, in 2014, the CERN council nominated Italian scientist Fabiola Gianotti as its director-general – and she still holds the position today.
The gender imbalance in physics can be traced back to the lack of young women and girls taking up the subject in school. A recent report analysing the names attributed to millions of scientific papers found that – thanks to the dismal amount of women writing physics papers – it will currently take hundreds of years to close the gender gap in the profession. To their credit, CERN also run a number of schemes to encourage girls into physics and are official members of the International Gender Champions Geneva initiative.
Though there may be few women working at CERN’s headquarters, the posters may go some way to make them feel more comfortable in the very male world of particle physics. Equally, they may also catch the eye of the hundreds of men in the building and make them stop, just for a moment, to examine their own behaviour.