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L’Oréal, UNESCO Honor Women in Science for the 20th Year

At the event, the Men for Women in Science initiative was introduced.

PARIS — The winners of the 20th For Women in Science awards were honored on Thursday night at UNESCO’s headquarters here.

The L’Oréal Foundation in partnership with UNESCO every year recognizes the achievements of five female life scientists, each from a different continent, and grants them prizes of 100,000 euros.

The ceremony was presided over by Audrey Azoulay, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and Jean-Paul Agon, chairman and chief executive officer of L’Oréal and chairman of the L’Oréal Foundation.

“Already 20 years since the program For Women in Science was born, two decades of combat to give women the place they merit in science,” said Agon. “To valorize their creative strength, so that no one can think that scientific and technical progress, that science — at all — can take place without them. Today, even as consciences are awakening and voices are rising around the cause of women, this challenge, as you know, is never more topical.

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“In the sector of artificial intelligence, for example, one of the major scientific fields of the future if any, less than 15 percent of positions are held by women,” the executive continued. “Can we consider, when we know the impact of this new technology, for my part, I cannot and do not want to conceive that the future of humanity is written without women. We do not want a society in which gender inequalities reproduce, reinforce and perpetuate each other.”

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Agon said the issue goes beyond gender equality. “As the ceo of a company recognized as having the best performance worldwide in terms of equality between men and women, I can testify the intrinsic link between economic success and diversity of teams,” he said. “Mixed teams bring a lot to the capacity for innovation, efficiency and performance.”

At the ceremony, the five laureates celebrated were:

  • Caroline Dean, representing Europe, for her research on how plants adapt to their surroundings and climate change;
  • Janet Rossant, who hails from North America and was selected for her studies into how tissues and organs are formed in developing embryos;
  • For Latin America was Amy T. Austin, who is seeking to understand terrestrial ecosystem ecology in natural and human-modified landscapes;
  • Heather Zar, on behalf of Africa and the Arab States, for her research program centered on pneumonia, tuberculosis and asthma in children, and
  • For the Asia-Pacific region was Meemann Chang, whose studies of fossil records have led to understanding about how aquatic vertebrates adapt to live on land.

At the event, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO also announced their new initiative, called Men for Women in Science, created to foster the collaboration between women and men. Already 25 male scientists are part of the project, including Cédric Villani, Axel Kahn, Étienne Klein and Mouïn Hamzé.

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science program has supported 3,124 female scientists, including 102 laureates and 3,022 doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships in 117 countries as part of the international rising talents initiative.

Over the past 20 years, the number of women entering scientific research or professions has risen by 12 percent, but they still make up less than 30 percent of all researchers currently. And only 3 percent of Nobel Prizes in the field of science have been accorded to women since 1998.

“On the evening of this 20th anniversary, after 20 years of action and commitment, our determination remains unchanged: to continue always going further, to aim always higher,” said Agon.