“Diversity is a driver of excellence”

15 Mar 2021

An interview with Francesca Biagini, Vice-President for International Affairs and Diversity at LMU

Francesca Biagini, Vice-President for International Affairs and Diversity at LMU

Francesca Biagini, Vice-President for International Affairs and Diversity at LMU | © LMU

Professor Biagini, the proportion of women at German universities drops off rapidly from the post-doc level on. In the case of female professors, it drops to around 20%. Why is that?

Francesca Biagini: In Germany, academic careers usually involve frequent relocations. In particular for women with family responsibilities, this has been a difficult hurdle to manage, because they often lack the necessary flexibility. Women are also more prone to doubt as to whether they are good enough for an academic career than men are, and they also worry more about whether such a career is compatible with having a family. That’s why universities need to provide more incentives and support programs for women and families.

Why should more women be encouraged to take up MINT (STEM) subjects – apart from the needs and wishes of industry?

Women bring a different sensibility into play, and have a different perspective on many subjects and issues. Diversity always means a wider, and richer, range of views. Diversity is a driver of excellence. For me personally, the issue is not just a matter of men or women, but the more general question of how we achieve scientific excellence. It is therefore important that we and other institutions are able to demonstrate that there are lots of women in the MINT sector. And the media should also devote more attention to how they achieved it.

As someone who has made a successful career in mathematics, do you see yourself as a role model for other women?

Although I have often been either the only woman, or one of few women, among my colleagues during various phases of my academic education – as, for instance during my studies at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, and as a professor in the Mathematics Institute at LMU – I have never had the feeling that I was “alone among men”, as the saying goes. Professionally speaking, the only thing that counts for me is the level of a person’s expertise. Of course I am pleased when I succeed in inspiring younger people. For example, for many years, I was an enthusiastic tutor in LMU’s Mentoring Program, and enjoyed helping young people on their way to a career in science.

Why did you decide to become a mathematician? And have you encountered difficulties as a woman in this field?

By the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to become a mathematician. I found mathematics fascinating, and I wanted to take up the challenge it presented. In the course of my career, I have never really encountered prejudice. Occasionally, I have come across unfriendly individuals but, generally speaking, I was treated like everybody else. – However, I should also mention that I’m a pretty tough customer!

LMU set itself the goal of increasing the proportion of female professors across all subjects to 25% of full professorships. That target has now been achieved. How?

By implementing many different measures designed to make positions more attractive to women. Examples include the creation of services for the families of LMU’s employees, the introduction of financial incentives to stimulate and facilitate the achievement of gender equality, and the LMU Gateway, which provides various services, such as assistance in finding suitable accommodation in Munich, for international academics and their families.

In addition, in the context of the career-development measures made possible by the Excellence Initiative, steps were taken to reduce barriers that might discourage women from taking up academic careers. Basically, it is a matter of taking the exigencies of modern family lifestyles into account, and responding to individual needs.

What advice would you give to young people whose declared career goals are not taken seriously by their parents, teachers or indeed university lecturers?

Everyone should be allowed to pursue their ambitions and be able to develop one’s talents, regardless of the prejudices or expectations of others. Of course, this is bound to involve both challenges and compromises. But a willingness to work hard – and to accept help when problems turn up – brings its own rewards. As I always say to students, the trick is to find something you love and do it.”

The LMU community is characterized by diversity across its degree programs, teaching, research, and administration.
Diversity at LMU

Zur Person

Francesca Biagini is Vice-President for International Affairs and Diversity at LMU. She specializes in Financial Mathematics, and has held the Chair of Applied Mathematics since 2019.

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