A British scientist who was slated to speak at the EURAXESS Voice of the Researchers conference in Brussels in November was later told that the conference was dropping her because she was seven months pregnant. The pregnant scientist said at first she was shocked at the news but soon became angry.
Dr Samantha Decombel, from Oxfordshire, is a scientist and entrepreneur who has founded two successful companies. She was invited to speak at an event on entrepreneurship and research that was scheduled to take place last month in Brussels U.K. The organizers of the Voice of Researchers Initiative were the ones who initially reached out to Dr Decombel asking if she would be willing to share her expertise and attend the conference as a guest speaker. The contact was made over the summer and they mentioned that they were admirers of her work.
The 35-year-old scientist is currently pregnant with her first child and is due to give birth to a baby girl in January. Decombel returned a positive reply to the organizers, feeling that since the sciences are having problems attracting females her talk could be important. She also advised them that by November she would be close to her third trimester. They had no reservations about her pregnancy at the time. Her travel arrangements were to be booked by the European Commission but in September, when she contacted the Voice of Researchers Initiative about it they emailed her they were “not very enthusiastic” about it and had deemed that it was too risky for her to travel.
The expectant mother had actually planned to travel to the conference with her fiancée by train. According to the Daily Mail, they would travel by Eurostar as a more convenient option to flying since some airlines require a doctor’s note for a woman so late in her pregnancy to fly and Samantha wanted to avoid the hassle.
Using their advice, Decombel tried to contact a representative of the Voice of Researchers Initiative but semed to have been stonewalled. The only additional information she was able to gain was “alternative excuses” and when she continued to press they eventually shut down entirely and gave an exceptionally curt reply.
“I thank you very much for your interest in the conference. For this time, we will not follow up on it.”
Following this the pregnant scientist felt she had no choice but to make the story of the discriminatory practices of the company public. She took to social media to express her frustration and mentioned that experiences like the one she had are “key hurdles” women in the science field have to face. She wrote that rejecting her from being a speaker even though she’s healthy and capable was “the perfect demonstration of why this is still such an issue for many, and the absolute opposite of what I would hope the European Commission would want to convey.”
Her story encouraged other pregnant women to join in the battle against discrimination using the hashtag #7monthsawesome.
Buzzfeed‘s coverage of the doctor’s fight for equality advised that, since the story broke, the conference reached out to Dr. Decombel and apologized for the ordeal. The organisers also stated they had no part in the decision to ban the pregnant scientist from being a guest speaker and hope that in the future she would be welcomed to the stage as they aim to promote female speakers.
The overwhelming support that Dr. Samantha Decombel has received has been incredible but the stories she has heard of other scientists who have faced similar hurdles have taught her that equality for female scientists is a long way off.
The terror threat in Brussels ended up causing the Voice of the Researchers conference to be cancelled.
[Photo Courtesy of Samantha Decombel Instagram]