Blog: Gender-balanced Q&A sessions at the ReTune Fall School 2022

Dec 30, 2022

Gender-balanced Q&A sessions at the Retune Fall School 2022

by Franziska Pellegrini

From our own experience we know that in the scientific context there is often an unequal participation of men* and women* in Q&A sessions. In order to counteract this, we tested the concept of gender-balanced discussion rounds at our ReTune Fall School 2022.

The concept of gender-balanced discussions is to collect speaking requests from men* and women* separately and to hear the contributions of the two lists alternately in the discussion. If the women’s* speaking list is exhausted, they will be asked to speak again before moving on to the men’s speaking list.

At Retune Fall School 2022, we ran the concept of gender-balanced discussion rounds as a test trial. The idea was to try out the concept at this early-career community, in-person meeting, and then – in case of a positive response – introduce it to ReTune on a larger scale. There were four discussions that we facilitated in this way: the Q&A session after the keynote lecture, and the Q&A sessions after the three junior talks. The gender ratio in the audience was around 50/50. People that identify as non-binary could choose which list to assign for. Following the Fall School, feedback was collected both verbally and within a short anonymous online survey.

Some feedback from men* at the Fall School:

  • “Very good! 50/50 balance as it should be. J. I’m not sure if I would like it though if there would have been much more male people attending. In that case it would be a real disadvantage for males to ask a question.”
  • “Not very natural. How would follow-up questions be treated, as separate one or not?”
  • “It is a pitty that we have to do this but supporting women through a quota like this is a good idea. I’d prefer having the name list online for easier participation.”
  • “I felt it reduced the spontaneity of asking questions.”
  • “As a rather introvert person, who normally takes a longer time to think about what to say than others, I liked the format because it increased the chances that I could participate in the discussion.”

Some feedback from the women*:

  • “Amazing!”
  • “I enjoyed it a lot.”
  • “The system should be further tested and implemented! I am fully endorsing this.”
  • “It was good to overcome my hesitation to contribute to the discussion. Normally I am often too critical about the things I want to ask.”

Online survey among men after the Fall School:

Online survey among women after the Fall School:

Nature Career Guide article on the matter: