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Strasbourg Convention & Exhibition Centre
Strasbourg, France
28 March - 2 April 2020
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Women in Optics Session at Photonics Europe 2018

Panel discussion highlights Women in Optics event at Photonics Europe

Agnes Huebscher, Anna Grazia Mignani, Michelin Gora enjoy a laugh during Women in Optics panel at SPIE Photonics Europe

Panelists Agnes Huebscher, Anna Grazia Mignani, and Michelin Gora enjoy a laugh during Women in Optics panel

A stellar panel at the SPIE Photonics Europe Women in Optics event on Wednesday contributed to a vigorous discussion around ways of addressing the lack of diversity in STEM and tech. SPIE Board member Anna Grazia Mignani, senior scientist at CNR institute for Applied Physics "Nellow Carrarra" and scientific officer at the European Research Council Executive Agency; Agnes Huebscher, SPIE European Advisory Committee chair and European marketing director of Edmund Optics; and Michalina Gora, tenured researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research CNRS, ICube Laboratory, Strasbourg shared their experiences and ideas for addressing the current gender inequality in optics and photonics.

Part of the session, introduced by SPIE President Maryellen Giger and facilitated by SPIE Student Chapter Lead Meagan All focused on how to inspire young women, from childhood up through graduate school, to choose optics as a career, while acknowledging the critical influence that parents have on their offspring.

"We have to start with toys for sure," said Mignani. "They are the first tools. And with photonics it's easy and excellent, because you can see light." It's all about construction, the others agreed, making things with your hands with toys such as Legos.

"Make science fun," added Gora, who worked with the SPIE student chapter in her native Poland.

"Make them curious about what's behind things, even their dolls," said Huebsher. "How are they produced? Where is their lipstick from? How are the eyes of the dolls being created? We have to bridge girls' interests into the scientific field and use what we have to build their curiosity." We have to, she continued, get them interested in what lies behind items we use daily. 

Other topics of discussion included conscious and unconscious bias - and how to distinguish between the two - using instinct vs. analysis judiciously, and encouraging colleagues to promote themselves and seek out mentors in their field. "It's in your own hand," said Huebsher, and, added Mignani, "to do this job, you must be strong. To be an experimentalist, you must be strong."