France's National Science Research Centre, the CNRS, has been accused of misogyny after it appointed only one woman to its new board of 21 trustees.
Researchers have begun a petition in protest against the gender imbalance, and an equal opportunities watchdog has asked the Research Minister to suspend the order authorising the appointments, writes Jane Marshall in Paris.
The CNRS, France's flagship research organisation, employs 26,000 staff, including more than 11,500 researchers. Its 2005 budget was €2.3 billion (£1.5 billion). In January, it will introduce reforms designed to foster cross-discipline research and to strengthen its regional presence.
Despite the CNRS's claims to promote equal opportunities and its "mission for the place of women at the CNRS" set up in 2001 by its second female director-general, women remain underrepresented in senior posts. They account for 42.5 per cent of the workforce and 31 per cent of researchers, yet only 11 per cent of research directors are women.
Equality at the top now looks more remote. The number of female trustees has fallen from seven to one - who remains as a representative of the state. Critics are incensed that none of 12 new nominations made by Francois Goulard, Junior Minister for Higher Education and Research, was female. Also, only one of the new top posts in the restructured CNRS has gone to a woman.
The Observatory on Equality between Women and Men, a watchdog body that includes MPs and reports to the Prime Minister, condemned the "exclusively masculine character of the persons appointed" to the trustees and asked the minister to suspend the decree appointing the new board. Christophe Blondel of the CNRS branch of the SNCS-FSU union denounced the "caricatured misogyny" of the appointments.
A national petition backed by unions and action groups called for the Research Ministry to ensure that appointments to senior posts observe "a representative male-female balance".