While women are still underrepresented in the
sciences, some are making significant inroads, contributing in a major
way to European industrial and technological advancement. Naseem Theilgaard
works in the department of plastics technology at the Danish Technological
Institute in Taastrup. She is currently leading three Commission-funded
projects aimed at developing new materials and technologies for medical
"From the Scandinavian perspective, it is clear today
that to live comfortably a family needs two incomes," says Theilgaard,
"but whereas in the past women often worked simply to help feed the family,
more and more we want to be satisfied in our work as well, and that means
being able to do something interesting and important." No one could reasonably
dispute the importance of Theilgaard's work. Worldwide demand for orthopaedic
appliances, fracture fixation devices, artificial prostheses and joint
implant replacements is exploding. As the population ages, people are
living and staying physically active longer than ever before. Along with
this comes the increased risk of accidents and trauma, joint diseases
and anatomical degenerative disabilities, many of which require medical
and surgical intervention.
series of contributions
leadership, the BRIMAS
project is aimed at developing bioresorbable bone implants. Using
injection moulding techniques, partners, including research, academic
and industrial entities, are producing composite implants of complex
design for stabilisation after fracture. Another project, now completed,
moulded functionally graded ceramics for biomedical applications"
took a similar approach to the development of a composite ceramic
spacer for insertion between and fusion of adjacent vertebrae in
the spine. Finally, the PORELEASE
project is concerned with the development of new synthetic bone
graft materials. "In previously male-dominated scientific areas
such as medicine, pharmacology, and chemical engineering," says
Theilgaard, "the number of women is now growing exponentially. We
are more and more present in classrooms and laboratories, and at
high-level meetings and conferences, but there is still, undoubtedly,
a 'glass ceiling', a level above which very few women advance. The
top ranks in academia and industry remain heavily dominated by men
and we can still see discrimination against women in areas where
the 'old boys club' mentality lingers on. When women do manage to
break into these areas, they are usually single women and they have
to fight and succeed according to the established male-defined rules."
we want to be
There is one fundamental
reality which sets women apart from men and which has been used
as a justification for keeping women out of male-dominated roles.
Women bear children. "Childbearing age for women does not correspond
to the time of qualification for high-level positions," says Theilgaard.
"Today, a Ph.D. degree is a prerequisite for any person expecting
to rise within the sciences. This takes about nine years to achieve
from the time one leaves secondary school, after which you are expected
to move into a post-doctoral position and start accumulating experience.
The training and early professional periods, when people are in
their twenties and early thirties, are typically very labour- and
time-intensive. So when exactly is a woman supposed to have her
children?" "We need to provide more support for young women who
choose to become mothers while still in training, including flexible
training programmes and better childcare facilities. We could also
think about appropriate financial support for students with young
families. I come back as well to the question of social stigma.
There should be no negative social impact associated with having
children while still at university. In short, we need to create
conditions under which both men and women can advance and be productive
without giving up their rights to a family."
||EU action - speaking
"I think that getting
the discussion going on a Europe-wide level is certainly a good
thing, but there are dangers as well. Raising questions and encouraging
women to achieve more in the sciences brings with it the risk of
reverse discrimination. I can't imagine feeling a great deal of
satisfaction knowing that I obtained my job just because I'm a woman.
We need a level playing field, not unfair advantages. In some situations
women may indeed be less able to perform, because of the physical
demands, for example, in a menial job. In such cases, norms should
be established based on the job requirements and anyone who is qualified
or unqualified, man or woman, should be treated accordingly."