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Headlines Published on 31 May 2006

Title ‘Re-searching’ for women scientists

The reported shortfall of scientists in Europe is not helped by evidence that half of the population is largely discouraged or disinterested in joining the profession. A recent conference – ‘Re-searching Women in Science and Technology’ (WiST) – held under the auspices of the Austrian Presidency, showed where more effort is needed to fill this gap.

The search is on for solutions to get more women involved in industrial science in Europe. © PhotoDisc
The search is on for solutions to get more women involved in industrial science in Europe.
© PhotoDisc
The conference highlighted the importance of boosting the percentage of women in industrial research across Europe. High-level speakers from the business world and industry introduced the latest strategies promoting equal opportunities, while policy-makers put various action plans on the table for discussion and elaboration.

The speakers pointed out that boosting the percentage of women is not only a “must” in relation to the demographic challenges but also of benefit to enterprises in enhancing their productivity with a more balanced “gender-mix”.

The main topics covered at the event included the political developments in Europe (and Austria, in particular) – whether the industry is attractive to women scientists and female technologists; and, if not, what innovative approaches are needed to rectify this. Several benchmarks, such as Gaz de France’s childcare programme and Shell’s women career development initiative, were presented and are included in the report ‘Women in Science and Technology – the business perspective’, which has been drawn up by industry and an EU expert group.

The event, held in Vienna on 15-16 May, and attended by more than 300 participants, was organised by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (part of its FEMtech initiative) and the Research Directorate-General’s Women and Science unit. It took place against the background of the Commission report (11 March 2005) ‘Women and Science: Excellence and Innovation, Gender Equality in Science’, which presented new data on progress being made to close the gender gap in science and technology.

The event also reflected on the Council Resolution (18 April 2005) to assign objectives for encouraging more female participation in science, with the first step being to increase the numbers of women in top public-sector positions to at least 25% and pushing for an overall gain in the industrial R&D sector.

Some progress?
The She Figures 2006 shows some progress is being made, but more still needs to be done. In 2003, only 18% of all researchers in industry in the EU-25 were women, although with major increases (from 1999-2003) recorded in, for example, Spain (+39%) and Portugal (+22%).

Future emphasis, notes the report, should be put on improving scientific excellence by promoting gender awareness; on strengthening gender research and the gender dimension in research, and enhancing the role of women in engineering and innovation, among others. However universities and even schools and kindergartens have to contribute at a very early stage to try and fix the “leaky pipeline” and encourage women to choose a research career. 

Speaking at the closing session of the conference, Claudie Haigneré, the only female European astronaut, highlighted the importance of role models for the European society. 

Source:  EU publication and sources

More information:

  • WIR news (Europa)
  • WIR publications (Europa)
  • Women and Science publications (Europa)
  • Science and Society portal (FP6, Europa)
  • She Figures 2006 PDF icon

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