STATISTICS

Let the figures speak

The graphs tell all. If women of science exist, they are still far from having the same visibility as their male colleagues.


Grade A: The single highest grade/post at which research is normally conducted
Grade B: Researchers working in positions not as senior as top position (A) but more senior than newly qualified PhD holders
Grade C: The first grade/post into which a newly qualified PhD (ISCED6) graduate would normally be recruited
ISCED 5A: Tertiary programmes to provide sufficient qualifications to enter into advanced research programmes & professions with high skills requirements
ISCED 6 : Tertiary programmes which lead to an advanced research qualification (PhD) 

Source: Report She Figures 2006, DG Research
Grade A: The single highest grade/post at which research is normally conducted
Grade B: Researchers working in positions not as senior as top position (A) but more senior than newly qualified PhD holders
Grade C: The first grade/post into which a newly qualified PhD (ISCED6) graduate would normally be recruited
ISCED 5A: Tertiary programmes to provide sufficient qualifications to enter into advanced research programmes & professions with high skills requirements
ISCED 6 : Tertiary programmes which lead to an advanced research qualification (PhD)

Source: Report She Figures 2006, DG Research


Scissors and leaky pipelines

The global situation of gender mix in the training and careers hierarchy is described by a simplified scissors diagram. Off the starting blocks, girls do well. In 2003 they made up more than half the university population. 59% of European female students EU-25 (1) – all disciplines together – went on to complete their basic courses (bachelor, masters, etc.) as against 41% of male students (see graph 1). But the scissors cross once one reaches the doctoral preparation stage and the other levels that open the way to academic and research careers (see graph 2). Decreasing numbers of women illustrate the ‘leaks’ that occur as one moves further up the academic hierarchy. At the top level (grade A) in universities and research institutions, women have just one representative (15 %) against six male colleagues (85%).

Considering this, in 2003, the European academic world had just 15 % of women professors. Women were best represented at this level in Romania (29%) and Latvia (26.5%) and were least present, at around 9 %, in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. The percentage of ‘Grade A’s’ (2004 – EU-25) also varies according to area of specialisation, with feminisation strongest in human sciences (23.9%), social sciences (16.6%) and medicine (15.6%). Looking at female participation in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering, we find that the scissors phenomenon has not even taken place. At no level does the proportion of female graduates or students exceed half the number of boys. The number of women giving up intensifies as we move up the career ladder, and at the top grade of management posts, we find one woman for nine men.

Female employment, a driver of human resources

According to the latest OECD report, employment of human resources in science and technology (HRST) “continues in all countries to progress much faster than overall employment, at an average rate of 2.5% a year in the USA, and 3.3% in the EU-15 (2). This acceleration is due mainly to the increase in female employment and the expansion of the services sector.” The Eurostat figures confirm this dynamic: the number of female higher education graduates in the workforce as a whole in 2004 is, in a majority of countries, equivalent or moderately lower than the number of men. Between 1999 and 2004, the proportion of women HRST graduates grew, in fact, faster (4%) than the male portion (2.2%).

Again according to Eurostat, ‘qualified female knowledge workers’ are to be found principally in the high knowledge intensity services – which welcome the majority of higher S&T graduates, 77 % of women and 56% of men. On the other hand, in the high tech sectors with a more specifically industrial vocation, which at European level employ over 8.7 million scientists and engineers in 2004, only 29% of ‘graduate’ jobs are held by women. At this level, their presence tends to stagnate, while the proportion of men is growing by 2% a year.

Women PhD numbers rising

In 2003, 43% of the 88 000 doctorates acquired in European universities were awarded to women – an increasingly large number, and quite impressive compared with the figure of just 25% in Japan. Since 1999, the growth in female doctorates (7%) has been well above that of the men, estimated at 2%. The countries posting the highest proportions of women reaching PhD level are, in particular, those of Central and Eastern Europe, with their strong traditions of scientific gender mix.

In terms of specialisations, life sciences come well in front, and engineering trails the pack (see graph 3). The weakness of this latter figure is not, however, comparable everywhere: 33% of Hungarian women PhDs, and almost 25% of Finnish and French ones, are to be found in the ‘engineering’ segment, as against just 7% in Germany.

Where are the women researchers?

Around 30% of all active researchers in Europe are women. They account for more than a third of the grey matter resources of universities and other higher education institutions and of the research carried out in countless public laboratories. On the other hand, they are still largely ‘left on the shelf’ by private labs, where one finds only one woman for five men (see graph 4). Differences from one country to the next can, as is often the case, be quite large.

Questions of competitiveness?

Another question relates to success quotas in finding research funding. Here too, gender differences are clearly visible, for reasons that have intrigued various experts. A questionnaire on this problem area was concocted by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) for its Gender and Science report published in Nature in 2007. One established cause is that women, owing to domestic and family duties outside their research life, need to limit more the time they devote to their work. Furthermore, the authors of the EMBO study cite the fact that women’s ‘lesser’ success in competition for project financing could also be evidence of a cultural prejudice that impregnates, consciously or unconsciously, the scientific world, putting women slightly on the margin of professional support systems and networks.

In order to rebalance this aspect the Commission is planning to increase, as much as possible, the number of women involved in operating the Framework Programme for Research. And to achieve this it is boosting its Science in Society programme with concrete actions for monitoring, research management and networks dedicated to women in science.


Didier Buysse

  1. UE-25: Member States of the Union before the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
  2. UE-15: Member States of the Union before the 2004 enlargement.

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