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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special Issue - August 2003   
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 HOME
 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 'Let’s be proud of our researchers'
 Research: a vocation
 Choosing a mentor
 Momentum to move
 Drawn to the USA
 Everyday life in Japan
 A boost for science
 University challenge
 Migrating to the private sphere
 The incorruptible Marie
 National associations of students, PhDs and researchers

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WOMEN AND SCIENCE
Title  Balancing the gender equation

Are women the future of research? As the Union finds itself facing a growing shortage of researchers, the failure to exploit the potential of half its population – who in fact obtain more university degrees than men – is a terrible waste. But to correct the imbalance, the scientific world must do something to overcome its prejudices and taboos.  

Scissors diagram for EU average in % (1988-1999)
Scissors diagram for EU average in % (1988-1999)


'There are a lot of women in the lower echelons of research. But their numbers subsequently dwindle. No doubt because science is very competitive and you must remain highly productive at all times," says Shuo-Wang Qiao, a doctoral candidate in immunology in Norway. 'When women take a career break, usually to have a baby, that is considered rather long and it is very difficult for them to return to the scientific world.' 

Figures tracing the progress of academic research careers clearly show when women start to fall behind. In Europe, most women researchers work at universities (see diagram). Slightly more women than men complete first degrees, but then only 37.8% of them go on to do a doctorate (compared with 62.2% of men). Although female doctors hold their own in terms of assistantships, they fall behind when it comes to assistant professors and, finally, hold just 11.6% of full professorships. It is in Finnish universities that women are most numerous – 18% of professors are women. 

The weight of tradition
Just under a third of public researchers in the EU are women. But in four Member States – Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Finland – the score is 40% or more. 'It seems that women are better represented in countries where scientific professions are less developed and where the institutions are relatively new,' point out the authors of the latest report on S&T indicators.(1) In other words, countries where traditions run less deep. This is an interesting point. It is borne out by industrial research, where women represent an average of between 18% and 24% of researchers, falling to under 10% in a country with an advanced technical tradition such as Germany. 

There can only be one conclusion: habits need to change. There are signs that this is now happening. The number of university degrees in science and engineering subjects awarded to female students grew from 25% to 30% in the EU in the late 1990s. In 2000, 30% of female students chose to study these subjects. That same year, about 40% of new doctors were women: 50% in the life sciences, 30% in maths, 27% in physics, 20% in engineering and 19% in computer science.

Women seem to be increasingly turning to science. But is science welcoming them? What must be done for things to change? Many believe it is simply a question of changing mentalities. The world of science mirrors society as a whole. 'The drive to obtain parity between men and women in politics can serve as an example. Any progress in this direction in our society can help reduce misogynist thinking,' says Claire Fouillon, an astrophysicist. 

Misogyny and mixed research
Many women researchers are all too familiar with these traditional misogynist mentalities. Flaminia Saccà, professor of sociology at the University of Cassino and head of research at Rome's La Sapienza University, says that 'the bosses   tend to see male researchers as being more professional. It is when they need help with non-scientific and more administrative-style activities that they turn to women researchers.'  

Atmosphere plays a part too. There are the attitudes of others and one's own feelings. 'One of the greatest difficulties is perhaps retaining confidence in yourself and your work, as the atmosphere in the institutions is rarely conducive to that. But I have seen, on many occasions, that the power struggle is not just one of men against women, but also between men and between women,' notes Janette Friedrich, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Geneva. 

Where this power struggle is absent, achieving equality becomes easier. At the end of the day, it is a question of corporate culture.   Fabio Monforti-Ferrario works at an Italian public research centre  (ENEA in Bologna). He says he is unaware of any 'aggressive competition'. 'My women colleagues can consider their family – and so can I – without risking their careers,' he explains. 'In such a context, it is easier to achieve equality between men and women.' 

Some young scientists would like to see more 'mixed' research. 'There are unfortunately too few women in the research world, at least in maths,' laments Erwan Brugalle. 'I say, unfortunately, because in a group where one sex is dominant, the atmosphere quickly becomes quite charged. I do not know if it is easier to be a male or female researcher, but the latter certainly need an extra dose of courage: the courage to join a group where the opposite sex dominates.' 

(1) Third European Report on Science & Technology, Indicators 2003, European Commission, Research DG


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  Separating fact from myth



The chapter on women scientists in Europe in the "S&T 2003 Report" (1) takes an in-depth look at three notions concerning the situation of women in the world of research and science.

The situation ...
 
  Women and Science



Over the past few years, members of the Research DG's Women and Science Unit (originally a 'small group') have initiated a number of studies on the situation of women scientists. Among other things, these reports have made it possible to ...
 

  TO FIND OUT MORE  
 
  • National Policies on Women and Science in Europe (report of the Helsinki Group)
  • Information on 'Gender and Research' at European level
  • National policies on 'women and science'   
    reports    
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      Top
      Separating fact from myth



    The chapter on women scientists in Europe in the "S&T 2003 Report" (1) takes an in-depth look at three notions concerning the situation of women in the world of research and science.

    The situation will evolve naturally  as an increasing number of women pursue scientific studies. But how long will that take? Applying the Gender Segregation Index (GSI) defined by United Nation’s cultural organisationUnesco – with present posts shared equally between men and women as and when they fall vacant – is a very long term remedy. In Belgium, for example, equality between the sexes would take between 40 and 211 years depending on the levels in the academic hierarchy. 

    The home and children place women at a disadvantage. In Sweden, 14% of category A university teachers are single (compared with 7% of the men); in Germany, 71% of women physicists have no children and have no plans to have any; in Ireland, 49% of female academic staff are without children (compared with 25% of men). On the other hand, it would appear that fertility boosts a man's career! A study carried out among French engineers shows that the majority of management posts are held by fathers of four or more children.  

    Women researchers publish less. In the United States, male professors publish almost three times as many works as their female counterparts. The over-representation of men in certain particularly dynamic research groups no doubt explains this phenomenon. For Europe as whole, no figures are available. But women publish more in the southern countries (Italy, Spain, France) and in certain disciplines (biology, earth sciences and biomedicine).

    (1) Third European Report on Science & Technology, Indicators 2003, European Commission, Research DG

      Women and Science



    Over the past few years, members of the Research DG's Women and Science Unit (originally a 'small group') have initiated a number of studies on the situation of women scientists. Among other things, these reports have made it possible to compile consistent statistics on the 'gender' dimension. 

    To find out more:



     

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