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Policy on women and science

Structural change

In this context, the expression 'structural change' refers to making human resource management in universities and research institutions more gender-aware, and to modernising the organisational culture. This has important implications for equal opportunities, full use of talent, appeal of scientific careers, and quality of scientific research. In order to bring forward sustainable change, a wide range of actors (e.g. EU Member States, institutions, employers, and social partners) need to mobilise resources to meet this objective.

On 4 May 2009, a list of proposed priority actions was submitted by Ministers Mariano Gago and François Biltgen to the informal Competitiveness Council to ensure that future revision of the Lisbon Strategy's seventh integrated guideline would take into account working conditions for researchers.

The ministers acknowledged the need to improve researchers' employment conditions in order to make scientific careers more attractive, and to increase the share of women in research. In particular, they invited EU Member States and public research institutions to adopt policies allowing men and women to pursue scientific careers with an appropriate balance between professional and private life (e.g. maternity leave and parental child-rearing leave) for all research and development (R&D) personnel, including PhD students.

Women in decision-making: 25 % target

Following a request from the Council of the EU, in 2004 the European Commission proposed to fix targets ( 490KB) for women's representation in decision-making positions in science: an increase in the number of women in leading positions in public research to 25 % by 2010, and an increase in the proportion of female new recruitments to at least 33 % by 2010. EU Member States were also asked to develop specific indicators to track progress on the following: (1) gender pay gap for researchers, work-life balance, dual careers, and mobility issues; (2) attrition of women from research and academia, career progression and promotion, women as patent originators, and women in innovation; and (3) appointment procedures and recruitment strategies for composition of scientific boards.

In April 2005, the Competitiveness Council ( 129KB) confirmed the targets proposed by the Commission to Member States but did not attach specific deadlines to their achievement.

The Commission established the WIRDEM (Women in Research Decision Making) expert group in 2006 to analyse research decision-making in Europe from a gender perspective, and to identify good practice that have proven successful in the promotion of women to top level positions. In their final report ( 834KB), the WIRDEM expert group called for major changes in research systems to address the underrepresentation of women at top levels in research.

In 2008, a European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality report supported Commission and Council's recommendations on women and science, and called on both the Commission and Member States to intensify their activities in this area.

Greater awareness leads to change

In June 2001 , the European Council invited the Commission to propose an action plan on science and society ( 393KB), with action lines 24-27 on women and science:

In response to the action plan, the European Commission:

  • created the European Platform of Women Scientists, a structure of existing networks of women scientists that develop activities to help women scientists share experiences and network more efficiently at European level, and to actively involve them in research policy developments;
  • published the first She Figures booklet in October 2003, a unique publication presenting the latest figures on the participation of women in science education and employment, as well as descriptive statistics, indicators, explanatory texts and methodological notes for EU Member States and associated countries;
  • set up a working group in December 2001 made up of academics, gender experts, industry, and human resource representatives from international companies to analyse women researchers in the private sector, and funded the Targeted Socio-Economic Research (TSER) study on women in research in the private sector, the outcome of which is the Women in Industrial Research. A Wake-up Call for European Industry ( 1.53MB) report;
  • established the ENWISE (Enlarge Women in Science to East) expert group to examine the situation of women scientists in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. The ENWISE final report ( 1.53MB) provides an account of the gender in science landscape in these countries from both a historical and contemporary perspective, and makes a number of recommendations on the way forward.

Targets and Member States' involvement

As part of the Council Resolution of May 1999 , the European Council invited the Commission to cooperate with Member States in order to: produce indicators and comparable data; measure the participation of women in science and technology (S&T) in Europe; promote dialogue about policies implemented in the Member States and produce guidelines on how to transfer these; and in general, pursue the objective of gender equality in science.

The Commission created the European Technology Assessment Network (ETAN) working group to analyse the situation of women in science in Europe. In July 1999, the European Commission published the communication Women and Science: Mobilising Women to Enrich European Research, in response to the ETAN report, Science Policies in the European Union: Promoting Excellence through Mainstreaming Gender Equality. Among other policy recommendations, the communication set a target of representation equal to 40 % of either sex on research boards, panels and working groups relating to the functioning of the EU Framework Programme for Research.

In 2004 and 2005, the Council of the EU called on the Member States to fix targets to avoid gender bias in selection procedures. These targets included an increase in the number of women in leading positions in public research to 25 % by 2010, and an increase in the proportion of female new recruitments to at least 33 % by 2010. While these targets are not attached to a specific deadline, they carry significant political weight. Member States were also asked to develop specific indicators in order to track progress.

The European Commission also monitors gender equality measures for women in science in Member States and associated countries. Country-specific reports with sections on the use of target and quotas are reported in the publication Benchmarking Policy Measures for Gender Equality in Science .

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