Highly qualified women in science are the richest untapped research potential in Europe. While women make up almost 30 % of researchers in the public sector, they only represent 19 % of researchers in industry (She Figures 2009). Fundamental changes in research culture, recruitment and careers are needed throughout industrial research to redress the situation.
Leading research and development (R&D) companies have already turned around their human resources (HR) policies in order to actively recruit women in science and engineering. These private sector policies must be underpinned by public policies. Concerted actions are therefore necessary at European level to promote changes in organisational culture.
Regarding the private sector, there is a working group (composed of representatives from private companies and the academic world) currently investigating the presence and career development of women in private sector research. The group produced reports in 2006 and 2009 .
In order to improve the situation in the public research sector, the Commission Staff working document (2005) emphasised the need to implement HR development strategies to provide a working environment that would allow women and men scientists to combine family and work, and private and professional life. Measures to be taken refer to the area of work-life balance (for women and men), career progression and dual careers in scientific professions, and a wider cultural change on the division of care roles within couples and families.
The document also recommended increasing the transparency of the screening and selection procedure to improve scientific excellence, and that guidelines be developed and implemented for scientific institutions (e.g. the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for Recruitment ). These guidelines include recommendations on the accountability of panel members, public advertising of positions, explicit standards of promotion or appointments, and the use of appropriate indicators of performance.
The 2008 Communication on better careers and mobility for researchers , repeated the recommendations of the 2005 code of conduct. More recently, the preparation of National Action Plans is being encouraged to implement a better partnership with Member States on researcher management, status and mobility.
In 2007, under FP7, the European Commission funded a survey of positive actions taken to get women into top level positions in research, comparing EU and non-EU experiences (e.g. Australia, Canada and the US). The PRAGES (Practising Gender Equality in Science) project identified, classified and assessed international good practice, and added these into a database. The project created indicators for the comparison and measurement of the most important data on good practice, and also produced a set of guidelines for implementation ( 1.25MB).
In 2008, two projects were funded to show how change is fostered in terms of increasing the participation of women at the highest levels of research, and in the methods used for recruitment and retention of research personnel. These projects were WHIST (Women's Careers Hitting the Target: Gender Management in Scientific and Technological Research) and Diversity (Improving the Gender Diversity Management in Materials Research Institutions).
In May 2009, the Commission, in cooperation with the Czech Presidency, organised the conference 'Changing research landscapes to make the most of human potential: 10 years of EU activities in Women and Science, and BEYOND ( 759KB)' to raise awareness on the need for gender-aware HR management in research institutions.
In 2009, the European Commission funded GenSET (Increasing Capacity for Implementing Gender Action Plans in Science) and GENDERA (Gender Debate in the European Research Area) aimed at identifying, discussing and implementing best practices on gender balance in research and higher education institutions. Actions involve top decision-makers.
In 2010, the Commission went a step further by funding 'structural change' in research institution management. The 2010 Work Programme called for research organisations and universities to develop and implement tailored multi-annual action plans, where steps towards real change in gender management are defined.