Posted: November 27, 2009

European report notes continued gender imbalance in science

(Nanowerk News) Despite a rise in their numbers, female scientific researchers remain a minority, accounting for just 30% of all scientific researchers in Europe. Furthermore, the more senior positions in science and research are still heavily dominated by men. These are some of the main findings in the latest 'She Figures', statistics on women in science in Europe which are produced every three years by the European Commission and the Helsinki Group on Women and Science.
'While some trends are positive, the fact that women remain underrepresented in scientific careers should be a worry for all of us,' commented European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik. 'This gender imbalance in science is a waste of opportunity and talent which Europe cannot afford.'
The figures do contain some good news. The number of women researchers is rising faster than that of men: between 2002 and 2006, this number went up by 6.3% annually for women, while for men the figure was just 3.7%.
Women also account for a growing number of PhDs. In 2006, 45% of PhDs were awarded to women, compared to 39.6% in 2001. In many fields, notably education, the humanities and arts, agricultural and veterinary sciences and health and social services, more women are now gaining PhDs than men.
The overall number of women researchers is rising in most disciplines, especially in the medical sciences, the humanities, engineering and technology, and the social sciences.
However, the figures also highlight large disparities between disciplines and sectors. For example, while women account for 37% and 39% of researchers in the higher education and government sectors respectively, a mere 19% of researchers in the business enterprises sector are women.
'R&D expenditure per capita researcher is usually the highest in the business enterprise sector,' the report reads. 'There seems to be a negative correlation between the level of expenditure and women's representation, as the business enterprise sector is precisely the sector in which women are the most under-represented.'
Comparing numbers across disciplines, women accounted for 64% of PhDs in education and just over 50% in the arts and humanities, health and welfare research, and agriculture and veterinary sciences. However, they made up just 41% of PhDs in science, mathematics and computing, and only 25% in the engineering, manufacturing and construction area.
Another major issue highlighted by the report is the ongoing 'vertical segregation' in women's academic careers. Among undergraduates, women already outnumber men, and as the She Figures show, women account for almost half of all PhDs awarded. However, as they move up the career ladder, the proportion of women drops off rapidly.
Women account for 44% of Grade C (postdoctoral) researchers, 36% of Grade B staff and a mere 18% of Grade A staff (full professors). Even in the disciplines with the largest numbers of women researchers, women professors remain in the minority; just 27% of humanities professors and 18.6% of social sciences professors are female. In the engineering and technology field, only 7.2% of professors are female. In addition, just 13% of higher education institutions and 9% of universities are headed by women, while only 22% of board members are female.
The report notes that in spite of women's rapid progression in science, 'it still fails to give them an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making concerning scientific policies, research subjects and grants'.
The report goes on: 'It is crucial to promote a high representation of women on boards that determine scientific policy in all countries. Their presence is not only essential to promote the cause of women in science; in scientific research, diversity is a factor for higher chances of excellence.'
'There will be no quick fix,' said Commissioner Potocnik of the issue. 'We have to address all structural obstacles along the entire career path of women scientists. The European Commission will continue to support actions to reinforce the status and participation of women in science. This is not just in the interest of European science, but also of our society and our economy.'
Source: Cordis