Women still under-represented in science and research – European Commission

5 Apr 2013

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

While the proportion of female researchers in Europe is increasing, the under-representation of women in scientific disciplines and careers remains prevalent – that’s according to the latest edition of the European Commission’s ‘She Figures’ that has been published today. EU Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said a glass ceiling is still preventing women from taking top research positions.

Based on the latest She Figures report, women represent just 33pc of European researchers, 20pc of full professors and 15.5pc of heads of institutions in the higher education sector.

Women represent around 40pc of all researchers in the higher education sector, 40pc in the government sector and 19pc in the business enterprise sector. In all sectors, the number of women has been growing faster than that of their male counterparts (+5.1pc for women annually compared with +3.3pc for men from 2002 to 2009). Despite this, female researchers still struggle to reach decision-making positions. According to the report, there’s an average of only one woman for every two men on scientific and management boards across the EU.

As well as in Ireland, the highest shares of women in knowledge-intensive activities were observed in Luxembourg, Iceland, Malta, Sweden, the UK and Belgium.

‘Scandalous waste of talent’

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said today that despite some advances in recent years, women in research remain a minority.

She said a glass ceiling is, in particular, blocking women from taking top positions. Terming this a “serious injustice” and a “scandalous waste of talent”, Geoghegan-Quinn said the Commission is focusing on fostering gender equality in its research programmes and to change what she termed a “deeply rooted institutional culture”.

In 2012, for instance, the She Figures analysis point to how the proportion of female students (55pc) and graduates (59pc) exceeded that of male students, but men outnumbered women among PhD students and graduates by 49pc and 46pc respectively.

Further up the academic ladder, women represented 44pc of the researchers with a PhD at the first grade of an academic career and only 20pc of the researchers at the top grade of an academic career.

The Commission said the under-representation of women becomes even more striking in fields such as science and engineering.

She Figures 2012 is the fourth publication since the Commission first published it in 2003 using a key set of indicators to understand the situation of women in science and research.

Since then, the list of indicators has evolved to describe the participation of women at all levels and in all scientific disciplines, from tertiary education through to the job market, not only in the 27 EU countries but also in Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic