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More than 60% of European scientists believe work-life balance is difficult for female researchers

Gender equality in research remains a challenge for the entire scientific community.

In a new work financed by the European Commission, the data obtained confirms Spanish figures given in the latest Woman and Science report and shows that over 60% of researchers (six out of ten men and seven out of ten women) consider combining scientific activity with looking after children very difficult.

Within Gender Action Plans (GAPs), a team of researchers has prepared for the European Commission a report on the problems faced by female scientists in order to achieve greater participation of women in academic science.

GAPs include statistics on gender studies within research networks and summarise progress made in pursuit of equality. The data shows that women still suffer two types of discrimination: horizontal segregation (when they are only highly represented in certain fields such as biology and medicine) and vertical segregation, known as the ‘glass ceiling’.

Women valued, but without important posts

The study, prepared by Simona Palermo, Elisabetta Giuffra, Valeria Arzenton and Maximiano Bucchi, was based on a questionnaire containing diverse questions on the personal and professional status of researchers, and involved 143 scientists (53.1% men and 46.9% women).

The data, which now appears in the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) magazine of the Nature Publishing Group, shows that almost half of women complain about the fact that the most important European jobs in science are held by men. While 83.6% of men have a permanent position in their workplace, only 56% of women enjoy the same situation.

“The results confirm that many women participate more actively at the beginning of their scientific career, with their work ambitions reduced after having children”, explained Simona Palermo, the main author of the study and researcher at the Pagano de Lodi Technology Park, a centre of excellence in food biotechnology in Italy. “Even today, seven out of ten female researchers and six out of ten men believe it is very difficult combining a career in science with looking after children”, the scientist added.

“Research is governed by men”

To prepare this European report, participants had to describe gender equality obstacles. More than 75% of participants highlighted the frequency with which women are relegated to handling administrative or subordinate tasks, while only 33% of men claimed the same. “This may be due to the lack of perception of the problem or a preference to hide it”, the authors indicated to SINC.

Likewise, the study revealed significant differences between the way in which men and women assess gender issues. Specifically, 76.6% of women agree with the phrase ‘research is governed by men’, while only 47.3% of researchers back this affirmation.

Another significant piece of data is that 57.4% of women who participated in the study (compared with 27.3% of men) believe that female researchers are not able to reach the most important job positions due to a lack of competitive nature in fighting for their careers, a quality which has always been considered “purely masculine”.

In Europe, like Spain

Despite the increase in number of female researchers in Spain, there are still not as many women as men in science. According to the report that the Spanish Science and Technology Foundation (FECYT) presented at the end of 2007, only 14 out of every 100 professors in Spanish public universities are women.

Both studies concluded that women are hardly represented in many fields, they normally receive a lower salary and have fewer opportunities than their male colleagues to obtain an influential position.

SINC Team | alfa
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