Discrimination against women scientists confirmed : A new report with statistical data concerning 30 European countries

A report published today by the European Commission establishes for the first time the situation of women scientists in 30 European countries . The report is presented at a seminar opening today in Madrid and organised with the Spanish Presidency of the European Union on “Women and Science: promoting women in the scientific sector”.

The report, prepared by a group of national representatives known as the `Helsinki Group on Women and Science`, compiles national statistical profiles which are rich data sources showing scientifically how sex-segregation is a feature of scientific careers in all the countries, although there are variations in the specificity of patterns. There is considerable wastage of women’s skills and knowledge as a result of the ‘leaky pipeline’, whereby women drop out of scientific careers in disproportionate numbers at every level. Broadly, women now constitute the majority of undergraduates overall. Although they remain a minority in some science subjects and in engineering, they are in the majority in medical and biological sciences. The nearer the top of the academic hierarchy, the lower the proportion of women. Indeed, universally, women are just a tiny minority of people in top scientific jobs.

Said Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin: “The data demonstrate that women scientists are indeed underrepresented in the key positions of scientific research. This confirms that the picture painted in preliminary studies is not an emotional one, but the result of discrimination arising from multiple factors. These need to be addressed if we are to improve the position and role of women in scientific research, and hence reinforce the European Research Area.”

“No statistics, no problem, no policy. Statistics help identify problems and can monitor the effectiveness of remedies”, said Hilary Rose. Now, for the first time, we have the data.

Since the last decade, concern is growing at European Union (EU) level about the issue of women and science, and more specifically, the under-representation of women in scientific careers. This has prompted significant and concerted action at transnational level. The European Commission adopted a Communication in February 1999 setting out an action plan to promote gender equality in science: Women and science – Mobilising women to enrich European Research. It also commissioned a European Technology Assessment Network (ETAN) report on women and science in the EU .

In 1999, the Council of Research Ministers adopted a Resolution on women and science inviting Member States to engage in dialogue and exchange views on national policies, taking into account benchmarking and best practice.

Many Member States and associated countries have instituted positive action measures to support women and science, ranging from the support to local initiatives to the systematic integration of gender equality into all policies and programmes.

The report (see executive summary in annex 1) provides for the first time a synthesis of all the measures and policies devised and implemented at local, regional, national and European level to encourage the participation of women in scientific careers and research. It will contribute to promote further discussion, dissemination and exchange on these measures and policies.

The seminar (see programme in annex 2) will present the actions undertaken by the European Union and promote a debate about the actual situation of women in R&D (public and private), as well as about further initiatives and perspectives, such as the platform for networks of women scientists.

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