Professor: EU needs more women scientists

-A +A

Research institutions must realise that there are smarter ways to use the funds they have. The entire focus of the European Gender Summit is to highlight gender as a tool for making research more effective and for achieving results of a higher quality, says Curt Rice.

Curt Rice is vice president of Research & Development at the University of Tromsø. He spoke to EurActiv's Jeremy Fleming during the European Gender Summit.

The future European policy agenda for advancing research and innovation is centred a budget of €80 billion over the 6 years from 2014 – 2020. This appears to be dropping as a result of the current negotiations, what does this mean?

Research and innovation are the single most important hope for the improvement of society, and for this reason, public support of research is worthwhile and important. If funds for research are cut, progress will be slowed. But research institutions must also realise that there are smarter ways to use the funds they have. The entire focus of the European Gender Summit is to highlight gender as a tool for making research more effective and for achieving results of a higher quality.

Why is Europe performing poorly in engaging with women in science, and what more can be do to change this?

There is tremendous variation on this matter throughout Europe, and those of us who are doing poorly may not have to travel far to learn how we could be better. Part of equality at work is of course related to equality at home, such that cultures in which children are sent home in the middle of a day for a warm meal or cultures in which a tradition for part time work for women has emerged have a difficult starting point for achieving balance at work. But beyond cultural factors, European universities have career paths that are discriminatory, just as they are in other parts of the world. Academic careers are extremely competitive, for example, and advancement and rewards depend in part of a significant commitment to self-promotion. Yet study after study shows that women and men are different on these points, so building career paths which require this kind of behaviour is inviting gender imbalance. Finally, there is inadequate understanding of the actual benefits to productivity and scientific quality that gender balance can offer.

What difference does a balanced gender research community make to science?

There are so many. Workplaces with gender balance are better workplaces, according to very large surveys of employee satisfaction. And employees who are happier at work are more productive. So, a gender balanced research community is a more satisfied and more productive research community. Furthermore, evaluation of teams of people working together to solve complex problems shows that gender balanced teams to a better job. Yet another important point is that if we assume men and women are equally intelligent (although there is some evidence that girls as a group have higher IQs than boys), then a lack of gender balance means we are drawing from the weaker part of the pool of men and ignoring the stronger part of the pool of women. And I could go on. In fact, I write a blog where I've just pulled together all these arguments into a free ebook; maybe your readers would enjoy stopping by, at curt-rice.com.

How can real results be achieved in attracting more women and how can this best be monitored?

At my home institution, the University of Tromsø, only 9% of our professors were women in 2001, and we were the worst in Norway. Today, nearly 30% of our professors are women and we are the best in Norway. This is a result of deliberate and focused investment through creative strategies that have now been shown to be successful. The story and strategies can also be found in my ebook, for your readers who are curious about the details. To attract women, we have to make it clear that we want more female colleagues. Monitoring is crucial, and successful monitoring requires external accountability, either to ministries or perhaps to sister institutions, as the League of European Research Universities will now do, according to a presentation at the Gender Summit.

Advertising