Women & Science


Europe desperately needs more researchers to achieve scientific and technological excellence and to reach the Lisbon goal of becoming the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy. As women are currently under-represented in the field of scientific research, the Commission is promoting measures specifically aimed at encouraging women to take part in European research.

Since the Lisbon declaration in March 2000, heads of state and governments across Europe have been stressing the need to increase the number of people entering science and technology careers. Indeed, in terms of human resources, it is estimated that an extra half a million researchers (or 1.2 million research-related personnel) are needed to meet the Lisbon goals and the Barcelona target of increasing investment in research to 3% of GDP. The aim is to reach, in Europe, the minimum level of eight researchers per thousand in the workforce

Currently, women represent the majority (56%) of graduates in higher education in Europe but account for only 25% of graduates in engineering. The proportion of women in research also shrinks the higher you look in the career hierarchy, especially in careers in industry, and only 14% of all full professors in Europe are women. 

Reasons for this imbalance are multiple. Certain fields are considered to be men's property and, therefore, gender bias affects judgements on scientific excellence. Industries and academia are also reluctant to hire women because they are not seen as flexible enough. Employers also fear that women may choose to give up their careers and start a family instead.

The Commission's first Women and Science conference, in 1998, highlighted the gender gap in research. Shortly thereafter, in 1999, an Action plan on women and science was launched. The Helsinki Group on women and science was also set up in 1999 with a view to developing synergies between European and national policies and providing a framework for pooling national policy experiences and exchanging good practice. The Commission's 2001 Science and Society action plan further developed the approach of the 1999 action plan and outlined a series of measures, namely Actions 24-27, targeted specifically at "producing gender equality in science".

What is the EU doing ?

The EU aims to strike a better gender balance in science through:

a) Actions 24-27 presented in the Science and Society action plan:

  • Establishing a European platform of women scientists and organisations committed to gender equality in scientific research. 
  • Monitoring progress towards gender equality in European research with a set of gender indicators.
  • Mobilising women scientists in the private sector by identifying career patterns and examples of best practice.
  • Promoting gender equality in science in the wider Europe.

b) Framework Programmes (FPs): The aim is to get at least 40% representation of women in the EU's Framework Programmes (FPs). Contractors of Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects in the FP6 are required to prepare an action plan for the promotion of gender equality within their project and later to report on it. The Commission has published a reference guide on how to implement the Gender Action Plan (GAP). 

c) European Charter for Researchers & Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers: These proposals, announced in March 2005, call on employers to provide flexible working conditions which allow both male and female researchers to combine family and work, children and career and the necessary financial and administrative provisions governing such arrangements. The employers are also encouraged to aim for "a representative gender balance at all levels of staff, including at supervisory and managerial level". 

d) Women in industrial research (WIR): An EU expert group 'Women in Science and Technology - the business perspective' was launched on 16 February 2005 in the context of the WIR initiative to analyse the promotion of women in science and technology from a business perspective. The results were published in May 2006.

e) European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS)European Platform of Women Scientists was launched in March 2005 with start-up funding from the Commission. The Platform aims to bring together networks of women scientists and organisations committed to gender equality in scientific research.

f) Women scientists in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic Stats (Enwise): The Enwise expert group was launched in October 2002 to examine the situation of women scientists in Central and Eastern European countries and in the Baltic States. The report was published in January 2004.

g) Statistics to benchmark policies and progress: An EU programme of statistical work was initiated in 2001, when a group of statistical correspondents was created as a subgroup of the Helsinki Group on Women and Science. The group has published, among other things, the 
She Figures 2003
She Figures 2006

h) European funded research projects:

Situation in EU-25

According to a recent Eurostat report (February 2006), there is a particularly high percentage of female researchers in the Baltic countries - 53% in Latvia and 48% in Lithuania. Bulgaria (47%), Portugal (44%) and Slovakia (41%) are also at the top of this ranking, in which France (28%) and Germany (19%) score below the EU average. 

In around two-thirds of the member states, the largest proportion of female researchers is found in the government sector and around one-third of the EU-25 report the highest proportion of women in the higher education sector. In no country is the highest proportion of female researchers found in the business sector.

European Parliament resolution on the role of women in industry (January 2008) "regrets the low proportion of women in the advanced technology sector". The house therefore stresses the importance of educational and training programmes in science and technology, to "guarantee the quality and diversification of training opportunities for women and the promotion of scientific and technological studies for girls". 

It also calls on the member states and the Commission to develop and implement strategies to address discrepancies in the work environment and the career development of women working in science and technology. Furthermore, it recommends 

The European Life Scientist Organisation (ELSO) has recently opened a new database of expert women in the molecular life sciences to improve the visibility of European women researchers in this field. "Our objective is to promote gender equality in Europe, by improving the visibility of women accomplished in their fields, from senior postdocs to senior independent scientists," said Karla Neugebauer from ELSO.

Nancy Bakowski, executive director of the US Association for Women in Science (AWIS) said, "The people are out there, but they're a little harder to find, so you really have to push the recruiters or whoever you're using to look beyond their typical pool." 

"In addition to pushing institutions to better meet women's needs, it's important to educate women themselves about what they can do to get ahead," the President of AWIS, Elizabeth Ivey, said to The Scientist, a US science magazine. She also thinks that women should publish earlier and more often: "Women researchers don't tend to publish their results until they are very near the end of their project, whereas male researchers will publish intermediate results all along the way, so they build maybe three articles on a project where women tend to have only one," she continued.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) applies women- and family-friendly practices such as child-care scholarships and reduced time appointments for faculty members with family demands. "What we're trying to do is provide the flexibility that allows people to take care of their family issues at critical junctures so they don't have these awful choices of doing one or the other," the first female president of MIT, Susan Hockfield, said to The Scientist. The number of women in MIT has risen from 10% in 1990 to 18% in 2004.

  • March 2005:  The Science in Society Forum debates "How to foster diversity, inclusiveness and equality in science".
  • 2006Eurostat figures show that only 29% of Europe's scientists and engineers were women in 2004.
  • Oct. 2006: Official launch of the European Platform of Women Scientists' (EPWS) member networks.
  • July 2006: Euroscience Open Foum (ESOF) 2006 dedicates a session to "Excellent science needs women".
  • May 2006'Re-searching women in science and technology' conference.  
  • May 2006: 'L'Europe de la Recherche: Quels enjeux? Quelle place pour les jeunes et les femmes?' -event .
  • Sep. 2006Workshop on 'Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET): Strategies for a Global Workforce' .
  • July 2007: European Platform of Women Scientists' event on women in science.
  • Oct. 2007WomenInNano workshop on "Nanomaterials and Gender Aspects in Research and Technology".
  • Oct. 2007: Women in engineering and technology research conference.
  • 17 Jan. 2008: The Parliament adopted a resolution on the role of women in industry.
  • 7 Feb. 2008: Latest Eurostat statictics on women employed in science and technology.
  • 6 March 2008: Commission conference exploring the potential for women in the ICT sector.
  • 5-7 June 2008: European Platform of Women Scientists' annual conference: Women shaping science.  
  • 26-27 June 2008: Supporting Women in Scientific Careers conference.
  • 15-18 July 2008: International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES).

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