Interview: ‘Positive discrimination’ needed for female scientists

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Europe should not shy away from positive discrimination as a way to promote women scientists as it will help tackle skills shortages in scientific disciplines, argues the author of a Parliament report on women in science adopted yesterday in an interview with EURACTIV.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality adopted a report on 14 April on the role of women in science. It draws attention to the current under-representation of female scientists, which is says is a waste of the potential of female science graduates.

Promoting women in science “is not just about a feminist quest for equality,” said Danish Socialist MEP Britta Thomsen, the author of the report, in an interview with euractiv.com. “It is fundamentally about European growth, innovation and competitiveness in the future,” she added.

According to Thomsen, things “don’t seem to be changing naturally” and thus measures should be taken at European and national level in order to bring an end to prevailing stereoptypes preventing women from succeeding in scientific careers.

She believes the education system should do more to encourage young girls to opt for scientific careers than is currently the case. In addition, special funding should be allocated to female scientists to enable them to pursue their careers. In her view, the use of role models and improved mentoring schemes may also attract more young women to study science (see EURACTIV 10/03/08). 

The report also recommends implementing gender mainstreaming in the EU and national programmes. She thinks that “all universities and research institutions need to realise that it is in their own best interest to develop gender strategies if they want to attract both female students and female employees”. 

Asked whether positive discrimination should be considered to promote women scientists, she said “we should not shy away” from it. “It shouldn’t be an end in itself, but it is necessary to take measures that counteract the current systems and traditions, because these obviously in some way ‘positively discriminate’ men.”

Indeed the report argues that in practice, “to be taken as an engineer is to look like an engineer, talk like an engineer, and act like an engineer”. “In most workplaces this means looking, talking and acting male,” it states. According to MEPs, such decisions clearly play a role in the decision-making process for recruitment or promotions.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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