Report argues business case for women in science

A report on women in industrial research provides companies with hard economic evidence on why they should aim at gender balance in R&D and in senior positions to improve their economic performance.

An Austrian EU Presidency conference on women in science and technology took place on 15-16 May 2006 to discuss strategies to increase the number of women in industrial research in Europe. At the same occasion, the Commission presented the results of the Women in Science and Technology –report on what can be done to attract more women researchers into industry. It suggests, for example, providing solutions for dual career couple and single parents and to try to keep girls interested in science on that track in school.

The report also concludes that there is a business case for including more women in senior positions in companies’ and in R&D as “diverse teams produce better results,” it states. Indeed, the report has found that companies with well-managed gender mainstreaming policies often see an improvement in their economic performance. “A workforce consisting primarily of men is clearly one which is not realising its full potential […] unequal opportunities are not only a matter of injustice but primarily a matter of wasted talent.” 

In order to integrate more gender diversity in science and technology, companies and experts recommend, for example, to expose women more to challenging work experiences, to address issues affecting work-private life balance common both to men and women and to implement internal company programs on mentoring, coaching and child care.

A part of the Women in science and technology report presents personal experiences of women engineers and scientists and describes the key reasons for women's success and failure in science careers. According to these testimonies, women feel at risk due to lack of support from family, fellow students or colleagues, following motherhood and due to isolation, exclusion and lack of trust from their (male) superiors. It also seems that spending time on women and science initiatives and mentoring other women can pose a threat to women's career advancement. 

On the contrary, women feel encouraged when they have support from their families and school, thanks to various successful interventions and initiatives promoting women in science, clear company strategies for career development and to examples of successful women in senior positions. 

"Firstly, if we see science as playing an important role in developing our society, then it has to reflect that society. Secondly, as we seek to develop our role as a knowledge economy, building well–being and wealth on the fruits of our knowledge, we cannot afford to ignore a large pool of talent in this way. Europe will need more researchers, and so it will need its women scientists," writes Science and Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik on his website.

Women represent the majority (56%) of graduates in higher education in Europe, but account only for 25% of graduates in engineering, and the female participation in research is generally rather low in the EU. Women are in particular under-represented in the private sector (18%) - compared to the public sector (35%). 

The Commission's recent She Figures 2006 on women in science and technology show that the number of female researchers in universities and businesses continues to increase, but that progress remains slow and static in some fields of science. Furthermore, the increased women participation in science is still not being reflected in increased participation at senior levels.

  • L'Europe de la Recherche: Quels enjeux? Quelle place pour les jeunes et les femmes? -event will take place in Paris on 20 May 2006.  
  • Euroscience Open Foum (ESOF) 2006 will dedicate a session to "Excellent science needs women" on 18 July 2006.

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