Women make up only about a quarter of Europe's professors and less than one third of researchers, according to a report from Eurostat, the European Union's statistical agency. This contrasts sharply with the EU student body, which was 52 per cent female in 1999.
Comparing the latest comprehensive figures from individual member states, Britain has an average record, but there are some statistical surprises.
In Germany, women comprised only 19 per cent of researchers (in 1997, the most recent year for which complete figures are available) and just 9 per cent of professors (1998).
Other poor performers in terms of equal opportunities were Ireland, where just 12 per cent of professors were women, Belgium (14 per cent) and the Netherlands (15 per cent). Britain scored 24 per cent against an EU average of 26 per cent. In the United Kingdom, 36 per cent of researchers were women, compared with 28 per cent across the EU.
The best countries for female professors were Finland (36 per cent) and Sweden (33 per cent). For researchers, some perhaps less obvious countries were best at employing women: Ireland (46 per cent), Greece (44 per cent) and Portugal (43 per cent). Most figures are based on 1999 records collated by the Helsinki Group on women and science.
Eurostat said: "Women are strongly under-represented in higher education teaching. More detailed data on higher education teaching personnel show that there was a general trend across the EU to have a larger proportion of women at the lowest grade."
The report says that although 32 per cent of assistant professors were women, the share fell to 28 per cent for associate professors and to 11 per cent for full professors. In every member state, there was a low share of women at the senior level of full professor: from 5 per cent in Ireland to 18 per cent in Finland.