France levels field for women

January 12, 2007

Minister approves proposals to make science a much more female and family-friendly career. Jane Marshall reports

A committee set up to attract more women to careers in science has proposed that French universities and research centres spell out their policies to achieve equality, that conferences be subsidised according to the prominence they give to female scientists and that PhD grants continue to be paid during maternity leave.

The measures compiled by the group of academics have been approved by Francois Goulard, Junior Minister for Higher Education and Research. The committee was established last January. The objectives of its first report, published last week, were to make science attractive to women, combat the glass ceiling that restricts promotion and to better accommodate pregnancy and parenthood.

Claudine Hermann - a physicist, founder and chair of the association Femmes et Sciences and a member of the equality committee - said that although girls performed better than boys at school, in secondary and higher education they were less likely to specialise in scientific or technical subjects, or to attend selective grandes écoles or technology institutes.

In the workplace, women are concentrated in lower-status jobs. Some 6.3 per cent of senior managers in the 5,000 leading companies in France are female.

In the public sector, women represent 57 per cent of employees but 12 per cent of senior managers. Some 40 per cent of university lecturers are women whereas 17 per cent of professors are.

Mr Goulard said: "If we want to advance equality in our country, and especially in science, research and higher education, it is essential to promote balanced representation of men and women in all collective bodies such as committees and juries... and to adapt criteria for promotion to the different types of professional background, particularly taking into account the constraints linked to parenthood."

Other recommendations he accepted were the development of gender studies at university and increasing the number of categories in the annual Ir ne Joliot-Curie prize awarded to outstanding female scientists. Initiatives to make science more attractive to girls at school would also be encouraged.

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