Germany mulls extra research funding for committee-burdened women

Gender quotas have improved female representation on internal panels, but researchers have highlighted that the loss of research time slows career progression

January 16, 2020
Women carrying sacks
Source: Alamy
Weight-bearing: Germany wants to reduce burdens on female scholars

German universities have recommended giving female academics extra research funding to compensate them for the disproportionate administrative burden that they face.

Institutions in the country introduced gender quotas for internal committees and boards in an effort to reduce bias during hiring and other inequalities, but such measures themselves are now being labelled potential hindrances to female progression because the roles cost women career-crucial research time.

The country’s proposed solution – giving committee-burdened female scholars more money to support their research – will be watched closely by sectors around the world that are wrestling with the same issue of how to ameliorate the heavy administrative burden typically faced by female academics.

“There aren’t enough women,” said Eva Reichwein, head of gender equality at the German Research Foundation (DFG), which is discussing a national strategy to get more women into top university positions, which it hopes to complete in the summer.

“Everybody wants women to be on the committees, but on the other hand they need time for their research.”

In November, a general meeting of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) admitted in a resolution that there remained a “painfully clear picture” that “women are still under-represented in academia”, particularly at the top.

Despite some progress since a focus on the issue started in earnest in 2006, by 2017 only 23.4 per cent of professors in Germany were female. For more senior, higher paid professorships, this proportion is less than a fifth, while a quarter of university heads are female. “The lack of women in higher management positions has changed very little,” the HRK concluded.

It found that women faced “challenges due to multiple committee appointments”.

“Many boards and committees aspire to 50:50 [gender balance],” explained Johanna Weber, who is rector of the University of Greifswald and leads on gender equality issues at the HRK.

To address the disproportionate impact of committee duties on women, the HRK has suggested that universities compensate women for the time they put in.

Another possibility is to reduce their teaching duties, said Dr Reichwein. But this would mean that students see fewer female role models in the lecture hall, cautioned Professor Weber.

Professor Weber said that linking additional research funding to committee service was “the most likely solution”, although she stressed that this was still under discussion and that, for legal reasons, the money might have to be extended to men, too.

And to combat committee fatigue for female scholars, the HRK has also recommended a “critical review of the usefulness of [gender] quotas on a case-by-case basis”.

Professor Weber said there was no evidence that a committee with a 50 per cent female quota – a “political number” in her view – was any less biased than one made up of, for example, 30 per cent women.

Another solution put forward by the HRK is to make sure that if women do assume committee roles, they get the most important positions. “It’s all about influence and visibility,” said Professor Weber. “In Germany, science is still associated with men.”

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: A funding balm for panel pains?

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