Sex splits science jobs

June 23, 1995

Massive redundancies in higher education and research in east Germany since unification have particularly hit women's jobs in natural sciences and engineering.

Marion Bimmler, chairwoman of the staff council of the new Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Biology in Berlin, told a workshop held during a EuroContact exhibition that restructuring of higher education and research in the former German Democratic Republic had created big discrepancies between east and west in terms of jobs at research facilities.

Changes at the universities plus the almost total collapse of industrial research had resulted in huge job cuts.

In 1991, there were 24,000 staff in Academy of Sciences. Now there are only 8,000, and some have been newly taken on. The rundown of industrial research destroyed 85,000 jobs in east Germany. Eighty per cent of former research and development jobs are gone.

Ms Bimmler also said that the then research ministry's recommendation that only 10 per cent of places in new research institutions be allocated to applicants from the west and abroad was not observed.

Only every fourth or fifth woman scientist of the Academy of Sciences could subsequently find adequate employment, compared to every second male scientist. Some women had initially continued to work in research and development job creation schemes, but this had since been made largely impossible through amendments to job creation regulations.

"The transfer of western structures to the east and selection criteria that only fit western biographies have virtually excluded women from leading positions," Ms Bimmler said.

Only 10 to 15 per cent of applications for research and development jobs are handed in by women, so that these fields appear to be losing attractiveness for them. Ms Bimmler told the meeting that in setting priorities during unification, the structural unemployment of a highly innovative workforce had not been taken sufficiently into account. Neither did support programmes of the European Social Fund give the situation in the new Eastern states of the Federal Republic due consideration.

According to Manuela Queitsch, deputy director of Dresden University Library, unification was originally thought by many to result in a greater share of women in qualified positions throughout Germany. Thirty per cent of the GDR's 500,000 engineers were women, compared with 2 to 4 per cent in the west. "But their share has stayed low in the west, while in the east it is sinking from day to day," she told the meeting.

Quoting examples of women academics' occupations following unification, Birgit Zich, co-founder of the German Association of Women Engineers, referred to a qualified engineer from Leipzig now selling insurance policies, an electrical engineer with a doctor's degree now working in a job creation scheme for the city's women's affairs official, and a 35-year-old mechanical engineer on a retraining scheme to join a caring profession.

"Instead of supporting re-education or continuing education measures, the labour exchange often encourages retraining programmes that represent a de facto dequalification," Ms Zich said.

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