Strong commitment needed to increase women researchers in industry, claims report

October 14, 2003

Brussels, 13 Oct 2003

Female participation in industrial research is still low despite recent efforts to promote equality, according to the findings of a new report.

The report, which presents statistical data and good practices on promoting women in industrial research, was presented by the European Commission to delegates attending a conference entitled, 'Women in industrial research: speeding up the changes in Europe', in Berlin on 10 October.

Statistics indicate that industry is the leading actor in terms of research and development (R&D) financing in Europe and industrial researchers are considered to be one of the most important researcher groups. Furthermore, experts believe that the sector will experience significant growth in material and human resources over the next few years. Yet women still remain under-represented in the industrial sector more than any other sector.

Speaking at the conference, EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin highlighted the most alarming figure in the report. 'Women in industrial research are a neglected resource. They account for only fifteen percent of the 500,000 researchers working in industry in Europe,' he said.

However the report reveals that this figure varies between the different European countries. For instance, the proportion of women in industrial research is extremely low in Austria and Germany, accounting for only nine per cent, while in Portugal, Greece and Ireland, the level of female participation in the sector is relatively high, ranging from 24 to 28 per cent. Ironically, Germany is the country that boasts the largest number of industrial researchers in all of Europe.

Given the EU's goal of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge based economy, addressing inequality and exclusion with a view to increasing the number of researchers in the sector should be given top priority by industry and policymakers, the report claims. This was picked up by Mr Busquin in his speech: 'If Europe is to achieve its aim of investing three per cent of its gross national product (GDP) in research by 2010, we need to mobilise all resources - especially women who are already trained as researchers but might have stopped working because companies and society did not support them.'

The report suggests several reasons as to why there are so few women in industrial research and why so many drop out. Barriers to recruitment, lack of information on science and technology careers, lack of career opportunities, lack of role models, a gender pay gap and gender stereotypes all play a role, the report says, in excluding women from this area of research.

On a positive note, the report identifies a series of good practices to promote increased participation and improved career development for women in private sector research. The good practices are based on 29 case studies carried out across 11 Member States, presenting many ways that companies and policymakers can avoid discrimination risks, and promote women in the sector.

The report also sets out a number of recommendations targeting industry and female researchers. As far as private firms are concerned, the report underlines the need to promote numerical equality and diversity; create more hospitable work environments; improve women's position in higher management; and move away from 'old school' double standards when measuring men's and women's achievements.

For their part, women scientists are encouraged to display strength of character, to be aware of their market value, find a mentor, learn to be more assertive and self-confident, and recognise their accomplishments. The report ends by noting: 'A lot remains to be done before parity is achieved and the remaining obstacles removed. However, if governments and policymakers, as well as companies and networks, are able to work together and build strong partnerships, matters will undoubtedly improve more quickly.' To read the report in full, please visit the following web address: http:///europa.eu.int/comm/research/scien ce-society/women/wir/pdf/wir-ulb_en.pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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