Women in science

The new edition of the She Figures report prepared by the European Commission puts into focus a clear message: women continue to be under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The gender gap has over the past years not changed much. Figures show that the proportion of women researchers in the EU was of 33,4% in 2015, compared to 33% in 2012.

Lutgarde Buydens, Rector at Radboud University in the Netherlands, and one of the speakers at our EuChemS workshop on 7 March focused on the gender gap and the ‘leaky pipe’ – the situation whereby the number of women drops the higher up we climb the academic ladder. Whereas the proportion of women graduate students reaches 50%, this drops to 40% in PhD candidates, dropping down to 35% for associate professors, and 20% for full professors. Professor Buydens moreover emphasised the continued and often unrecognised bias (and implicit bias) expressed in our everyday actions and practices, with direct repercussions in how women are hired, promoted, perceived.

Some ways to counter this bias is to raise awareness of it, install gender and diversity committees in universities and research centres, introduce awareness training sessions for those who hire and select candidates, amongst a range of other issues.

Awareness of the gender gap is most likely at an all-time high, yet the slowness of change is testament to a deeply rooted issue that won’t be solved on its own. Direct and concrete steps are needed to ensure equal opportunities for all. Indeed, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Breaking the Barriers report starkly states: “continuing at the current rate of change, we will never reach gender parity”.

And on a side note, a separate study by the European Commission has also shown that increasing women’s participation in politics has clear positive impacts on the quality of governance, transparency and accountability!

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