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Equal opportunites | They don’t create themselves

Against the backdrop of the  inequalities described, two questions emerge: what are the reasons and what can be done about them? In the "Mapping the Maze" study various suggestions are made. One of the problems, for example, is that gender discrimination in science is often ignored or denied.

Gender studies for managers

The authors see it as the task of the European Union (EU) and the governments of the individual Member States to sensitise decision makers to this issue. Established scientists should promote the idea of equality in workshops. Another step could be to establish binding gender equality in decision-making bodies and achieve a better work-life balance for men and women in science. Furthermore, the criteria and procedures for funding science as well as for promotions and appointments should be made public to prevent discrimination. The authors conclude: "A change of culture is required".

Setting a good example

Improvements in equal opportunities are necessary on many levels. Here are some examples of how various European countries go about it – by Anna Behrend and Inka Reichert.

Switzerland: creating transparency

In the annual reports of the Swiss National Science Foundation data are broken down according to gender. For example, there is a list of how many applications for project funding in the various research areas were approved, stating whether the applicant was male or female.  Click here for the figures for 2006..

United Kingdom: triggering a change in culture

In addition to other initiatives, the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) developed a questionnaire compiling the decisive factors for equality in the workplace. Institutions can check to what extent they are practicing equality. Visit the  project website.

Norway: transparency in budgetary decisions

In Norway, government ministries are legally required to submit an annual report on how funding has been distributed – broken down according to the applicants’ gender. The University of Oslo has adopted this practice and also collates and evaluates data of this kind. It has thus become part of the "Nordic-Baltic Network on Gender Responsive Budgeting", a network of universities which monitor their expenditure with reference to gender discrimination.  The network's website

Spain: equality by decree

The Spanish government passed a new equality law in March 2007 which covers all areas of public life and stipulates binding gender relations on committees and party lists.

Germany: gender test and equality initiative

In order to gauge the importance of gender-related aspects for technology and product development in different fields of research, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft initiated the “Discover Gender” project in 2006. The aim was to tailor technologies to the needs of male and female customer groups. The results of the project, including recommendations for the future, are contained in two books "Wie können Gender-Aspekte in Forschungsvorhaben erkannt und bewertet werden?" (How can gender-related aspects be identified and evaluated in research proposals?) and "Gender als Innovationspotenzial in Forschung und Entwicklung" (The innovative potential of gender in research and development).

In 2006, seven German research organisations, including the Max Planck Society (MPG), launched the "Offensive für Chancengleichheit von Wissenschaftlern und Wissenschaftlerinnen" (Action for equal opportunities for male and female researchers). They committed themselves to enhancing the promotion of women in science, monitoring progress and evaluating results.

Since 2003, there has also been a GenderCompetenceCentre at Humboldt-Universität in Berlin: this application-related research institute seeks to support public administration on equality policy issues.  Click here for comprehensive information, not just for equal opportunities commissioners.

This article originated at the 2008 EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF).

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Facts about women

How much less does the average female physicist in Europe earn by comparison with male colleagues? And what about the glass ceiling index? Tables and charts on the topic "Women in research" can be found  here.

Just asking: what researchers think about women in research

Are exclusively male research groups more successful? Why do men have better career opportunities in science? And how high is the percentage of female professors in The Netherlands? During ESOF 2008, academics answered these and other questions –  here are the clips.

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