Science: it's a girls thing!

Science Politics | INQUIRE NEWS

Koen Es | 21/06/12 | Brussels, EU

Women continue to be under-represented in research at a time when Europe needs more researchers to foster innovation and bolster its economy. The goal of the campaign 'Science, it's a girls thing!' is to attract young women to research careers in order to increase the total number of researchers in Europe. The European Union has set itself the goal of increasing R&D spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2020, compared with around 2 per cent now, and will need an extra 1 million researchers to make this a reality. Some businesses already complain about a lack of researchers and skilled technical workers.

Why is the campaign directing at girls?

Young people typically make critical career decisions between the ages of 13 and 17. At this point in their education they orientate towards or away from science and technology studies. Recent analysis of education data from OECD-PISA shows that at the age of 15, both girls and boys have roughly the same preference and ability in science and technology. However, a large number of girls then drop out of science, engineering and technology to pursue other subjects.

How big is the problem?

Since the 1990s the majority of university graduates have been women, but the proportion of women in top positions in European science is still very low. In the EU, well over 50 % of all graduates are women in most areas of study, and significantly more in some (for example 78 % in education)4. They also make up the majority of masters students, and 45 % of Ph.D. graduates. However, female graduates are severely under-represented in the areas of engineering, manufacturing and construction, with women making up just 25.5 % of graduates in these fields. Women are also under-represented in the areas of science, mathematics and computing, where they constitute 40.2 % of all graduates.

Furthermore, EU-wide, women make up only about 32% of career researchers. Most countries acknowledge that this is a problem, not only now but for the future of research. With businesses in many countries already reporting shortages of skilled workers, Europe cannot afford to waste any of its young talent.

What is the role of FP7 in relation to female scientists?

There are several initiatives in FP7 to encourage the participation of women in research and innovation. The Science in Society initiative provides financial support to research organisations to establish gender equality plans. The programme also funds training for researchers to better integrate gender issues in research projects. It is within this programme that the status of women in research is monitored, with the publication of so-called SHE Figures.

Read the whole press release of the European Commision

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