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Brussels, 23 January 2003

Women seriously under-represented and under-utilised in industrial research, says EU report

Just 50,000 of the 500,000 researchers working in industry across Europe are women, according to recent studies. The average is 15% in the 10 countries where the data are gender specific. But this figure goes down to as little as 9.6% in Germany and 9% in Austria. But women accounted for 55 % of all graduates in higher education in the EU in 2000. Today in Brussels, an EU-sponsored group of experts presented a report to Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, with the aim of analysing the situation, and making widespread improvements by 2010. Urgent action is necessary to change an outdated culture of recruitment and progress in research careers, so as to redress this imbalance. The report calls for action by the private sector and highlights the need for governments, universities and other stakeholders to improve access to scientific education and careers for women.

"I am worried by the very low representation of women in industrial research," said Commissioner Busquin. "The decision taken by EU leaders in Barcelona last year to increase investment in R&D from 1.9% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to 3% by 2010 implies a substantial increase in the number of researchers over the next seven years, particularly female researchers. This is especially true in the private sector, given the increasing role it is expected to play in R&D. Europe cannot afford to waste such great human potential. And bright female graduates have the right to access industrial research on an equal footing. I therefore welcome these recommendations on how to overcome the disproportionate loss of women to industrial research. This is a major challenge for Europe and industry."

The gender gap

Data shows that the proportion of women among successful science and engineering students is growing in the EU. In 2002 women made up 41% of EU graduates in science, mathematics and computing and 20% of those qualifying in engineering, manufacturing and construction subjects were female. Therefore women are an obvious source of recruitment.

Despite their interest in scientific disciplines, women are under-represented in the research field. They account for only one third of researchers in universities and public research institutions and the situation is even worse in the private sector as they merely constitute around 15% of industrial researchers in the EU. Although more than one third of all European industrial researchers are based in Germany and Austria, the proportion of women is as low as 9.6% and 9% respectively. In other Member States, the proportion of women ranges from 17.8% (Finland) to 28.2% (Ireland).

The need for urgent change

The report published today highlights the untapped potential of women in industrial research. Experts point out that old-fashioned ideas and practices still impede women's careers in industrial research.

Women represent a talent pool that must be better used in order to improve European performance in research and innovation, in quality and quantity. This is even more important today as the labour supply in Europe is shrinking and ageing. There will be more competition for qualified staff in the future, and recruiting and retaining good quality industrial researchers as well as other qualified staff is vital in the context of skill shortages.

The recommendations

The report provides recommendations as to how the talent pool of women could be employed more equitably and resourcefully. These include:

  • attracting more girls to science and engineering to widen the recruitment base;

  • making efforts to improve knowledge surrounding the attrition of highly skilled people from industrial research;

  • setting up structures to support implementation of healthy work/life balance policies. Equally, the needs of people returning to industrial research after a career break require closer attention;

  • collecting more statistics on the position of women in industrial research. While much data exists on the participation of women in publicly funded academic research, relatively little is known about their role in industrial research. More data will allow informed policies and practices to be developed;

  • encouraging an organisational and cultural change in the industry

  • developing indicators and benchmarking for monitoring progress made in retaining and promoting women and men, and comparing the effects of national and industrial policies

  • compiling and disseminating successful examples of companies that have retained female members of the European talent pool for research and development.

The Expert Group

The expert group that completed the report was chaired by Professor Helga Rübsamen-Waigmann, Vice President of Bayer AG, Head of Antiinfective Research, and Dr. Ragnhild Sohlberg, Vice President of Norsk Hydro ASA, Corporate Center. Around 50 top-level experts from leading research and development (R&D) companies and innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as senior researchers, contributed to this work.

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