The topic of gender in science has been a hot one this decade. While women have equal representation in biology and an overwhelming majority in social sciences, they are lacking in the hard sciences and sparse at the professor level.
Germany has implented "Research oriented gender equality standards“, which have been developed by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) and have now been adopted by the General Assembly of the DFG in Berlin.
It means that universities and non-university research institutions must commit themselves to promoting equal rights for women and men in all areas of work, including university and institutional management and increasing the propor-tion of women at professorial level and in other scientific management positions.
"We need significantly more women in science and for science. The research oriented gender equality standards are a milestone on the way to achieving this", said DFG President Profes-sor Matthias Kleiner today, Thursday, at the annual press conference of Germany's largest research funding organisation, after the Standards had been thoroughly debated and eventu-ally approved by a clear majority by the universities and non-university research institutes at the General Assembly of the DFG the previous day. They are now to be implemented in stages by 2013 and also to become a criterion considered in the approval of funds to universi-ties and research institutions by the DFG.
Kleiner says the gender equality standards are based on voluntary commitment and the DFG does not intend to prescribe quotas for them, nor any other equal opportunities measures for the support of women, and certainly not to become the "Gender equality control board."
Because all governments pass voluntary laws they don't want to see enforced and then uses phrases like having only 40% women "shames the German scientific system."
The DFG also said they view with concern the ongoing emigration of mainly young specialist and management workers from Germany, which has now been confirmed once more in a study by the Basel Forecasting Institute. This dramatic development also affects science, stressed Kleiner. To counter this, the DFG intends to continue its efforts jointly with the other scientific organizations towards internationally competitive rates of pay for highly qualified scientists.
This is intended to contribute to keeping researchers in Germany or to induce them to return from abroad. The DFG is pursuing the same goal with the increased remuneration of its highly sought after Heisenberg professorships and fellowships for young researchers who have quali-fied as university lecturers, which has now been approved by the Joint Committee of the funding organization at the General Assembly.
Extracts from the Statement of the DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner at the annual press conference in Berlin:
On the "Research oriented gender equality standards" Kleiner stated:
"We are trying to tackle an old problem with new approaches and in this way to come nearer to a permanent solution. Career paths of women are well known to be often more rocky than those of their male colleagues, but also often end earlier, not least due to the difficult balancing act between career and family. Only 40 percent of all PhDs are awarded to women. After the PhD this split becomes wider apart: the proportion of women gaining the habilitation in 2006 was just over 20 percent, and only around 10 percent of the professorships at the C4 and W3 level are held by women.
This low proportion of women in the professorships shames the German scientific system and at the same time is a waste of intellectual resources. There needs to be some rethinking here: equal opportunities means taking your chances. Because German Science is suffering from a considerable shortage of young researchers and must for this reason alone promote women scientists more than previously. The DFG has therefore in the past few months developed Research-oriented Gender Equality Standards, which have been drafted by a dedicated commission."
The core of the gender equality standards which were agreed yesterday by the General Assembly is the so-called cascade model. This is based on the following principle: every institution sets its own goals for increasing the proportion of women at a specific qualification level. These targets should in each case be higher than the proportion of women at the level directly below.
The implementation of the gender equality standards follows the principle of voluntary participation and commitment and therefore abides by the autonomy of the research institute concerned. In this way the members of the DFG are stipulating how, and in what period of time, they intend to increase their proportion of female postdoctoral researchers and profes-sors by specific discipline and structure.
The gender equality standards are additionally intended to ensure that the resources within the universities are distributed more actively with respect to gender equality issues. An example of these would be measures such as return to work grants following breaks for having a family. Suitable examples of this can be found in a tool-kit which is intended to offer members support in the implementation of the standards.
What will happen next? In the 2009 General Assembly a working group will be set up from among the membership, whose task it will be to support the member institutions in the implementation of the gender equality standards and to issue recommendations. In the spring of next year we expect the first statements of the member organizations, in the spring of 2011 interim reports on implementations of the Standards, which would then be put before the General Assembly in the summer of 2011.
In the spring of 2013 the final reports of the mem-ber organisations on the implementation of the Standards will be issued. The DFG evaluates the reports that will be presented at the 2013 General Assembly. Members who have fulfilled their voluntary commitments will be rewarded accordingly, for example by a presentation of their successful plans during the General Assembly.
It is frequently asked what relevance the fulfilment of the Standards will have in future for the approval of funding applications to the DFG. An excellent project will not fail to be funded just because no women scientists are involved. But the observance of the Standards will be one of the criteria considered, namely in the approval of research associations in which mem-ber organisations are applicants.
And I would like to clearly underline this also, that the DFG neither wants to introduce quotas nor are we on the road to becoming a "gender equality control board". What will be important to the decision is the contribution the members of the DFG themselves want and are able to make to gender equality.
The timing of the initiative in our view could not be better: by 2014 more than one third of all professors will be retiring, the universities therefore need these hitherto untapped intellectual resources more than ever."
On the experiences in the Excellence Initiative so far and on the question of the continuation and further development of the programme, Kleiner had this to say:
"In the spring of this year the DFG has held a first meeting with the spokesmen and spokes-women of the institutions and also with Rectors and Presidents of the Universities. These have revealed that for establishing profiles and structures of the institutions the Excellence Initiative is what a fresh breeze can mean to the sailor: a following wind. Even the federal states are not just working towards a university legislation that is more appropriate to the needs of science, but in part have also supported the Excellence Initiative with additional measures. The entire scientific community in German is waking up, that is clear. The research institutions are working with renewed vigour on networking among themselves, making their administrative apparatus more flexible, working in a more international way, and place greater weight on the promotion of young researchers, gender equality and cooperation. These are all great strides towards modernisation.
Together with the German Science Council we have drafted a short paper on the key points, which we would like to present jointly on 11th July, also here in Berlin. This paper will deal with our proposals on continuing and developing the Excellence Initiative. The five funding years of the first round will be over already by 2011; it is important that we think about the continuation in good time. The key point paper represents the view of science and should be helpful to our colleagues in science policy."
On the subject of emigration and on the "struggle for the best minds" the DFG President emphasized:
The main reasons given for emigration are the unsatisfactory career prospects and the low salaries. The opportunities for flexibility due to the Excellence Initiative, the stronger interna-tional cooperation are important steps in overcoming these problems. But we will continue to make efforts, and here all scientific organisations are united, to be able to pay highly qualified scientists what they deserve. The Joint Committee of the DFG passed a resolution the day before yesterday which also moves in this direction: the DFG's Heisenberg Programme is being modified. The salary of a Heisenberg Professor, up to now remunerated at W2 level, can be supplemented. In order to remain internationally competitive, in future it will also be possible to offer outstanding scientists and academics from overseas a W3 professorship.