Interview

Tackling the gender gap

New initiatives are helping women climb the ladder at technical universities.

Last year, only 33% of researchers and 21% of toplevel researchers at European institutions were women. Sarah de Rijcke, a researcher at Leiden University and Anna Boyksen Fellow at the Technical University of Munich, is preparing a report intended to promote diversity and gender at technical universities. She expects better representation to lead to more multi-dimensional and socially responsible science.

TECHNOLOGIST What are the greatest obstacles to gender equality?

Sarah de Rijcke: Currently the perceptions of what it takes to be an “ideal academic” are very masculine. They involve a sense of stability, having business acumen, favouring international career trajectories and competition. The more prestigious the position, the greater the resistance to the feminisation of the workplace. For female researchers, climbing the academic ladder is challenging. Additionally, gender stereotypes still have women doing “care” and “pastoral” work in the field, such as teaching and mentoring.

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T. Which programs have been successful?

SDR. An excellent initiative was the GenderTime project, which focused on implementing and monitoring action plans in institutions across Europe. At Austria’s Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture, a new salary and career system offers objective and transparent criteria for salary negotiations during recruitment and promotion. Meanwhile at Loughborough, six female researchers from the School of Civil and Building Engineering have moved onto lectureships over a six-month period. Also, staff surveys in 2014 and 2016 there show an improvement in the understanding of why the school is encouraging underrepresented groups to apply for posts. Equally interesting and successful have been the five-year fellowships at Delft University of Technology, awarded to outstanding female scientists from around the world.

T. What should the next steps be?

SDR. The GenderTime project showed how important it is to involve committed individuals in powerful positions. These “transfer agents” play a crucial role in implementing genderequality knowledge. National governments are also key. The Dutch Ministry of Science and Education recently decided to devote a significant amount of funding to promote women researchers to full professors.