11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

11 February is acclaimed by the United Nations as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It highlights women’s and girls’ contributions to science and calls for reducing the gender gap at all levels of academic research and in the industry. Statistics from 2019 confirm women’s under-representation in research in Germany: female researchers make up only 28% of total researchers, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The federal data on students’ gender is more optimistic and equal: girls’ proportion in the winter semester 2021/2022 was 50,2%. Only 26,3% of the highest academic grade (professorship), however, are women. Factors explaining this enormous discrepancy are rooted in socioeconomic rationale, that follows the “Gender-Pay-Gap”, the “Gender-Care-Gap” and a well-known glass ceiling.

In the Leibniz Association, female Doctoral Researchers (DRs) are strongly represented among all institutes where they outnumber male colleagues. The visible difference, however, concerns the research within Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Engineering. As the results of the survey from 2021 show, in the institutes from this section, female DRs make up roughly 33% of the total doctoral researchers. The similar, low representation of female researchers is also reflected in data on the gender of supervisors. This result is not surprising, but it instead resonates with the nationwide issue of female leadership in science. To foster research talents and support women on their career paths, the Leibniz Association offers a one-year mentoring programme for female postdoc researchers that ensures the transfer of knowledge and skills related to leadership and obtaining a professorship. The versatility of career-supporting female DRs raises hopes of retaining them in the academic environment. According to the survey from 2021, more than half of female DRs at Leibniz consider pursuing their career in academia (male DRs: 57%), whereas interest in non-academic research was declared by nearly 80% of researchers (both genders).

Statement of the President of the Leibniz Association Prof. Dr. Martina Brockmeier:

Question: Which advice can you give to the current female doctoral researcher community that you received from your supervisor during your PhD?

Prof. Brockmeier: “One piece of advice that my supervisor once gave me has been particularly important to me: Trust in your abilities and strengths and do not shy away from challenges and resistance!“

In spite of visible efforts to reduce the gender gap in research, there is still much to be done in this area. It would seem to be a good idea to strengthen current development programmes with a gender focus. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science poses an opportunity to recognise their role in research and remind stakeholders and policymakers about the urgency of taking necessary steps towards encouraging girls to pursue their careers in science and reducing systematic barriers.

Author: Izabela Paszko M.A (Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, Institut für Zeitgeschichte – IfZ and part of the Arbeitskreis “Diversity”)