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Glass ceiling firm in Germany

Posted on behalf of Alison Abbott.

The paltry representation of women in leading positions in science has long been a matter of considerable embarrassment for Germany. In 2006, the proportion of women in top positions in the main German science organizations — including the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Society, the Leibniz Society and the Fraunhofer Society — hovered, in best cases, around 5%.

At the end of 2006, the organizations signed up for a concerted five-year push to improve the ratios. According to the Five-year offensive for equality of opportunities for female scientists: report and recommendations, an analysis approved by the German Science Council today, the effort hasn’t come to much.

The organizations signed up to all sorts of measures, from providing more child care and flexible working times to offering systematic mentoring programmes. They agreed to a name-and-shame strategy of publishing their gender statistics regularly. Funding agencies and politicians added their own supportive measures.

Analysing the outcome in terms of career grade and discipline, the German Science Council describes the chasm between the career successes of men and women today as “less drastically remarkable” than it was when the push kicked off. That’s one of the kinder comments to come out of its report.

Although the proportion of women reaching top positions in the humanities has increased quite respectably, the proportion of women succeeding in engineering remains essentially unchanged. The organizations need to revisit their 2006 pledges, says the report, and take them more seriously — meaning also financial investment. One immediate action, it suggests, is to make sure that at least 40% of promotion-committee members are women, even though in some disciplines it may be hard to find enough appropriately qualified women. It also proposes that the organizations set themselves a target quota for top positions.

 Graph: Proportion of men (blue) and women (purple) in science climbing the career ladder.  Source: CEWS



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