25/02/2020

Women in Science - “Not a world of catch-up, but a world of leadership”


European Research Council President Mauro Ferrari sent a strong statement to that effect during the recent United Nations annual ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly’. "The role of women and girls in science will continue to grow and is key in our efforts towards a better future. It will no longer be a world of catch-up, but a true world of leadership. We cannot afford to have only one half of humankind fully engaged in the scientific endeavour."

In his key note speech at the UN in New York, Prof. Ferrari spoke out for women in science and gave a message of optimism and hope: "The role of women and girls in science will continue to grow, and is key in our efforts towards a better future. It will no longer be a world of catch-up, but a true world of leadership. We cannot afford to have only one half of humankind fully engaged in the scientific endeavour."

Praising the young speakers at the assembly, he also made it clear that you can never start early enough in the world of science. His message echoes the efforts that the ERC’s governing body, the Scientific Council, has undertaken over the past decade. “It cannot be underlined enough how vital it is that women and men are given equal chances in science,” the Chair of the ERC working group on gender issues Prof. Barbara Romanowicz said. “That is the underlying reasoning for the ERC’s commitment to this cause. We are proud that substantial progress has been achieved in the ERC calls over the past years, but there is still work to do to improve gender balance at the application stage.”

The Scientific Council's working group on gender issues, set up in 2008, is a clear example of this ethos in action. Holding as its founding principle that women and men are equally able to perform excellent frontier research, each process within the ERC - from the raising of awareness to rules around parental leave and gender mainstreaming - is designed to allow equal opportunity. The group also carefully monitors gender balance in ERC calls.

Such measures seem to have paid off. The success rates of women in ERC competitions have been converging with those of men in recent years; yet, there are some variations between different domains and calls. This positive trend is taking place without changing the ERC’s sole selection criterion of scientific excellence in its grant competitions.

Earlier in the month, marking 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen praised the extraordinary achievements of women scientists across Europe, reminding our full potential was reached only if we used ‘all our talent and diversity'.

She acknowledged that not every woman and girl got a chance to realise their aspirations. “Less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women”, von der Leyen said in her video message, quoting UN data. “This must change”, she stressed.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

In 2018, of almost 15 million scientists and engineers in the EU, 59% were men and 41% women, according to Eurostat. “Equality for all and equality in all of its senses” is one of the major priorities of the von der Leyen Commission and of the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. “My Commission will work hard to achieve full and equal access of women and girls in science. A Union of equality is one of our key priorities,” von der Leyen said.

Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, also sent a video message where she stressed EU's commitment to inclusion and equality as drivers of progress, innovation, and economic growth.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth today launched the EU Prize for Women Innovators 2020, celebrating female leaders in innovation and aiming to inspire the next generation to follow their footsteps.