Status update of gender equality in research careers in Europe: She Figures 2018

The ‘She Figures’ publication provides a range of indicators on gender equality in research and innovation at pan-European level. It aims to give an overview of the gender equality situation, using a wide range of indicators to examine the impact and effectivenessof policies implemented in this area. At the occasion of the publication of the latest edition in March 2019, we investigate the evolution of the situation of gender equality in Europe and in EU programmes for researcher mobility ERC and MSCA. Large parts of this article are directly sourced from the final ‘She Figures 2018’ report.
Check also our second article: gender equality policies and gender distribution in MSCA and ERC

Global overview

The EU is approaching gender balance among doctoral students. Overall, in 2016, women made up 47.9 % of doctoral graduates at the EU level, in two thirds of EU Member States the proportion of women among doctoral graduates ranged between 45 % and 55 %. While the overall number of both women and men doctoral graduates increased between 2007 and 2016, in most of the countries that ‘She Figures’ covered, the number of women doctoral graduates increased at a faster rate than that for men. The proportion of women among doctoral graduates still varies among the different fields of education; in 2016, women doctoral graduates at EU level were over-represented in education (68 %), but under-represented in the field of information and communication technologies (21 %) and the fields of engineering and manufacturing and construction (29 %).

Differences between women and men can also be observed in their working conditions as researchers. At the EU level, the proportion of women researchers working part-time was higher than that of men; 13 % of women researchers and 8 % of men researchers were working part-time in 2016. Furthermore, 8.1 % of women and 5.2 % of men researchers worked under contract arrangements considered as ‘precarious employment’. In terms of equal payment, there is still a considerable gender pay gap in scientific R&D occupations. Across the EU-28, women in R&D earned on average 17 % less than their male colleagues in 2014, and the gender pay gap was found to widen with age. Moreover, the presence of women researchers seems to have an inverse relationship with the R&D expenditure per researcher; most of the countries that spent more per researcher had some of the lowest shares of women researchers.

In the EU-28, women were still under-represented in the writing of scientific papers. Between 2013 and 2017, the ratio of women to men among authors of scientific publications in the EU was on average one to two. However, this ratio is slowly improving and it has been increasing by almost 4 % per year since 2008. The highest women to men ratio of authorship was observed in the fields of medical and agricultural sciences, where a little over 8 women authors corresponded to 10 men authors. Moreover, women are still strongly under-represented among patent inventors; between 2013 and 2017 in the EU, the women to men ratio of patent inventors was on average just over 1 to 3. A strong gender gap in the composition of the inventors’ teams was also observed in the EU-28, where the most frequent composition of the teams was all men (47 %), followed by those with just one male inventor (33%). A final overall observation for EU countries was a slight gender gap in receiving research grants. The funding success rate was higher for men team leaders than women team leaders by 3.0 percentage points.


The ‘leaky pipeline’ and its evolution over time

The fact that women tend to be less and less represented within researcher population with age (or experience, career level) is often refered to as the ‘leaky pipeline’.  Indeed, as shown in Figure 1, women are on average over-represented up to the tertiary education level, but start being under-represented at the higher education level: there are less women university graduates (all levels including PhD) than men; and the tendency worsens after the post-doctoral phase.


Figure 1. Proportion (%) of men and women in a typical academic career, students and academic staff, EU-28, 1999-2016 |Source: She Figures 2018 and 2015

Women in the EU were the majority of students and graduates at Bachelor’s and Master’s or equivalent levels in 2016. In fact, their share among graduates (58 %) was higher than that among students (54 %), pointing to the better performance of women rather than men in their studies. Conversely,  women start to be under-represented as of the Doctoral stage (48 %), and while the same proportion is observed among PhD degree holders, numbers plunge as of the postdoctoral stage (46 %), down to 40 % at mid-career level and as low as 24% at senior level.

Research identifies institutional and field-related research cultures that favour the advancement of men. Some of the issues stopping women’s advancement to top decision-making roles include women’s lower success rates in securing prestigious grants and the preponderance of part-time and short-term contract research positions among women’s careers. In addition, implicit gender bias in performance assessment, gender stereotypes, gendered perceptions of leadership and leadership styles, the ‘glass ceiling’, and the ‘gender pay gap’ are among the factors that can influence the recruitment and promotion of women to senior grade positions, evaluation committees and university oversight bodies and scientific committees responsible for research funding.

The proportion of women among senior staff at the national level ranges from 13 % to 54.3 %. The proportion is 40 % or higher in just 5 countries. The largest proportions of women were observed in Romania (54.3 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (45.1 %) and Latvia (41.4 %) while the smallest proportions were in Cyprus (13 %), Israel (14.3 %) and Czechia (14.6 %).


Figure 2. Percentage points gained in closing the gender gap at all career levels in EU-28, between 1999 and 2016 | Source: She Figures 2018 and 2015

The share of women among all academic staff, irrespective of career level, in the EU, was 41.3 %, while at national level it ranged from 34.4 % to 57.4 %. The largest proportions of women were observed in Lithuania (57.4 %), Latvia (55.8 %) and Romania (54.6 %). while the smallest ones were found in Czechia (34.4 %), Greece (35.1 %) and France (36.5 %).

Still, there is a notable positive evolution of the gender gap in research careers, as displayed in Figure 2. While the number of women university students  in the EU-28 (pre-doctoral) has stagnated or only slightly evolved between 1999 and 2016 (with a peak in 2003), all carrer levels from PhD degree holders to senior level have seen an evolution of 10 points on average over the same period.

This evolution represents an annual progression of 0.6 percentage points at the PhD degree holders level, 0.5 at the post-doctoral level, 0.6 at the mid-career level and 0.65 at the senior level; which, assuming similar rates in years to come would only allow to totally remove the remaining gender gap in:

  • mid-2019 at the PhD degree holder level (2 percentage points progression needed to reach 50%);
  • 2024 at the postdoctoral level (4 points needed);
  • mid-2032 at the mid-career level (10 points needed);
  • 2056 at the senior level (26 points needed).


Very slow improvement in STEM fields

The share of women is considerably smaller in natural sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than over all fields of research across the career path. This affects all tertiary education levels and all the three higher career grades. More specifically, as shown in Figure 3, in the EU in 2016, women were 32 % of students and 36 % of graduates in STEM at the university graduates level. These proportions are 23 percentage points lower than the respective ones over all fields of education. At doctorate level, women were 37 % of students and 39 % of graduates in STEM, eleven and nine percentage points respectively below their corresponding shares over all fields.

The same picture of a wider gap between women and men emerges among academic staff, where women were 35 % of postdoctoral staff, 28 % of mid-career researchers and only 15 % at senior level. The situation has nonetheless improved slightly since 2013, when the respective shares were 34 %, 26 % and 14 %.


Figure 3. Proportion (%) of men and women in a typical academic career in STEM, EU-28, 2013-2016


Gender gap in international mobility of researchers

Figure 4 explores the sex differences in the mobility of researchers at advanced stages in their careers (from post-doctoral to senior career levels). It presents the difference between the proportions of women and men researchers who reported that they have worked for at least three months in the last decade in a country other than the one where they attained their highest educational degree. A positive result indicates that men’s rate of mobility is higher, whilst a negative result shows that women’s rate is higher. The difference between the mobility of women researchers and men researchers in the EU in 2016 was 3.6 percentage points in favour of men (25.1 % mobility for women and 28.7 % for men). It is worth noting that this difference has decreased since 2012 when it was 9 percentage points. The largest differences in mobility between women and men researchers in favour of men for 2016 were found in Ireland with 11.1 percentage points, Slovakia with 10.9 percentage points and Poland with 10.4 percentage points.


Figure 4. Sex differences in the international mobility of researchers, 2016


Gender pay gap in research careers

At the EU level, 13.0 % of women researchers and 8.0 % of men researchers in the higher education sector were working part-time in 2016. In most of the countries considered, the proportion of women researchers working part-time was higher than that of men. Women researchers in the higher education sector were also more likely than men to be employed under precarious working contracts with the respective shares in the EU being 8.1 % and 5.2 %. This pattern was found in two thirds of the countries examined. This partly contributed to the fact that women employed in scientific R&D activities earned on average 17 % less than their male colleagues in 2014, but overall the gender pay gap widens with age.

The gender pay gap for scientific R&D activities and the total economy in 2014, broken down in four age categories (younger than 35; 35 to 44 years old; 45 to 54 years old; 55 years old and older), is presented in Table 1. The relative gender pay gap in total economy follows the same pattern with age as that in R&D.

On average at the EU elevel, the gender pay gap is even actually almost similar to that of the total economy, at about 10 % in early careers, 15 % to 20 % mid-career, to 21 % at senior level. However, considerable discrepancy is shown between countries; with for example a considerable gender pay gap in all age categories in Czechia (18 %, 41 %, 24 % and 27 % respectively) or a reversed situation in Romania, women ther being paid more than men in R&D with a -18 %, -4 %, -7 % and -5 % gender gap in favour of women, while such a tendency is not visible n Romania’s total economy. Another interesting example is that of Lithuania, where young to mid-career women are sensibly paid more than their counterparts (-28 % and -15 % gap), while at later career stages they are paid much less (32 % and 43 %). This two-stage tendency is not seen in other countries, and also does not show correlation to the gender pay gap evolution in Lithuania’s total economy, potentially pointing at a phenomenon characteristic of careers in R&D.


Table 1. Gender pay gap in % in the EU-28 and Associated Countries in 2014. Left panel: economic activity ‘Scientific R&D’, per age category; right panel: total economy, per age category. A positive value points to women being paid less than men, a negative one the reverse.


Check also our second article:  gender equality policies and gender distribution in MSCA and ERC