European Parliament Joint Public Hearing on Women and Science

On 31 March 2009, the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality organised a Joint Public Hearing on Women and Science in the European Parliament in Brussels, co-chaired by Members of Parliament (MEPs) Angelika Niebler and Anna Záborská.

The event was an opportunity for MEPs and experts to debate on the role of women in science and ways to support female researchers. The participants actively discussed instruments to attract more women to Science and Engineering, to get women in the upper layers of the hierarchy of research and science organisations and to enhance networking among women scientists.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research, opened the Hearing and highlighted the positive and progressive impact of ten years of European policies aimed at promoting women in science. He added that the Commission is aware of the continuing imbalance between women and men researchers and of the work that still need to be done to achieve at least a 40% representation of women in Marie Curie scholarships, advisory groups, assessment panels and monitoring panels. According to Potočnik, however, to improve gender balance in research decision-making, transparent and fair evaluation and promotion procedures alone are not sufficient, but in order to change the situation the commitment of research decision-makers and the European Commission is needed to fully support this idea.

The Hearing provided several examples of best practices to attract women into research, notably at the Technical University of Munich, and examples of networking activities from the FP6 Women in Nano project and the Association of Women in Research and Technology in Spain (AMIT). Cathie Martin, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK, also made clear propositions on how to attract more women into science, such as maintaining strong emphasis on collaborative research interactions, changing the criteria for assessing ‘excellence’ by valuing collaboration and de-stigmatising the lack of mobility.

In the discussion, MEPs strongly supported the idea to politically work toward more gender equality into science.

Maren Jochimsen, EPWS Secretary General, was invited to provide input on how to enhance networking of women scientists. She emphasised the importance of networking to empower women scientists in their respective fields and the key role of networks of women scientists in ensuring a better integration of the gender dimension in research policy and national and European level. More specifically, she stressed the challenges faced by networks of women scientists in Europe, especially their difficulties to finance running costs of networks while most available public and private funding are targeted for specific projects. Maren Jochimsen also encouraged policy makers to find ways to acknowledge and value the financial worth of the impressive amount of voluntary work done by women scientists to ensure the sustainability and success of networks in Europe as part of a network’s income and financial contribution to the overall budget.

The hearing was followed by a cocktail in the presence of the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, who stressed the importance of the issue of women in science.

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