Work-life balance key to retaining women scientists

For many policymakers and CEOs, the most troubling metaphor concerning women in science is the leaky pipeline.
It refers to the tendency of women to drop out of research at some point in their careers.

This steady loss of mind power is making it harder for employers to find qualified candidates for jobs in science and technology – and threatening Europe’s goal of becoming the world’s leading knowledge-based economy.

“Things of course have improved a little bit, but it goes slowly,” said retired physicist Claudine Hermann, who attended a recent EU conference in Prague on 14-15 May. In 1992 she was the first woman to be appointed professor at the Ecole Polytéchnique, the renowned French engineering school.

A leading voice for women scientists in Europe who has worked closely with the commission on gender equality, she called for concrete targets. “If there is no objective, nothing happens,” she said.

Already in 2003, the EU teamed up with businesses and universities in a working group looking at how to attract and retain women in science. According to the latest report, women abandon careers in research mainly because they find it too hard to balance work with personal life, especially if they are mothers.

Some companies and universities offer flexible working arrangements. But, as the report notes, managers still tend to frown on workers who take advantage of them, seeing them as less committed to the job.

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