New report: Women and excellence not always a good match

Excellence in science is about finding and nurturing the most talented people and help them use their whole potential. In the best of worlds excellence should not be influenced by gender – but reality shows that many more men than women are regarded as excellent.

Previous projects have looked at situations where excellence is evaluated, such as funding and appointment decisions and how these contribute to gender unbalance. With this report FESTA wants to look at what happens in the lower levels of academia, as the seeds for gender unbalance are often sowed there.

The new report is: EXCELLENCE AND GENDER IN THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT - results of mapping of the present situation in Germany, Bulgaria and Sweden. It can be downloaded here.

The authors have conducted interviews with researchers from Bulgaria, Sweden and Germany, and overall it can be seen that gender issues in the minds of researchers in all three countries are connected to the balancing of work and private life.

In Bulgaria it is considered natural for women to handle the life of their families while men do not have the same obligations. Men have more time to pursue a career, but women are left with a hard choice: Work harder than men – or have no career.

In Germany it was seen as very challenging for women to have a life at all outside an academic career. Many interviewees considered this impossible and most did not believe that life could be any different.

In Sweden both men and women thought that it is important to have a good work/life balance, and many manage to have a life outside their research institutions. They work hard, but they also take time off, and both men and women take parental leaves.


Highlights from Germany, Bulgaria and Sweden

A need for independence in Germany. The research community in Germany is very hierarchical, and a junior researcher often depends on a senior researcher, who is willing to give him/her a job or promote him/her. Depending on another person rather than an institution or a system makes young researchers’ careers vulnerable. Senior researchers are often men, and it is easier for them to see the potential in younger men than in younger women.

Swedish interviewees: Excellence is not helping gender equality. Swedish interviewees were critical of the concept of excellence itself and how it determines research funding and promotes some people above others. It also seems to widen the gender gap. Despite laws and regulations promoting gender equality, more men than women are regarded as excellent by the Swedish research funders.

Gender equality is not an issue in Bulgaria. Nor does it exist in either university regulations or academic debates.  As other postcommunist countries Bulgaria has many female professors, but not all professorships hold the same prestige and rewards. It also seems that prestige has moved from academia to the business sector, as there is more money in the business sector today.


Contact: Minna Salminen-Karlsson, researcher at Centre for Gender Research and gender equality specialist at Human Resources Division, Equality Office, Uppsala University, Sweden.  Email: Telephone: +46 18 4711511.



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