Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation


Forum 5: Science and Research

Women remain the minority in research and the sciences. The reasons lie in discrimination as well as women´s difficulties in reconciling career with family. Different fields suffer from this deficit in excellence. An immense, far-reaching reform is needed to achieve a state of equality between men and women in the sciences.

Jeff Hearn, Research Professor on leave from the University of Manchester, UK, presently guest professor and Academy Fellow at the Swedish School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland, defined gender mainstreaming by locating its different forms in different sectors; geopolitical governmental and transgovernmental. He conditioned gender mainstreaming with the warning: it only exists when it is achieved effectively.

What does gender have to do with research and the sciences? Dr. Sybille Krummacher, physicist, answered by describing the work of the Research Center Jülich´s Equal Opportunities Bureau where she is one of the scientific staff. Women scientists of her generation believed that their success in scientific research had nothing to do with gender, rather, they expected to be judged by the same objective criteria and paid equally to their male counterparts, as well as receive equal opportunities and advantages, in exchange for their equally valuable contributions. Dr. Krummacher presented facts proving this expectation to be an illusion about fields which remain chiefly male dominated. In most West European countries, as science students go on to dissertation work, the number of men increase while the number of women has already begun a drastic drop at graduate level. The men´s distinctly steeper graph curve upwards suggests, according to Krummacher, that men receive recognition throughout their lives, while women are less encouraged to move forward from graduate level. The numbers of women – increases somewhat in fields traditionally seen as "more female" – such as in the social sciences. In a Swedish study on the mean competence scores given to applicants, women scored between 2.1 and 2.4 - the highest score comparable with the lower end of the scores given male applicants - between 2.3 and 2.8. Women were simply given lower scores. And there are simply very few women working in high positions in the sciences.

Dr. Krummacher equates gender discrimination not only with human rights violation. The under-representation of women threatens loss of excellence to those fields of science dominated by men. The waste of talent and education is inestimable. Therefore, gender has everything to do with science. The Research Center Jülich is pursuing five lines of action to encourage equal opportunities – gender mainstreaming – seeing equality not as social support for the socially underprivileged, but as a management mission. Research Center Jülich pursues five lines of action to encourage equal opportunities – particularly in senior research positions – for its own employees and as a model for other institutions:
  • Clear boundary conditions: supports women in applying for qualified positions.
  • Combining family and career: including the option for women to work at home, work flexible schedules and training in time and family management. As a model, the center itself offers day care, father-child days, and supports men in their roles as fathers.
  • Women in committees: to ensure that women are involved in all decision making.
  • Women in previously male-dominated professions: aiming at breaking barriers down by offering young girls (around 14) girl-only workshops, participation in girls and technology days and Taste of University Life programs.
  • Women in executive positions: an ad hoc program for women scientists: women lead and are coached to lead scientific working groups.
Often, the partners of men working in science have the advantage of more access to networks and opportunities than their colleagues with unscientific partners. Dr. Krummacher described the personal problematic of many women in the sciences, who, when offered coveted positions in other cities, turn them down because their husbands couldn´t leave their jobs at home. Later, their CV´s "reflected" a lack of ambition, career development, and motivation. Dr. Krummacher illustrated the complex relations in which women scientists find themselves: a situation that cannot be compared with that of men. One needs to ask why brilliant women fear competition with their husbands and why do young girls suppress their own interest in science because they fear being seen as unfeminine. One is a structural problem; the other is a personal development question.

Universities were named as a main source of inequality structures and discouragement of women in the sciences, because gender mainstreaming is not only about getting women into research but about providing necessary support for young talent. One can ask, on the one hand, what are male structures in institutions and how do they hold women back? The institutions must change and the topics must change. The complexity is easy to imagine. Evaluate all curriculums of all subjects taught and not everyone will like the progress: "How dare you tell me what to teach?" It is still predominantly men who are evaluating and determining exelence. Jeff Hearn spoke of changes in academic management. The universities in Germany have a high level of autonomy. One assumes the male domination there is thick and crusty. The British have less autonomy, are more centrally controlled, yet receive more funding from the private sector. It was suggested that however controlled, the universities adopt a system of sanctions. That would still be a long way off. Gender mainstreaming would need to be legislated as gender rights, with directives on how to determine when they have been violated. Perhaps a system of accounting between the federal sectors and the universities would be a solution, in which gender rights would be less a sanctions system than a bonus system.

From the floor, spoke an older woman academic. For years, she participated in committees which decided who would get the only open position in the department. A very bad conscience she has. Because despite the countless applications from impressively qualified and hopeful women, she knew that if there´s only one post to give, it should be given to a man; there´s a better chance he´ll stay longer. A little of the criticism can therefore be lifted from the shoulders of the oppressive good ol´ boys: the prejudice that a woman´s marriage and/or pregnancy threatens the unruptured continuity of an institution still runs deep. University department as corporation? Professor as company man? The senior professor´s confession suggested the need for a radical, conceptual university reform.

Do women need a different kind of encouragement and motivation than do men? Should teaching/advising methods be correspondingly reformed? Jeff Hearn thinks this would be a topic for feminist research, just as most ideas and questions can be examined under a feminist approach: conducting non-sexist research has to relate to feminism research and other anti-oppression theories.

And what to do about men? Jeff Hearn gave a retrospect over the last 15 or 20 years of development of the EU´s Framework Programs on Gender Equality, bringing the discussion to the idea that gender mainstreaming and changing gender relations involves not only affirmative actions for women, but involves changing men in and around academia. He pointed out that this is not something that is usually discussed. He drew from studies on men, management and power, citing universities as places of "Men´s specific organizational or departmental cultures" similar in structure to different boys´ gangs and family businesses. Jeff Hearn made several long lists of recommendations for changing universities with regard to shifting power to women as well as theoretical and practical, long and short-term recommendations for changing men. But like the joke about psychologists changing a light bulb, the men have to want to change. Jeff Hearn encourages men to examine their unacceptable behavior and avoid oppressive pitfalls such as hogging the show, being the continual problem solver, avoiding feels, being condescending and paternal, using sexuality to manipulate women, withholding information. The list of aggressions and passive aggressions is long. The recommendations for responsible, conscious actions include only talking one´s own fair share of time, not interrupting others, listening more, nurturing democratic group processes and generally taking on the qualities that they traditionally expect from women. And they will, however, still remain men.

Who wants to change men or wait for them to change? The institutions have to change. Without concrete standards for determining correct and illegal ways of acting, deciding and causing, it depends too much on the good will of others. The forum closed as one participant suggested: perhaps every sector has to do its part.

Referentin und Referent:

  • Sybille Krummacher

  • Forschungszentrum Jülich, Deutschland
    PDF-Icon Lecture

  • Jeff Hearn

  • Universität Manchester, Großbritannien
    und Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki, Finnland

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