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News vom 11.04.2012

Day care places more important than proportion of women

Male and female professors see the problem of balancing an academic carrier with family responsibilities as the greatest obstacle to equal opportunities.

Only one fifth of professors in Germany are women despite the fact that the majority of students and graduates are female. Even in natural science subjects, the very small share of female professors corresponds only in exceptional cases to the ratio of female students. More than one thousand male and female professors in mathematics and natural science departments were asked about the reasons for this under-representation of female professors.

Male and female professors agreed that female professors are under-represented mainly because of the difficulties of combining family responsibilities with an academic career. This corresponds to a share of 80 percent of all those interviewed who believe the way out of the misery is to create more day care facilities for children aged less than three. “As long as there is no 12-hour day care facility within a 10 minute walk for every female postdoctoral candidate, and as long as silly comments are still being made, things won’t change,” said one female professor.

Both male and female professors to a certain extent share the view that there is less motivation among women than among men to achieve a professorship. One male professor said: ”I often tried to encourage good female colleagues to go for a professorship but I was not successful. The attitude was often one of ‘non-professorial teaching fine, but a professorship won’t work for me’, and this was hard for me to understand.”

But there are very different opinions between men and women on the subtle obstacles to academic careers for women. While male professors think, for example, that the existence of “informal structures and decision-making processes in employment proceedings” has little or no negative influence on women’s career chances, female professors believe this could well be an influencing factor.

The similarities and differences between how men and women perceive the factors responsible for the under-representation of women professors are also reflected in the envisaged measures and tools that those interviewed believe could increase equal opportunities. In addition to improved day care options for the children of academic staff, which both genders call for, female professors in particular consider mentoring programmes and coaching offers to be useful in terms of supporting women who are aiming to become professors. Around 50% of the female professors interviewed, but only 25% of their male colleagues, approve of measures such as fixed guidelines for the appeals procedures and the statutory inclusion of equal opportunities in target agreements. Almost half of the female professors interviewed (46 percent), but only 17 percent of the male professors, considered fixed, gender-specific quotas a useful tool for tackling the under-representation of women holding professorships.

The CHE – Centre for Higher Education research project “Faculty cultures and the academic careers of women: making the success factors for the advancement of women visible” deals with the structural and cultural differences that have led to a situation in which some faculties are more successful than others in terms of the advancement of women. The project was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and by the European Social Fund (ESF). As part of the “Families in higher education institutions“ best practice club, which is sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation and the German Federal Government Minister for the New Federal States, the CHE tackles the issue of how HEIs can be organised in a more family-friendly fashion. The club includes 12 HEIs that are jointly elaborating concepts and ideas, and making the results and experiences available to interested parties in handouts and information sheets on tools.


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