Female participation in scientific studies
How to increase participation and interest of female students in scientific studies and carriers and thus, decrease the shortage of the labour supply in science sector?
Under the motto “Bridging Women, Science & Industry” the IN2SAI project analysed the current situation of Aeronautic sector at academic and industry level. This analysis provides a comprehensive overview of the most important indicators with respect to the European education for scientific and engineering careers and the European labour market for engineers in the context of the countries participating in the project, therefore covering Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.
The data collection included two methods: (i) a desk-based research and (ii) a questionnaire. The desk-based research activity included information at European level and at national level (the latter focusing on the information identified by each IN2SAI partner at their country level, but also considering data from other European countries). The purpose of the desk research was to present an overview of educational aspects and how they influence in gender balance in AI and scientific studies and to understand the level of participation of young women in those studies. The data were collected from existing statistics, (national and European), academic sources (for secondary and higher education), and direct contacts with aeronautical and aerospace companies.
The desk research was complemented by the implementation of a questionnaire addressed to the 4 main target groups: Secondary Education Students, Higher Education Students and Professors, and Human Resources Managers. The questionnaire was available online from April 2014 to July 2014, and got a total 1.329 responses.
- Secondary Education Students: 481 responses;
- Higher Education Students: 640 responses;
- Higher Education Teaching staff: 162 responses;
- Human Resources Managers: 46 Responses.
Some conclusions obtained about the current situation of young women’s participation in AI, are presented as follows:
- The participation of women in the aerospace industry is unbalanced, less than 15% of the workforce in AI is female.
- Most women prefer to be enrolled in human, artistic and health careers instead of engineering careers.
- In spite of the number of aerospace universities in Europe the number of young women enrolled in engineering studies is low (around 25% of women are enrolled in scientific and engineering studies).
- The number of women in positions of high-responsibility in the aeronautic industry is lower than men.
- The number of female professors and female doctors is lower compared to the number of male.
- The EU is doing a big effort to motivate young women to become engineers in technical sectors, especially in the aerospace industry (AI).
The participation of women in scientific studies, and in particular in aeronautics, has improved over the last decades. But still it is important to develop measures and initiatives at the national and European levels to keep engaging and motivating young women to enroll in scientific and aeronautical careers.
People working as Engineers or in scientific jobs, play an important role for the European economy. Engineers are especially important for the economies of the European countries because of the technical progress, competitiveness, technical innovation and economic growth.
The labour market for engineers in Europe is not homogeneous, creating different conditions for engineers in the respective areas. Such differences may be motivated by educational aspects and how they influence in gender balance in AI and scientific studies.
The European Commission has established equality between women and men as one of the fundamental principles of Community law. The European Union‘s (EU) objectives on gender equality are to ensure equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women, and to combat any form of discrimination on the grounds of gender. The EU has adopted a two-pronged approach to this issue, combining specific measures with gender mainstreaming. The issue also has a strong international dimension with regard to the fight against poverty, access to education and health services, taking part in the economy and in the decision-making process, women’s rights and human rights.
The strategy of the Commission for equality between women and men between 2010 and 2015 contributes to improving the place of women in the labour market, in society, and in decision-making positions both in the European Union and the world. This strategy is built around several main lines of action:
- Economic independence of women: Although the female employment rate has increased significantly during the past decade, it is necessary to keep raising it in order to obtain a 75% employment rate (asked by the Europe 2020 strategy) and to improve the quality of jobs and work/life reconciliation policies.
- Equal salaries: The gender salary gap still exists, because of many causes like segregation in education and in the labour market. One initiative to eliminate it is to encourage women to enter non- traditional professions.
- Equality in decision-making: Despite the fact that women make up half of the workforce and more than half of new university graduates in the EU, they are under-represented in parliaments, national governments, and on management boards of large companies.
- Dignity, integrity, and an end to gender-based violence: It is estimated that 20-25% of women living in the EU have suffered physical violence at least once.
- Gender equality in external actions: The European Commission will progress equal treatment between women and men in the candidate and potential candidate countries for accession to the EU, implement the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development, conduct a regular dialogue and exchange of experience with the European Neighbourhood Policy partner countries, and integrate equal treatment considerations into humanitarian aid operations.
The Fifth Community Action Programme on Equal Opportunities, which took place between 2001 and 2006, can be seen as a precedent of the previous strategies. Its objectives were to promote and disseminate the values and practices underlying gender equality; to improve understanding of issues related to gender equality, including direct and indirect gender discrimination and multiple discrimination against women; and to develop the capacity of players to promote gender equality effectively, in particular through support for the exchange of information and good practice and networking at Community level.
The objectives pursued now are very similar and they are focused in the following areas:
- Employment and the labour market: A legal framework for equal opportunities will be structured and the reconciliation of family and working life will be improved.
- Women entrepreneurs and assisting spouses in SMEs: Women will be helped by improving flexibility at work, vocational qualifications and access to finance.
- Education and training: All the Community activities related to those topics will be designed to incorporate equal opportunities, even if it is not their specific objective.
- People’s rights : Violence against women will be combated.
- Development cooperation: The principle of gender mainstreaming, i.e., taking systematic account of the differences between the conditions, situations, and needs of women and men in all Community policies and actions, will be incorporated in development of Community policies and in the development of cooperation agreements with developing countries.
- Staff policy: The Commission has applied an equal opportunities policy to its staff for many years through positive action programmes.
It presents the analysis of the data obtained from a desk-based research and from questionnaires distributed among the following four target groups:
- Secondary Education (SE) Students: The objective is to understand which factors they consider when deciding about future studies in higher education, and their perception about following scientific courses or choosing a career in a technical field, in particular related to aeronautics.
- Higher Education (HE) Students: The objective is to understand their perception about possible paths in scientific studies/research as career opportunities in the Aerospace Industry, and to identify possible causes for lack of interest for these areas and suggestions for improving their attractiveness among females.
- Higher Education (HE) Teaching Staff: The objective is to understand this group’s perception about female´s low participation in scientific studies, particularly those related to the aeronautic sector. This group was also inquired about strategies used for attracting young women into science studies and/or research.
- Human Resources (HR) Managers: The objective is to understand which requirements for new employees are taken into account, what are the decisive factors for selecting a new employee, and their ideas for increasing the participation of females in AI.
The key findings were organized in different areas corresponding basically to the target groups of this project.
The process followed in this initial phase of the project involved collecting data through Desk Research and questionnaires. This phase was focused on acquiring information from the four target groups defined in the project (Secondary education students, higher education students, teaching staff and humar resource managers from AI).
In order to compare and to complement the data gathered from the Desk Research, several questionnaires were designed and distributed to the target groups. The information obtained from these surveys were classified according to the target groups and will be valuable for future phases of the project in terms of compare and validate the results.
The objective of the first set of questionnaires related to Secondary Education Students was to understand how and why students are interested in any particular academic path. The motivation to study engineering instead of any other university career is explained mainly by the attraction for scientific studies in general and the interest in a particular field of engineering. The salary and the perceptions about being a good career in terms of job opportunities are considered as a less valid motivation. It may be concluded that the young students’ selection of engineering as a career path is mainly vocational driven.
An interesting aspect of the survey of the Secondary Education Students is that they still consider that some jobs are identified as masculine and feminine, mainly the occupations of Airplane Design Engineer, Software Engineer, Manufacturing/ Productio Engineer, Aircraft Manufacturer, Aircraft Maintenance Technician, Aircraft Mechanic, Engine Engineer, Airport Engineer, Aerodynamics Specialists, Air Traffic Controller and Pilot are seen as masculine or for both sexes. Meanwhile the occupations as Flight attendant and marketing and Sales are seen as mainly occupied by women or both sexes. Furthermore, both genders consider that technical degrees are generally less likely to be chosen by women.
Higher education students enrolled in engineering or scientific careers have a different perception of the participation of women in technical fields. Most students enrolled in these types of studies look for career opportunities in the Aerospace Industry rather than academic. This group is motivated by the specific field of aerospace and the way they were guided to choose this kind of higher education.
Most of the respondents showed their satisfaction in the choice of their study field, while they consider that scientific degrees are more difficult than other university degrees. In spite of that, young students will recommend Aerospace Degrees to women, they also considered the obstacles for males and females to be the same. At the same time, they think that employment opportunities are greater in the Aeronautical Industry than in other professional sectors.
The objective of the questionnaire addressed to Higher Education Teaching Staff was to find out why women are attracted by scientific and aeronautical studies. According to the data, women participate less than men in class, and moreover, female students use more additional resources, like tutorials and educational materials, and they have more passing grades and better grades than man and less probability to dropout. Although men have a higher rate of participation in classes, they face more dropouts than women.
The questionnaire for Human Resources Managers is focused on understanding the participation of women in the Aeronautical Industry. Most of the respondents were employed by aeronautical companies.
A common data in the most of the companies is that a higher percentage of women are working in administrative, finance, and supporting areas, while their participation in technical positions is lower. Also their participation in Manager, Coordinator and technician represents, in the majority of the cases, less than 5%.
Another interesting aspect is the advances in information and communication technologies are considered to have a direct effect on the increment of women working in the Aeronautical Industry.
The open questions in the questionnaires supplied additional information for instance secondary education students recommended activities such as Open Days at Universities, mentoring events to inform about different technical careers, and the teachers giving information about different professional fields in order to increase the female attractiveness in pursuing their studies in engineering field.
Open questions from higher education students showed also the diversity of areas of interest of in the aeronautical degree. For example, some of respondents considered Aeronautical Engineering to be linked with military careers. They considered very important to have opportunities to get a specific professional position.
The professors and teaching staff also provided some ideas to increasing female participation in academia and industry. The main ideas were focused on mentoring, information at schools, fellowships, and specific courses. Participation of women in the aeronautical industry may be improved by flexibility in working time, internships in industry, and opportunities to achieve responsible positions.
Last but not least, human resources managers are interested in soft skills, like team working, proactivity, flexibility to work in groups, and leadership skills, during the recruitment process. Basically they agree that good training for both female and male applicants is good for any company.
Much progress has been made since last decade to increase participation of women in scientific studies and aeronautic field; still efforts and resources should continue focused on creating support and initiatives to contribute the work towards gender balance. In this mission, particular attention should be invested at early stages i.e. primary and secondary education, with the objective of changing the mindset and prejudices of young women towards their own capabilities for under taking any scientific studies and take over any type job.
- To enhance a close collaboration among academia and industry
- To describe the existing situation on female participation in scientific studies and Aeronautic Industry
- To identify existing reasons and possible causes for the low female interest in scientific studies and participation in AI
- To increase the interest of female students/young women in scientific studies and AI careers
- To support academia promoting gender balance in their scientific courses and motivating female students to careers in AI
- Desk based research for Current Situation Analysis
- BRIDGING WOMEN – SCIENCE & INDUSTRY: Awareness Events, Technological Clinics, and Mentoring Field Trips
- IN2SAI Educational Programmes
- IN2SAI Videos
- Women IN2SAI | Case Studies Report
- Open days
- Report on the current situation in the Aeronautical Industry
- Case studies report “Women in Aeronautical industry”
- IN2SAI Videos to break gender stereotypes and enhance women’s participation in science and Aeronautic Industry: Video I – Discover your new dream | Video II – Discover your dream, make it happen! | Video III – Discover women that followed their dream!
- Educational Programmes – Guidelines for High Education Institutions, Secondary schools and Parents on how to increase young females’ participation in scientific fields
- 7 Mentoring Field Trips in each partner country
- 14 Technological Clinics in each partner country
- IN2SAI Brochure
- IN2SAI 3 Newsletters
- Applicant: Universidad Politécnica De Madrid (Spain)
- Coordinator: INOVAMAIS – Serviços Consultadoria Inovação Tecnológica S.A. (Portugal)
- Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna (Italy)
- Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
- Technische Universität Dresden (Germany)
- E.N.T.E.R. (Austria)