The Baden-Württemberg Stiftung (Baden-Württemberg Foundation) is committed to incorporate more women into science. Where do we stand and what needs to be improved?
Baden-Württemberg is an economically strong high-tech location. Compared to other federal states, we have the largest demand for STEM specialists – but at the same time, we also have the largest gender gap in Germany and the most vacancies per unemployed person in STEM professions. Due to the technology-oriented corporate landscape in Baden-Württemberg, we are strongly in need to increase the proportion of female skilled employees. This is why MINT students are strongly supported with a wide range of activities. Everyone does something. The universities, the ministries, individual organizations, the economy. It’s almost impossible to keep track.
And yet there is still too little movement.
Unfortunately, that’s true. There are still far fewer women than men in MINT courses and consequently in MINT professions. 61 percent of male first-year students choose a MINT subject, but only 24.1 percent of young women decide to do so. Although we have seen an overall increase in Germany, it is far from enough.
Are there any countries that are particularly successful?
Yes, Israel, for example. There, we have succeeded in increasing the number of MINT students by 80 percent within ten years. In Germany it was only 57 percent in the same period of time. We are probably two or three percentage points better in Baden-Württemberg. But it’s not enough, there’s a lot more to it. However, this is not possible without interventions that can also be uncomfortable.
What do they look like?
To stick with the example of Israel: That was at the expense of other courses of study. The number of study places for law, economics and the humanities has been significantly reduced – all subjects with a relatively high proportion of women. In this way, people were given a limited choice: Either a MINT subject or no studies at all.
Sounds pretty drastic.
Maybe, but there’s no other way. If we continue at this pace, we won’t have a significant proportion of women in these jobs in ten or 20 years’ time.
Now, higher education policy is one thing. What else has to happen?
That is indeed a problem in the society as a whole. Germany is not doing well in terms of gender equality, and it is particularly bad in Baden-Württemberg. Here we have the lowest proportion of women in the management levels of companies and also the oldest managers. This morning I was attending an event on Industry 4.0. I looked around. Mostly men, perhaps 10 percent of women, generously estimated. Our environment is not female and not young. In addition, we have the worst values when it comes to equality at universities. Baden-Württemberg has deteriorated even further in the last two years. Baden-Württemberg ranks last in the ‘gesis’ equality ranking. And all this against the background of a corporate landscape that so urgently needs skilled workers. We can rely on immigration, which is also important. But more than ever, we are dependent on motivating more women to take up technical occupations. And that’s where the cat bites its tail: because there are no women at the top, there are too few role models. And because there are too few role models, no women follow.
“We are now, more than ever, dependent on motivating more women to take up technical occupations”
So what do you have to do?
As a foundation, we cannot, of course, make any university policy, for which the state is responsible. However, I also see the major science organizations in charge. Universities are increasingly dependent on third-party funding. The third-party funding providers must increasingly tie their financial contributions to conditions, in order to bring more women into science. What we can do, is to empower and encourage women and promote these courses and jobs. This is also the core of the new partnership with Global Digital Women (GDW). This is a new approach for us. In the past we have organized empowerment days. It focused on the recurring standard problems, which – I say this quite frankly – get on your nerves: How do I present myself better? How does my voice get louder? How can I reconcile my job and my children? These are topics, with which women diminish themselves and their abilities. That’s why I find GDW’s approach so convincing. They show that self-confident young women go their way and are also aware of their value. Instead of self-pity, it is about encouraging women through positive examples and building a network. That is why we have chosen this partnership.
What are the specific plans and projects for next year?
We have been relatively active in MINT promotion for quite some time. We send coaching teams to schools to inform them about MINT subjects in the secondary classes. These teams – and this is important – are always mixed. The students carry out small experiments and find out what can be done in the MINT area and how interesting it is. Then we started the “expedition d” some time ago. It’s a truck that goes from school to school and informs the pupils about jobs and digitization. The students get a tablet in their hands and have to solve tasks. We make sure that girls and boys are equally involved and that the girls are not pushed to the side by the boys. In addition, we are planning another empowerment day for female scientists, where we will focus on digitization with GDW, offering networking opportunities and also presenting role models.
How important are role models?
This cannot be stressed enough. And you have to start early, girls need role models at school. In the future, we would like to make the subject of “Girls in MINT” more prominent. In addition, we try to set an example ourselves by ensuring parity and diversity at our events and panels. The best thing is, that if you take the initiative you can see the results. For example, we organize one of the largest mid-sized sector congresses in the country, where from the very beginning, we managed to bring more women on stage than men.
“It cannot be stressed enough how important are role models”
You mentioned you don’t do university policy. But if you were in that position, what would you change?
I would introduce the quota. There is no other way. Countries like China and the USA will soon outstrip us if we don’t tighten the screws as quickly as possible. We simply cannot afford it. And, in my opinion, the only thing that will help is the quota. As the Chancellor of the University, I have been involved in the evaluation of scientific projects for years. They shake their heads at the low quota of female scientists at Baden-Württemberg universities. They say: “That can’t be”. Often the argument comes: “We can’t find any women”. Which is nonsense, of course, because in other countries it works. That’s why it can’t be done without intervention. We have tried out a thousand funding models in Germany, but everything is progressing too slowly.
I was recently invited to Zeppelin University and had a very positive impression about both the university and the students.
Yes, they are indeed very good, but they are completely different from the state universities. At the state universities, the promotion of women is still far too little. The increase in the number of female professors is so marginal, that we will have to carry on like this forever until we have achieved equality. The universities are conservative and dominated by men. Even in medicine, where there are more female than male students and enough female doctoral students, the number of female professors is about ten percent. Something is wrong here! And the argument that girls are not interested in physics even at school does not apply, it’s also the case with physics. No, medicine is simply dominated by men, because men want to dominate it. And there have been equal opportunities officers for decades. They achieved nothing. Often these are the women who are weak, who are not assertive enough at the university. I have experienced this too often. And science policy does not demand anything either. One could easily make funding that’s dependent on progress in gender equality. The German Research Foundation is already doing that. If you can’t prove in the research projects that you are serious about promoting women, then you won’t get the research project. So simple, so effective.
“We are still miles from men discrimination. If at any time in a thousand years men are disadvantaged, we will take care of them”
To what extent do women have to take care of their own interests and assert themselves?
Some time ago I gave a larger interview, where I chatted a little out of the box. I was there to participate in interviews at universities. I noticed that women negotiate completely differently, especially when a male president or rector is sitting at the table. Women must indeed be more self-confident, trained for negotiating situations and stand up for their interests much more. There was one unique situation that differed from my previous experiences: there was a Chinese woman at the university, who was confident and self-assured. She got everything she demanded. The president had beads of sweat on his forehead.
There are men who are suspicious of these programs for the advancement of women; some even speak of positive discrimination. Rightly so?
We are still miles away from that. If at any time in a thousand years men are disadvantaged, then we will also take care of them.Tags: Diversity, Empowerment, Inclusion, Innovation, Insights, Society, Women, Worklife