Gender gap at education level is shrinking, but women are still under-represented in research and innovation

The number of female students and graduates at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels has grown steadily over the last years. However, women are still under-represented in research and innovation careers. These are some of the key findings of the European Commission’s She Figures 2021 report, which since 2003 monitors the level of progress towards gender equality in research and innovation in the European Union and beyond.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, welcomed this year’s report and said: “The latest She Figures report highlights that Europe’s economy, labs and academia already depend on women. However, it also shows that we still need to do more to promote gender equality, in particular to inspire girls for a career in STEM. There is no doubt, Europe needs women’s creativity and entrepreneurial potential to shape a more sustainable, green and digital future.”

The She Figures 2021 publication highlights that, on average, at bachelor’s and master’s levels, women outnumber men as students (54%) and graduates (59%), and there is almost gender balance at doctoral level (48%). However, disparities between study fields persist. For example, women still represent less than a quarter of doctoral graduates in the ICT field (22%), while they represent 60% or more in the fields of health & welfare and education (60% and 67% respectively).

Furthermore, women represent only around one third of researchers (33%). At the highest level of academia, women remain under-represented, holding about one-quarter of full professorship positions (26%). Women are also less likely to be employed as scientists and engineers (41%) and are under-represented among self-employed professionals in science and engineering and ICT occupations (25%).

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Gender equality in research and innovation

She Figures 2021 report

Infographic: She Figures 2021

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She Figures is a tri-annual study that monitors gender equality in research and innovation (R&I). Published in 2003 for the first time, it follows the journey of women and men researchers, starting from the time they are studying and graduate, looking at their participation in the labour market as researchers and their working conditions, their career advancement and participation in decision-making positions and R&I output (including inventorship). Statistical correspondents from EU Member States and Associated Countries contribute to the data collection.

Several EU policies and funding programmes aim to promote gender equality in research and innovation. The 2020 Commission Communication on a new European Research Area renewed its commitment to gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research through expanding existing priorities and initiatives.

Furthermore, Horizon Europe has strengthened the support for gender equality in research and innovation, through:

  • A new eligibility criterion for Horizon Europe funding, as public bodies, research organisations and higher education establishments are required to have a Gender Equality Plan;
  • Integration of a gender dimension in research and innovation content as a default requirement across the whole programme;
  • Funding for actions supporting the development of Gender Equality Plans across EU Member States and Associated Countries, and implementing the European Research Area policy agenda;
  • Measures and activities for promoting gender equality under the European Innovation Council; and
  • Strong encouragement of gender balance in research teams.

The European Commission has also endorsed the Ljubljana Declaration on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation.


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