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Promoting Equal Opportunity in the DFG Funding System

Although the advantages of equal participation by men and women in the research system are widely known, a considerable amount of academic potential still remains unused.

In 2012, women represented 50.7% of graduates in Germany but only 20.4% of professors. Among the highest salaried professors at C4/W3 grade, the proportion of women was even lower at 16.5%.

Possible Reasons for the Underrepresentation of Women in Research

The reasons why women are underrepresented in research are complex. Without doubt, one reason is the difficulty associated with balancing a family with a research career. Most female researchers find that they are considering starting a family precisely at the qualification stage of their research careers based on their age. However, young men are also often confronted with issues relating to starting a family and their role as a partner or father at an early stage of their careers. Childcare is still also far from adequate in Germany.

But there are other reasons why many women do not remain in the research system in the long term. For instance, many structures are still such that women find it difficult or unattractive to pursue a research career. Female researchers also tend to have less effective professional networks and are less likely to receive career support through mentoring. There are also gender-specific differences in research funding, such as the fact that women submit fewer proposals measured against their representation in a given subject area and the fact that they are still underrepresented on key decision-making bodies.

In 2012, the DFG commissioned a study on “Gender Effects in Research Funding”. The results of this study and further information are available here:

Equal Opportunity Activities at the DFG

At the DFG, equal opportunity is considered to be a management-level task. The President, Secretary General and statutory bodies of the DFG therefore work actively to improve equal opportunity in the German research system. There is also a Vice-President who is responsible for this issue and who represents it on behalf of the DFG both internally and externally.

The DFG aims to continually increase the proportion of women serving on its statutory bodies. Up-to-date information on this is available in the equal opportunity monitoring report.

Cross-departmental cooperation at working level takes place through a working group at Head Office which meets regularly, “Equal Opportunity in the Research System”. All areas of the organisation have employee representatives in this working group. At the meetings of this working group, suggestions, enquiries and problems are discussed and joint solutions are developed.

There is no room for non-scientific criteria in the review process. However, appropriate consideration can and should be given to personal factors affecting an applicant to compensate for any disadvantages. Awareness-raising is therefore continually practised among reviewers and the members of review boards and statutory bodies to make sure they understand that the review process must not be based on non-scientific criteria such as age or gender.

The DFG also has an extensive set of equal opportunity measures designed to work with the various funding programmes.

Development of Gender Equality Activities at the DFG Since 2000

In 2002, the General Assembly of the DFG resolved to make gender equality in research a defined objective in Paragraph 1 of the DFG’s statutes.

Since then, the DFG has implemented a variety of measures to make this goal a reality.

Through the Gender Equality in Research Initiative (Offensive für Chancengleichheit von Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern) of 29 November 2006, the DFG, together with Germany’s other major research organisations, also undertook to implement concrete measures and deploy resources to significantly increase the participation of women in research within five years.

More information about the Gender Equality in Research Initiative is available on the website of the German Council of Science and Humanities (in German only):

To achieve the objectives defined in the initiative, the DFG Senate set up a working group on “Equal Opportunity in the Research System”, which surveyed the measures in place and developed further proposals on the basis of this information. The majority of these proposals have since been implemented by the DFG.

In July 2008, the majority of DFG member organisations approved a concept developed by a scientific commission entitled “Research-Oriented Standards on Gender Equality” and adopted these standards along with the implementation concept as a voluntary commitment. They undertook to prepare three reports on the implementation status of these standards and to define goals to increase the representation of women at their respective institutions by 2013.

In 2013, the General Assembly voted to continue the gender equality standards in a modified form. Between now and 2017, it will concentrate on qualitative indicators of the trend in the representation of women. In 2017, the General Assembly will reflect again on the extent to which gender equality has been achieved at the universities and discuss any further measures that may be required.

  • Survey on the Research-Oriented Standards on Gender Equality

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