Assoc. for Women in Science

Winter 2015

AWIS Magazine covers topics important to women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine fields. Topics include career advancement, work-life balance, the state of science and technology, women’s wellness, and AWIS’ political and

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32 association for women in science | winter 2015 feature quotas may drive equity Exploring Quotas in Academia By Sandra Bendiscioli, Program Officer, Science Policy Program, EMBO Gerlind Wallon, PhD, Deputy Director, EMBO Michele Garfinkel, PhD, Manager, Science Policy Program, EMBO A cademia is characterized by strong imbalances between the number of men and women in senior positions. In Europe, on average, across all disciplines, only 20% of full professorships are held by women, although women represent 55% of all undergraduate students (EC, 2013). Quotas are one possible policy measure to increase gender balance and, in particular, to increase the number of women at the highest career levels. Their use, however, is controversial. Quotas have been called the "hammer to smash the glass ceiling for women" (Reding, 2014) and "the fast track to gender equal - ity" (Dahlerup and Freidenvall, 2003), but, at the same time, "questionable" measures not based on evidence (Vernos, 2013). Gender quotas have been talked about with increasing insistence recently, as it has become evident that other mea - sures introduced in the past twenty years. Measures such as equal treatment legislation, the requirement to produce gender equality plans and commitment to gender mainstreaming, etc. (Rees, 2002; EC, 2012) have not translated into a substantial increase of the number of women in high positions. Quotas have been discussed and are in the earliest stages of being used as means to speed up change. This article is based on the report of a study called "Exploring Quotas in Academia"carried out by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in collaboration with and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, published in August 2015. The study analyzed possible benefits and harms of the use of gender quotas as a measure to increase gender balance in academia. It focused on areas where quotas could be used in academia, a range of options for their implementa - tion and pros and cons of each option. The aim was not to give recommenda- tions for the use of quotas, but to provide information to decision makers who might be considering the use of such quotas an analysis of such options. Benefits and Harms of Quotas The initial question that motivated the project was: "besides a likely change in the number of women in the higher ranks of their academic careers, what benefits or harms would the use of quotas bring to academia and, in particular, to scien - tific research?" This question is a funda- mental one for organizations like EMBO, whose remit is to "promote excellence in the life sciences." EMBO is a membership organization of elected scientists that supports post-doctoral researchers and young group leaders in the life scienc- es through highly selective fellowship schemes, and funds workshops and practical courses in the life sciences all over Europe. The main criticism of quotas is that they reward one group of scientists at the expense of another group, and, perhaps even more significantly, -to the detriment of the merit system. So, if quotas were to be implemented in academia, would this undermine the basis on which organi - zations like EMBO work? On the other hand, excellence and merit are difficult to define, and at least in some fields, the way that research assessment is currently implemented seems to have favoured men (van den Brink et al., 2012; Castilla et al., 2010). These concerns and ambigu- ities were the starting point of the study. To better understand the concerns about the use of gender quotas in academia, we first looked at other areas where they have been already used as policy tools, such as industry for the composition of company boards and in politics for EMBO Graph 0% Under- graduate First degree graduate Women 2010 Men 2010 PhD student PhD- graduate 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%

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