More female scientists in leading positions

Making a career in research is still more difficult for women than for their male colleagues

March 07, 2014

In 2012, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft made a voluntary commitment to increase the proportion of female scientists in W2 and W3 positions and in remuneration groups E13 to E15 of the Collective Wage Agreement for Government Service Workers (TVöD). The aim is to increase the numbers five times by one percentage point each year up to 2017. This target was agreed with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Joint Science Conference.

With various programmes, the Max Planck Society wants to ensure that women take on leading roles in science.

The increase of five percentage points, which the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) hopes to achieve, is extremely ambitious: it means that a large proportion of any vacant positions will have to be filled by women in order to reach the target. With regard to W2 professorships, the MPG is currently lagging behind its self-imposed target. At the beginning of the year, only 27.3% of W2 positions were occupied by women; the target figure for this point in time was 29.4%. Furthermore, the milestone set in the voluntary commitment for the E 13 to E 15 government service wage scale (TVöD) was not met: at the beginning of the year, the figure was 0.8% short of the target.

The picture is somewhat more optimistic when it comes to the top management level (W3) in the Max Planck institutes: 11.2% of the almost 300 Scientific Members are women. Compared to other German scientific organisations, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is in a very good position and exceeds its target by 0.55%. Max Planck President Peter Gruss is confident that the target of 13.7% will be reached in January 2017. Nevertheless, in a recent circular to the Directors of the Max Planck institutes, he made the following appeal: “I would ask you all to not only give greater consideration to applications from women, but also to pro-actively and with open eyes approach young female scientists who are worthy of promotion.”

Career prospects and transparency

To further improve career opportunities specifically for young female scientists, the Minerva W2 programme was aligned with the Centrally Announced Max Planck Research Groups. The configuration of Research Groups was optimised and a career path was made easier to plan: like the Max Planck Research Groups, the Group Leader positions can now be extended after five years under certain conditions for two times for two years. In total, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is now making up to 44 W2 positions available in the Minerva programme. Each position is initially limited to five years.

In order for career paths to be more transparent, the positions in the Minerva programme will in future be advertised internationally together with those of the Max Planck Research Groups: internal nominations are welcome, as are applications from external, outstanding female scientists.

From the perspective of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Minerva programme has been a success: Since 1997, 94 female scientists have been appointed, 62 have now accepted more senior positions – some of them even within the MPG. This is also possible from the Max Planck Research Groups: in total, four female scientists have made the leap from leading a Group to the post of Director.

Family and career

Business trips and weekend and holiday work: In the world of science, it is not always easy to reconcile family and professional life. The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft therefore endeavours to make the working environment a family-friendly place by providing crèche places and childcare facilities and offering flexible working hours. Fifty-eight Max Planck institutes currently offer childcare facilities. Parents can also avail of the facilities offered by a family service company, which provides support during the holidays, when children are sick or should business trips arise. The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft has therefore been awarded, for the second time, a certificate by the non-profit initiative berufundfamilie for its family-friendly HR policy.

Stronger as a team

When a scientist is appointed to a Max Planck institute, the MPG also does its best to find a suitable position for the scientist’s partner, who in many cases also works in science. In Munich, the MPG works closely with the Dual Career Office at the TUM Munich where 26 partners, such as non-university research institutions, companies and ministries, have formed a network. Similar initiatives also exist in Stuttgart, Heidelberg, the Halle/Leipzig regions, South Hesse and Berlin-Brandenburg.

The MinervaFemmeNet mentoring network is also in great demand. More than 300 mentors – female scientists and alumnae from 68 Max Planck institutes – currently support more than 390 mentees. They meet up for personal discussions, and network at regular get-togethers. Training courses in workshops and management seminars relating to gender and family policy issues have been increased.

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft considers itself to be well positioned with this package of promotional measures. President Gruss is proud: “After all, we cannot survive without the scientific potential of highly qualified women. With regard to our future viability, it is also important to not only attract them to science, but also to retain them.”


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