Focus on equal opportunity

Talent, creativity and passion - those are the qualities the Max Planck Society relies on. The Society supports employees irrespective of their gender, nationality, religion, disabilities, age, cultural background or sexual identity. After all, the basis for the cutting-edge research conducted at 86 Max Planck Institutes lies in diversity.

To challenge and promote talent: that is the strategic goal of all the efforts of the Max Planck Society to raise the professional profile of its employees. The Max Planck Society

  • backs equal opportunities for all and acts to implement all requirements aimed at establishing equality and to offer attractive framework conditions
  • focuses continually on career advancement and pays special attention to its female scientists: they are still heavily under-represented at managerial levels, and their future prospects are less clear than those of their male colleagues
  • strives to offer structured support to young scientists in order to help them achieve their individual career goals
  • builds bridges to facilitate the reconciliation of family life, leisure and career and to bring about more women in managerial positions
  • has made a voluntary commitment: In a period of five years (currently to 2017), it is aiming to increase the proportion of women in managerial positions on three different pay groups by five percentage points in each case.

How we are building bridges

For the long term, the Max Planck Society has signed up to the overarching goal that it should be possible to embark on qualification paths in science without encountering any gender-specific barriers: because special career advancement mechanisms or qualification elements for female scientists contain the fundamental risk that existing structures will be left unchanged; changing them, however, in a way that creates space for diversity, is both motivation and aspiration alike to the Max Planck Society.

This is also documented by the "Opportunities" Committee chaired by Vice President Angela Friederici. The objective is to work with the scientific Sections to implement an expanded equal opportunity strategy on a lasting basis and to smooth the way for cultural change. As the internally-commissioned analysis of the European and international scientific landscape by Prof. Nina Dethloff (University of Bonn, 2015) has shown, such a cultural change has a good prospect of succeeding if it is supported and driven by all functional and hierarchical levels including Institute Management.

The Max Planck Society offers

  • Childcare places in collaboration with day nurseries; contract with family service companies to arrange for care (including care of the elderly); financial subsidies for childcare during conferences; parent-child-offices
  • Family allowances for scholarship holders
  • Participation in further education seminars from the central range of events
  • Dual Career Service: help with and support for dual science career couples for appointments to positions on Directors' Boards
  • Opportunities for part-time work and teleworking
  • Central Equal Opportunities Officer and local Equal Opportunities Officers at the Institutes
  • Guide to constructive interaction between male and female scientists
  • Participation of Max Planck Institutes in Girls´ Day, holiday programmes for girls, labs for school-children, experiments for pre-school children

Especially for female scientists

  • Pool of managerial posts in the central programme for Research Groups
  • W3 programme for supporting outstanding female scientists in managerial positions
  • Minerva-FemmeNet: a mentoring network primarily for female doctoral students but also for female undergraduates, postdocs and habilitation candidates
  • Elisabeth-Schiemann-Kolleg: a network for female scientists after their postdoc phase, embedded in the Chemistry, Physics & Technology Section
  • Option to extend fixed-term employment contracts in the event of female scientists becoming pregnant and giving birth
  • Career advancement: the MPG offers selected female scientists (postdocs) the opportunity to participate in the seminar programme "Sign up! Career Building"
  • Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation: supports talented, young female doctoral students from the field of natural sciences and medicine who have children
  • The MPG uses AcademiaNet: The database maintains portraits of excellent female scientists in all technical disciplines, thereby raising women’s visibility. It can be used by research institutions and governing bodies, journalists and conference organizers and for creating networks between women.
  • The Minerva Fast Track pilot project by the Chemistry, Physics & Technology Section gives outstanding female scientists the chance to plan their careers for the long term after completing their doctorates. Following directly on the dissertation or after the first postdoc position, funding is provided for a maximum of three years with the objective that the scientist will then apply for an Open-Topic Max Planck Research Group.
  • We are partners of the "National Pact for Women in STEM Professions" launched by the German Federal Government in association with political circles, business, science and the media.

The Working Party for the promotion of female scientists

This governing body of the Scientific Council provides a forum for a maximum of 15 male and female Directors from the three Sections along with junior scientists. The Committee is called upon to advise the President, the Administrative Headquarters, the Scientific Members and the governing bodies of the Max Planck Society on all questions regarding the promotion of female scientists and the balancing of family and work, and also looks at personal issues. It ensures that Appointment Committees in the Section explain in individual cases why no suitable female scientist could be found for the post to be occupied.

Personnel and professional considerations for new appointments are also discussed in the Scientific Advisory Boards at the Max Planck institutes before appointment applications are sent by the institute management to the President. Therefore, if possible, female scientists are involved in the Scientific Advisory Boards so that with their support highly qualified women in the respective research fields can be identified at this early discussion stage.

An instruction guide for Max Planck

A guide was designed back in 2003 with the intention to promote constructive interaction between male scientists and their female colleagues. It is given to every newly appointed scientist and is divided into three parts: Firstly, it focuses on the underlying reasons for the unequal treatment of men and women in scientific operations. Then it lists situations by way of examples in which women might feel discriminated against or unfairly treated in order to make specific suggestions in the final section as to how to avoid differential treatment.

What can be improved?

  • anchoring the names of female scientists in the collective memory based on their performance
  • avoiding stereotypes in the assessment of a person
  • calls for applications and use of databases in appointment procedures in order to identify female scientists with specific profiles
  • targeted activities to give junior female scientists opportunities to raise their profile

Download: the text of the guide

Gender Equality Officers 
Engaged on a special mission

The Gender Equality Officers are important players at Max Planck Institutes and facilities. Working in a voluntary or part-time capacity, they perform their gender equality work on site and lobby in their respective location for gender justice and gender sensitivity. They are the contacts for employees in all questions regarding career advancement, and they help to remove discrimination. They "are involved in all personnel, organizational and social measures relating to equality between men and women, the reconciliation of family life and work as well as protection from sexual harassment at the workplace". The post of Gender Equality Officer is an elected office with a term of four years. At present, the right to vote and stand as a candidate extends to all female employees in the MPG.

A Section Gender Equality Officer and two deputies are elected for each scientific Section from the group of Gender Equality Officers. They participate in the gender-appropriate processing of appointment procedures.

The Max Planck Society also has a Central Gender Equality Officer. She advises and supports her colleagues at the Max Planck Institutes and represents the interests of equality both internally and externally. She also acts as the interface between her colleagues at the Institutes and Administrative Headquarters of the Max Planck Society, and ensures that the various viewpoints and concerns of the other side in each case are heard. She advises the management of the Max Planck Society in matters of gender equality policy and plays an active part in developing gender equality policy and strategy.

Career Advancement Seminars
Where do I want to go?

Together with the organization EAF Berlin – a network set up to advise business and politicians on promoting equal opportunity, diversity and the work-life balance - the Max Planck Society has developed the programme “Sign up! Career Building”. After three successful cycles, the 4th reprise of the programme was launched in autumn 2016, aimed at excellent female postdocs from Max Planck Institutes who are selected in a competitive process.

Sign up! comprises three modules. The aim of the programme is to prepare female postdocs for managerial roles in science by training their managerial skills and imparting knowledge and to support them through an explicitly career-oriented network. They are to be promoted and motivated in the orientation phase of their scientific careers and to be supported in planning their individual careers. Action plans for climbing the professional ladder are to be identified to prepare them for managerial positions in science and research.

Networks for women


In order to support young female scientists on their path to managerial positions in science, they are given the best possible preparation for taking on managerial positions in science by means of advanced and further training programmes, events in support of network building and through the use of mentors who act as advisors on all career levels.

The Max Planck Society's mentoring programme for junior female scientists, Minerva FemmeNet, which had been in existence since 2001, is helpful in this context, and in 2009 it was given permanent status in the organizational structure and further developed. The network is open to (junior) female scientists – from undergraduates to junior professors – from all Sections and Institutes of the Max Planck Society, as well as alumnae. In 2013, more than 300 mentors and over 390 mentees participated in the network.

In addition to the Minerva FemmeNet programme of the MPG, there are also additional regional mentoring networks: two networks spanning all universities in Hessen (MentorinnenNetzwerk and SciMento-hessenweit), as well as a network encompassing all universities in Baden-Württemberg (MuT – Mentoring und Training: programme to provide career support and advancement for highly-qualified junior scientists, in particular postdocs and habilitation candidates).

Flexible career paths for postdocs
Event day for orientation

Which career paths lead to the scientific world and which will take you to industry and business? A one-day event day has been staged twice for 120 participants in each case (in 2015 with the Technical University of Munich and in 2016 with Göttingen University). The career event for postdocs is intended to identify flexible career paths and support young male and female scientists in planning their careers – regardless of whether the path leads to science or to business and industry.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation
Buying time with money

She knows what it means to conduct science as a woman: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology and Nobel Prize laureate. When Prof. Nüsslein-Volhard became a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society almost 30 years ago, she was still largely alone among numerous male colleagues at this level of the hierarchy.

In 2004, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard set up a foundation named after her. The Max Planck Society supports this foundation with an annual grant of 30,000 euros. “Money is the most banal means of buying time”, says the Max Planck Director. “It makes no sense not to have a cleaner, to wear oneself out doing household chores and to run a laboratory at the same time. One should have the courage to spend more money and thereby have more latitude.” Young doctoral students know that, but they still try to manage the daily balancing act between career and family. When a decision is made to accept an invitation to a conference and measurement times in the laboratory once again fall at a bad time after the nursery has closed, the finely balanced system consisting of childcare, scientific work and housework, quickly collapses.

The intention is to provide help here with a monthly scholarship of up to 400 euros awarded by the Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard Foundation for a maximum of three years in the course of a doctorate. The condition is that living costs are covered and all-day childcare is already guaranteed. Applications can be submitted twice a year – to 30 June and 31 December.

More information on the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation.

Well looked after at Mäxle, Hippos & Co.

Research work is more relaxed if the children are well looked after during the day. The Max Planck Society and the Max Planck Institutes are not allowed to run their own kindergartens or nurseries on account of their statutory remit; however, they can purchase places in facilities run by external organizations or with parent initiatives and support them with infrastructure expenses. This ensures that there are a fixed number of places available for Max Planck employees.

Around 60 Max Planck Institutes now offer the possibility to accommodate the offspring of Institute employees, in some cases in the MPI's own buildings on the site of the Institute. These kindergartens have names such as "Zappel-Philipp", "Mäxle", "Topolino", "Die Hippos" or "Planckton". Collaborations with nurseries generally cover children of toddler age from twelve months to three years as well as those of kindergarten age. The Max Planck Society is currently endeavouring to further strengthen "baby care" from 3 months to 12 months.

The family support service
When help is needed

The MPG cooperates with the family service company pme. It maintains a portal for arranging care staff, and it is the point of contact for all questions relating to the reconciliation of family life and work. For example, the service helps with looking for babysitters, au pairs and a kindergarten place, supports the provision of "emergency" care when children fall ill and even organizes holiday camps. It also provides orientation help with regard to elderly relatives requiring care. The service currently applies to children who have not reached school age, but it will probably be expanded to cover school-age children from winter 2016.

The Max Planck Society will bear costs incurred for advice and agency services. The families pay all the costs of actual care directly to the person or facility providing the care, with the amount based on the type and scope of care provided.

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