There is hardly a better occasion than February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to reflect on the EU’s commitment to supporting women and girls to their rightful place in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
This year, with the European elections on the horizon, this day – and our work towards a Union of equality in general – take on an additional meaning.
In the EU, 41 per cent of scientists and engineers are women. However, the picture changes when we look at women as self-employed professionals in science, engineering and information and communication technologies. The figure hovers just above 25 per cent. The conclusion is clear: we still need more women in science.
I am heartened by the many concrete actions and measures the EU has already taken to not only strengthen the gender dimension of research and innovation (R&I) but specifically to support and champion women in STEM.
With the launch of Horizon Europe, our current research and innovation programme running from 2021 to 2027, we shifted up a gear towards reaching gender equality in R&I. To receive funding, public bodies, research organisations and higher education institutions need to have a Gender Equality Plan.
EU-funded projects must integrate a gender perspective to ensure that their work is relevant for all EU citizens
These plans are our key instrument for creating fair, inclusive and safe workplaces and for steering sustainable institutional change across Europe. In addition, EU-funded projects must integrate a gender perspective to ensure that their work is relevant for all EU citizens.
Through schemes such as the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, we set high standards for researchers’ training and to promote equal opportunities in academia and beyond. This scheme’s gender provisions are paying off, with women researchers making up over 42 per cent of beneficiaries at all career levels and 46 per cent of doctoral candidates.
But what are we doing to improve the representation of women and girls specifically in STEM? The European Commission has put in place a range of policies and initiatives. For example, we work with universities and R&I stakeholders to make STEM studies and careers more attractive with the inclusion of arts, social sciences and humanities (the so-called STE(A)M approach).
In these efforts, promoting curiosity and fostering a supportive environment for young girls to discover STEM is key. This is the basis for the Girls Go Circular programme. Since it was launched in 2020, it helped more than 32,000 girls in 23 countries achieve digital and entrepreneurial skills. By 2030, we will expand the programme to all 27 EU countries, and I would like to encourage all girls to discover what it can offer to them.
In parallel, we recognise success. This year, we will celebrate the outstanding results achieved by European academic and research organisations with the second edition of the EU Award for Gender Equality Champions.
And we continue to shine the light on outstanding women innovators. The 10th edition of the Women Innovators Prize will take place on March 18 as part of our flagship event, the Research and Innovation Week. This award spotlights women who turned breakthrough ideas into real-life impact. I hope it inspires the innovators of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.
Only if we address the crucial aspects of gender equality, diversity and inclusion can we be sure that research and innovation address challenges concerning us all.
Iliana Ivanova is European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.