WiMBE Reports 2011

Initiatives to improve gender diversity in SET (Science, Engineering, Technology)



Research shows that a wider diversity of teams will pave the way to greater innovation, creativity and improved decision-making. It is therefore essential to create a culture where a diversity of talent with a wide range of backgrounds can excel.

Despite all efforts, there are still few women in top positions, especially in SET.

Existing stereotypical images of women have been offered as an explanation. These are reflected in the organizational practices and processes that are often implicitly biased by such beliefs.

The charter ‘Talent to the Top’ in the Netherlands aims to promote balanced gender diversity in top positions. The basic principle of the Charter is that organizations are responsible themselves for the required cultural shift at their organization.

Based on facts and figures on various aspects of gender diversity within an organization, targeted recommendations are developed on which actions to take and which conditions to create in dialogue with Executive Board and the various stakeholders within the organization. These encompass recruitment, evaluation, promotion, and working conditions.

Signing the Charter is voluntary, but not without commitment. Those who sign, promise to take concrete measures to employ, develop and keep more female talent. Progress of clear and measurable targets is monitored and published in annual reports and on a website, using the principle of ‘comply or explain’.


Women and Engineering Studies: a Challenging Combination

Kathleen Geraedts, C. Heylen, C. Creemers, J. Vander Sloten, I. Van Hemelrijck, M. Smet and L. Froyen, BELGIUM


At the Faculty of Engineering at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, each year over 400 students enter the Bachelor in Engineering program. During the last two academic years (2009 – 2010 and 2010 – 2011), in total 840 starting engineering students were questioned on the following topics by means of a written questionnaire: their main reasons to choose a bachelor of engineering, the level of their prior mathematical education, their overall score (percentage) in high school, and whether they believe themselves to be able to be successful in their studies. In addition, their study motivation profiles were determined by a questionnaire, adapted from Vansteenkiste et al. (2009). Finally, after the exams, a study time measurement was performed where the students were asked to indicate how much time they have spent on each specific course.

Both the male and female students have a high interest in mathematics and applied sciences, and have an equal level of prior mathematical education. However, significant differences are noticed in the overall results in high school, their study motivation profiles, their self-esteem and their total study time. The overall score in the last year of high school of the starting female students is significantly higher compared to the male starting students: 78% versus 75%, with a significance level p < 0.05. The study motivation profile of the female students is in general of a much better quality: an average of 2.5 on a scale from 1 (best study motivation profile) to 4 (worst study motivation profile), whereas the average male student has a study motivation profile of 2.9, with p < 0.01. Vansteenkiste et al. (2009) state that having a study motivation profile of good quality is a good predictor for study success. From study time measurements, it was concluded that the average female student spends more time on studying each specific course of the first year compared to the average male student. But at the start of the academic year, more male students (60%) are confident that they will pass their exams with good results compared to the female students (only 40%), with p <0.01.

Due to most of the aforementioned observations, it is expected that the average female student would be the significant better performer in her first year at university compared to the average male student. But it was observed, that the group of female students does not score better in their first year. For the more general courses like Calculus, General Physics and Philosophy, the female students indeed score significantly better; but on the other hand, for some typical engineering courses such as Applied Mechanics, Technical Chemistry and Informatics, the male students score significantly better. When combining all scores on all examinations, the success rate for the first year is more or less equal for both genders (50%). But when looking at it from a “time spent” versus “result” perspective – where in general more time spent leads to better scores – the female student indeed spends more time on her studies but with less result on some typical engineering courses.


Surviving in the Academy: Issues and Challenges in Gender (In)Equality in Science & Engineering Higher Education

Eleni Kaldoudi, GREECE


During the last century, women have made an impressive progress in society, education and the workplace, increasing considerably their participation in historically male-dominated fields such as business, law, and health sciences. However, in science and engineering women’s involvement has been less dramatic, and their progress in the respective workplace, especially senior posts and decision making bodies, even slower.

Despite the historical tradition of academia as a male space, there are now more women in higher education than ever before. But it is important not to view this widening of female participation in higher education through ‘rose tinted glasses’. For example, in Greece, the cradle of science and philosophy, this situation is even more pronounced. Although Greek women are over-represented in undergraduate studies (more than the European mean), their proportions quickly decrease as one moves up the academic scale.

As stated in the WIRDEM 2008 report [9] a number of measures should be taken towards equality, and thus quality, in the research arena, including: (1) a sincere commitment by national governments towards equality and mandatory gender balance in decision-making bodies; (2) transparency and meritocracy should be enhanced; decision-makers, (3) peers and the public should be regularly informed with updated data and educated about the inequality problem and how to address it.

This presentation aims to conclude by opening the discussion on the potential of women academics peer mentoring as a bottoms-up complementary measure to boost women’s representation in science and engineering education. Moreover, the potential of recent advancements in semantic and social web to enable large-scale world-wide women mentoring will be proposed for further discussion.

Indicative Bibliography

  1. Bagilhole B, Goode J, The Contradiction of the Myth of Individual Merit , and the Reality of a Patriarchical Support System in Academic Careers, The European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 8(2), pp. 161-180, 2001
  2. Cotterill P, Letherby G., Women in Higher Education: Issues and Challenges, Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 28(2-3) pp. 109-113, 2005
  3. Eisenhart M A, Finkel E , Women’s Science: Learning and Succeeding From The Margins, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998
  4. Frize M, The Bold and the Brave: A History of Women in Science and Engineering, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, 2009
  5. Fuller L, Meiners E.R., Reflections: Empowering Women, Technology and (Feminist) Institutional Changes, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 26(1). pp. 168-180, 2005
  6. Hoskins K., The Price of Success? The experiences of three senior working class female academics in the UK, Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 33(2), pp. 134-140, 2010
  7. Ledwith S, Manfredi S, Balancing Gender in Higher Education, The European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 7, pp. 7-33, 2000
  8. Rommes E, Creating Places for Women on the Internet, The European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 9(4), 400-429, 2002
  9. WIRDEM Working Group (2008) Mapping the Maze: Getting More Women to the Top in Research. European Communities, Luxembourg


Women in Engineering in Canada (1990-2010): Next steps

Monique Frize, CANADA


Twenty years ago, the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering (CCWE) released its report in April 1992: More than just numbers, with 29 recommendations on how to increase the participation of women in study programs and in the profession. Twenty years later, a workshop examined what has worked and not worked and what steps are needed to make progress at all levels in the next 5 years. The project is called CCWE+20 and is sponsored by the INWES Education and Research Institute, a charity organisation incorporated in Canada. Seventy-two people attended the workshop, representing deans of engineering, engineering students, associations of professional engineers, granting agencies, and women academics. The presentation will provide a summary of the discussions and conclusions. The model may be a template for a similar exercise in other countries.