„Still a great deal of room for improvement“

Psychology professor Jule Specht is active on research and science policy issues – and calls for greater gender equality.

Jule Specht is a 33-year-old researcher at Humboldt-Universität.
Jule Specht is a 33-year-old researcher at Humboldt-Universität. Jens Gyarmaty

Professor Specht, what is the situation of women in the German research sector?

We continue to experience systematic discrimination against women in many areas of the German research sector. Fortunately, broad sections of German society and research have now been sensitised to the subject of equal opportunity. And the situation of women has also been moving in the right direction over recent years. Nonetheless, it is still the case in Germany that pursuing a career in research is often more difficult for women than it is for men. Compared with other countries, Germany has weaknesses not only when it comes to the proportion of female professors, but also with regard to the considerable gender pay gap in science and research. There is thus still a great deal of room for improvement. Existing formats, such as the programme for female professors, would have to be significantly increased to accelerate improvement in the research system.

What is the situation with regard to equal opportunity at the different career levels?

The proportion of women decreases the higher up the career ladder you go. Across all subject areas, however, we have a balanced relationship between the sexes among undergraduates and, to a great extent, also during the doctoral phase. The major break comes in the postdoctoral phase, when many good women are lost to research.

Why is that?

There are several reasons: the German research system has a very long postdoc phase compared to other countries. The average age for appointment to a professorship is roughly 42. That means there is a long period of insecurity between completing a doctorate and appointment as a professor. Many find the lack of prospects and the need to frequently change university far from attractive, so they leave the research sector or go abroad. Less trust is sometimes shown in a woman’s ability to hold a professorship than a man with comparable qualifications, or assessment criteria are applied that have an inherent gender bias.

What needs to be done to improve the balance?

I think we ought to make even stronger use in Germany of internationally accepted career paths, such as tenure-track professorships. They can be taken up soon after a doctorate and hold the promise of a permanent position – for outstanding performance.

Interview: Bettina Mittelstraß

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