•  Susanne Plaumann, Beuth Hochschule für Technik Berlin, Brain City Berlin

    “Careers are now easier to plan for women scientists”

Brain City Berlin is currently shining with a very good appointment rate for female professors: Last year it was 46 percent. The proportion of female students at many universities in Berlin even exceeds the 50 percent mark. Does this mean that equality between the sexes has been achieved in Berlin science - or must further demands be made? An interview with Brain City Ambassador Susanne Plaumann M. A:, Central women's representative at the Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin, on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Ms. Plaumann, what exactly has happened in the last few decades at the universities in Berlin in terms of equality?

The number of female professors has increased significantly in many subjects over the past thirty years. In 2020, the proportion of female professors ranged between 69 percent at ASH Berlin and 21 percent at TU Berlin. There are now many women among those appointed who have started a family with children in addition to a career. At this point, gender equality successes can be clearly seen. The number of subjects with a balanced gender distribution has also increased significantly. Nevertheless, there are still specialist cultures in which men largely stick together throughout the qualification process. In electrical engineering or mechatronics, for example, the proportion of women is still below ten percent. In the Berlin comparison, it is above all the universities with a MINT profile that have not yet achieved the quantitative equality goals.

And what about other subjects?

In areas such as life sciences, there is now a large number of excellently qualified female junior employees. Of course, not all of them can receive a professorship, as their number is limited. The unequal distribution between the subject cultures shows, however, that the choice of subject is generally open, but gender and gender stereotypes still have an influence on the choice of profession and degree – and therefore also on future career prospects.

What can be done about this gender inequality in the choice of subject?

In the training and further education of teachers in schools, significantly more gender competence must be transmitted. In this way, a direction can be established early for the choice of advanced courses and influenced more favourably with regard to gender equality. For example, we need more skilled workers who teach IT in broad terms already at school. Too few professorships in computer science are occupied by women.

What are the Berlin universities doing to create more equality?  

Over the years, the universities in Berlin have put a wide range of measures and funding programs into action and defined long-term strategies regarding equality concepts. This means that careers for women scientists are easier to plan than used to be the case. Even during their studies, we can provide female students with information that will facilitate their access to a doctorate or professional practice. The Berlin program on equal opportunities for women in research and teaching has resulted in a wide variety of funding formats. Only recently, the women and gender equality officers at the Berlin universities considered the appointment processes at their universities together and identified quality standards. We will continue to work with the results and enter into dialogue with other parties involved.

If the increasing number of nominations and appointments of female professors in the recent past is considered, the approaches mentioned are very successful.

The proportion of women in professorships has actually increased, but the performance curve in recent years has been flatter. If a third of the professorships are occupied by women, it “feels” as though 50 percent of equality has been achieved. The hindrances that women face (the so-called “glass ceiling”) still seem to make access more difficult for women. The pandemic with the closure of daycare centres and schools has also impressively demonstrated just how fragile the gender equality successes really are. “Re-traditionalisation” is now a new stimulus word set in opposition to the successes in equality.

If you could wish for something, what would it be? What should stay, what has to change?

The programs for women with mentoring, coaching and women advancement agencies are still important because the paths into science are not as open as they seem. This has been proven by various studies. Networks play a prominent role in science and especially at universities. And access to those networks is regulated by gatekeepers: They decide from within the network who should become a member and who not. Since positive selection often works by means of social similarity, it is predominantly powerful men who regulate these gateways.

Do women perhaps also shy away from knocking on the doors of top-class networks?

In the consulting practice of female scientists in the doctoral phase, it can be observed very well that women concentrate very much on professional support and maintain their networks on a peer-to-peer level. Contact with influential people is avoided or is even feigned. Many women also fear selling themselves or having to pretend, if they invest a lot of time in this part of their career. And that is considered taboo. In short: The belief in achievement, luck and chance is more pronounced among women than the knowledge about the value of networking and connections. This represents a hurdle for women that is not talked about openly enough in the scientific community. However, other diverse groups also have more difficult access to professorships.

What career prospects does the Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin offer career-oriented female scientists?

In the coming years, around 150 professorships will become vacant, particularly at the three major Berlin universities of applied sciences, the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin), the HTW Berlin University of Applied Sciences and the Beuth University of Applied Sciences. These are good chances of success for female scientists with at least three years of practical experience. Network connections are less important here than a successful combination of academic qualifications and theory with practical professional experience in industry, business or non-university research institutions. Anyone who is highly motivated to teach students in small groups should consider applying. Potential applicants are welcome to contact me and I will go through their documents with them individually.

What is your personal conclusion regarding International Women's Day?

We are successful in equality, but let’s be honest: More can be done!

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