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24 February 2020
Mauro Ferrari with Olivia Cohn, 11-year-old speaker from “Girls in Science 4 SDGs” at the UN meeting

The ERC has always taken gender balance very seriously. ERC President Mauro Ferrari sent a strong statement to that effect during the recent United Nations annual ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly’.

"The role of women and girls in science will continue to grow, and is key in our efforts towards a better future. It will no longer be a world of catch-up, but a true world of leadership. We cannot afford to have only one half of humankind fully engaged in the scientific endeavour."

In his key note speech at the UN in New York, Prof. Ferrari spoke out for women in science and gave a message of optimism and hope: "The role of women and girls in science will continue to grow, and is key in our efforts towards a better future. It will no longer be a world of catch-up, but a true world of leadership. We cannot afford to have only one half of humankind fully engaged in the scientific endeavour."

Praising the young speakers at the assembly, he also made it clear that you can never start early enough in the world of science.

His message echoes the efforts that the ERC’s governing body, the Scientific Council, has undertaken over the past decade.

“It cannot be underlined enough how vital it is that women and men are given equal chances in science,” the Chair of the ERC working group on gender issues Prof. Barbara Romanowicz said. “That is the underlying reasoning for the ERC’s commitment to this cause. We are proud that substantial progress has been achieved in the ERC calls over the past years, but there is still work to do to improve gender balance at the application stage.”

The Scientific Council's working group on gender issues, set up in 2008, is a clear example of this ethos in action. Holding as its founding principle that women and men are equally able to perform excellent frontier research, each process within the ERC - from the raising of awareness to rules around parental leave and gender mainstreaming - is designed to allow equal opportunity. The group also carefully monitors gender balance in ERC calls.

Such measures seem to have paid off. The success rates of women in ERC competitions have been converging with those of men in recent years; yet, there are some variations between different domains and calls. This positive trend is taking place without changing the ERC’s sole selection criterion of scientific excellence in its grant competitions.

However, despite this improvement and efforts to encourage top female talent to apply, the proportion of women applyingto ERC competitions still remains lower than that of men.

Reflecting on this, ERC Scientific Council member Prof. Paola Bovolenta recently stated: “This mirrors the overall situation of science in Europe in the respective age groups. How to change this is not easy and is not a problem that the ERC alone can fix. As a science funder, the ERC has gone to great lengths to show leadership in strategically addressingthe issue and we are committed to continue doing so. It is up to all of us across the scientific sphere to take action and encourage female talent.

The ERC’s efforts continue with the organising of a workshop on the gender dimension in frontier research on 16 November.

Watch the UN session (11 February)

Some statistics:

  • Overall success rate of women in the ERC calls increased from 8% in all calls from 2007-2013 under the EU’s seventh research Framework Programme (compared to 11% for men) to 13% for all calls from 2014 under the current Framework Programme Horizon 2020 (which is the same success rate as that of men).
  • The share of applications by women to the ERC’s calls is around 30% for the Starting and Consolidator Grant calls and 15% for the Advanced Grant call. This is in proportion to the share of women researchers at different career stages in Europe.