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From South to North: female scientists in Europe
*Corresponding author
1. Dr Adam Wilson, 54B Esslemont Avenue, Aberdeen, AB25 1SQ, United Kingdom
2. ScienceMums GbR, Rennbahnstrasse 99, 81929 München, Germany

KEYWORDS: female scientists, mother, country comparison, Germany, Italy, Sweden
ABSTRACT: We examine the problems faced by women in Europe who wish to combine a career in science with family life, focusing on the situation in Italy, Germany and Sweden. Our survey shows strong differences from country to country. Some nations have infrastructures of taxation or professional childcare that are very supportive of working mothers; in others women face not only logistical but also societal barriers that prevent them from achieving a healthy work/family balance. By comparing these countries’ attitudes and policies, we hope to find ideas worth importing in order to improve the lives of working women wherever they are.

A smart, independent young woman shuts her eyes, spins a globe, stabs it to a stop with her index finger and says, “There!”
Travel companies and advertising agencies make millions from such clichés. And there is a time in an academic’s life – her PhD and first postdoc – when experiencing work overseas is relatively easy.
Of course, for many such women, the mobile phase of the life cycle doesn’t last long. Soon her desire to travel – indeed, the desire to do research at all – begins to compete with family commitments. Compromises must be made. But in spite of how far women have come in recent years, a lot still hangs on where exactly our scientist stops her globe. The kinds of work/family balances that can realistically be reached vary considerably from country to country. Occasionally even within individual countries the differences are extraordinary.
Why focus on women? Don’t men also want to settle down and start families as they get older? Of course they might, and most countries now recognise this – in principle. Nevertheless, women still work against a background of assumptions and expectations about their role in wider society. In many countries they are expected to be mothers first; the corresponding perception of men in similarly demanding fathers’ roles is largely absent.
But the gender divide is not simply about motherhood. Consciously or not, some jobs are perceived as being particularly women’s work throughout the world, and, as we shall see, the scientific community is not immune to these prejudices.
But the problems run deeper than mere prejudice. Even those societies that genuinely strive for equality frequently adopt policies which, though superficially neutral, affect men and women differently. At the same time, policies that are not neutral, but that deliberately aim to assist women, frequently have perverse consequences that do more harm than good. And while some countries provide environments that are very hospitable for women in science, other countries have adopted policies that make life extremely difficult for them.
So what do the countries of Europe have to offer our young lady? Our own globe-spinning tour will look at three representative nations with strongly contrasting attitudes to women in science. In the Mediterranean, we will focus on Italy; we will then move through Germany and into Sweden, representing Scandinavia. Our journey sweeps from south to north – unfortunately at the expense of abandoning our spinning globe metaphor, since, as we know, globes...In order to continue reading this article please register to our website – registration is for free and no fees will be applied afterwards to download contents.

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