Are academic careers attractive for women?

Percentage of women among students, academic staff and professors/lecturers at the JGU Faculty of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science in winter semester 2012/2013. Source: JGU (2013): Zahlenspiegel 2012. (URL:


In discussions about the relative proportion of female students, research assistants and professors, you often hear the argument that the natural sciences alone are to blame for the decreasing percentage of women at increasing skill levels. When looking, however, in detail at the numbers, you find this trend throughout almost all faculties at JGU. Let’s search for clues then.

That at higher skill levels fewer women than men are encountered is due to a number of factors, according to Stefan Hirschauer, professor of Sociological Theory and Gender Studies at the University of Mainz: On the one hand, he explains the phenomenon with an ‘historical lag’; that is, it takes time until an increasing proportion of women among students and doctoral students is reflected at the higher skill levels. On the other hand, he reckons that discrimination has a role in procedures that in particular in heavily male-dominated areas, such as the STEM subjects, cannot be excluded. Moreover, there are career disadvantages in private life associated with value-driven migration processes. More specifically, the main obstacle is that women must succeed in a dual career, where the process of starting a family competes with the scientific career, which is everything but family-friendly. This competition may cause women to avoid scientific careers.
"If, for once, we consider women who leave the universities not as ’victims’ of discrimination, but take them seriously, then you have to interpret their migration to non-academic professional and career options as a well-informed statement on faculty jobs: highly competitive positions with built-in ‘workaholism’ are unattractive to people who cherish their work–life balance." (Hirschauer 2012*)

He sees the reason for the underrepresentation of women not in the organisational work structure but in private life. As a response, an effective equality policy should support a cultural change in couple relationships. In order to keep women in science, he feels that an improvement in time management is necessary, through the support for childcare and an increased availability of (full-time) day-care places. "Such a compensation of child-care expense during qualification phases addresses, on the one hand, the professional discrimination against women relative to men in private life and, on the other hand, the time disadvantages of parents relative to non-parents. [...] It is necessary to enhance the attractiveness of professional positions for highly educated people who deal more wisely with their work–life balance than many men do at the moment." (ibid*)

Following this call, and aiming to increase the compatibility between scientific career and family, an initiative is underway to offer support and improve the allocation of day-care places for PRISMA members:
If you are interested in day-care places, please write to, providing the child’s name and date of birth and as well as contact details (e-mail, phone number) for the parent(s).



Hirschauer, Stefan (2012) : Family Tenure statt "Kaskadenmodell" - Sexistische Nebenwirkungen universitärer Frauenförderung. (URL:


* Translation: A. Trabesinger