March 28, 2023

Women in Science: Breaking Patterns

Opinion Piece by Vice President Dr. Mendy Boehnke

Since September 2022, I have the honor of serving as Vice President for International Affairs, Academic Qualification, and Diversity at the University of Bremen. I am working in a University Executive Board with four female members and one male member, and at a university where five out of twelve deans are women. We have strong female figures at our university, however this by no means implies that we will sit back and consider gender equality done.

Gender disparities today

Currently, slightly over 50% of students at the University of Bremen are female, yet over the course of a career in science, the proportion of women decreases: In the academic mid-level sector, the share of women is at 40%, and among professors, it is at around 30%. This Leaky Pipeline Effect indicates that the path to gender equality is still long – and perhaps rocky.

Yet what gives me hope is the development over time: For instance, in 2010, the proportion of female professors was at a mere 24%, meaning that we have increased the share from a quarter to a third since.

Steps toward gender equality

These improvements stem at least in part from our gender equality programs also aimed at non-binary persons. We strive for equal opportunities for all and develop programs for increasing the presence of women in academia. Just to name a few initiatives:

  • Every year, we offer summer universities for female students and professionals in the fields of Computer Science and Engineering.
  • We have several programs directed at female members of the mid-level academic sector that support them in shaping their future career in science.
  • We take an intersectional approach to gender equality, for instance in the program “go d!verse”, providing coaching for decision makers in our staff selection processes.
  • Additionally, we aim to facilitate work-family reconciliation for all genders, and are especially proud of our program “carat – caring all together”.
  • Creativity is key! We have conducted various activities for raising awareness about gender equality, such as photo exhibitions, equality slams, and postcard campaigns.

Our goal: Breaking patterns

The measures I have described are not an end in themselves, but part of a larger goal of changing the overall structures here at the University of Bremen. We need attractive leadership positions for women in science, a change in institutional composition, and a workplace culture that truly allows for diversity. We need to empower women in science, and we absolutely need to increase their visibility, not least to create role models for young women and girls. We need to engage men in the conversation and recognize that support, not conflict, is what moves us forward.

Only by tackling patterns at all levels can we succeed in making the University of Bremen an inclusive place in that regard.


Photo copyright “Matej Meza/ Universität Bremen”.

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