Sociologist Henning Stroers calls for more planning security and flexible offers for junior women researchers

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Henning Stroers © Caroline Queda

Henning Stroers © Caroline Queda

In 2017, the proportion of women among the total number of professors in North Rhine-Westphalia was 25.7 percent, as shown by a survey conducted by the Federal Statistics Office. Just like other universities, the University of Münster is also endeavouring to increase this figure. To this end, there are a variety of support programmes aimed at junior women researchers. Kathrin Nolte spoke to Henning Stroers, the Administrative Director of the Research Centre for Family-Oriented Human Resources Policies (FFP) at Münster University, about having a family and simultaneously pursuing an academic career, and about human resources policies geared to different stages of people’s lives.

Current figures show that a very large number of women professors in Germany are single or divorced. Also, male professors have, on average, more than twice as many children as their female colleagues. Why is this?

Women professors have to attempt the balancing act between career and family more than their male colleagues do. The latter are more often in relationships which follow the traditional pattern of gender roles, or in which their partners are not pursuing an academic career. Conversely, women professors more often look to find a partner in their own professional surroundings. They have to outsource childcare to third parties or they have to interrupt their academic careers for a period of time. Often, this dual burden - the demanding requirements of the job combined with taking on family duties - quickly creates a potential for conflict or can even prevent the woman realising her desire to have children.

How can junior researchers’ careers be better aligned with the individual stages of their lives?

The conditions on the path to a professorship need to be improved, especially for women. Permanent appointments provide a greater degree of planning security when starting a family, and a greater provision of childcare facilities avoids the necessity of having to interrupt an academic career for a longer period of time. There is a need to strengthen flexible offers which make it easier to combine family and career and which are geared to the individual stages of people’s lives. These include, for example, a respectful and family-oriented management culture at universities, as well as the creation of flexible alternatives such as home office and childcare facilities for emergencies. Providing information and advice for specific target groups is also a key factor in enabling academics to receive the best possible support.

What can the University do in its human resources policies?

It is crucial that human resources measures should be holistic in nature and geared to the longer term; in other words, they should match the requirements that each target group has at the various stages of their lives. For this purpose, these requirements first need to be systematically recorded, for example in the form of questionnaires. Also, people need to be comprehensively informed about what is on offer. In particular, people in management positions - including those in the academic field - should be sensitized to the various needs which target groups have, and they should be trained in how to handle relevant measures. One other important component in human resources policies should be support for women in management positions and professorships - for which mentoring programmes are well suited.