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How the University of Bremen Promotes Women in Academia

Support Services for Students up to Professorship Level

University & Society / Campus Life

When it comes to the share of women among professors, the University of Bremen is regularly at the top of national rankings. Most recently, it was also successful in the Female Professors Program (Professorinnenprogramm) of the federal and state governments. However, the university is not only committed to equal opportunities for women: This is because discrimination is an intersectional phenomenon. Discrimination can relate to a person’s socio-economic background, their sexual orientation, their religion, among other things, or be racially motivated. The staff of the Equal Opportunities/Anti-Discrimination Unit address these issues with a wide range of projects and initiatives.

Since 2008, universities have been able to submit their gender equality concepts to the Female Professors Program, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) together with the state governments. At the end of February, the BMBF announced that the University of Bremen had been successful once again: As a result, the university is eligible to apply for funds of up to 1,475,000 euros for three professorships held by women. But that’s not all: In addition, the University of Bremen received the distinction of “university with strong gender equality” for its outstanding gender equality concept. This distinction was only awarded to 22 of the 108 participating universities. It enables them to apply for additional funding for a position of a female postdoctoral researcher.

The University of Bremen has been successful since the very beginning of the Female Professors Program and has acquired the maximum amount of funding in each round. The funding covers a period of five years, after which the positions must be made permanent from the university’s own funds. “The Female Professors Program also helps to fill more professorships with women in the long term,” says Anneliese Niehoff, head of the Equal Opportunities/Anti-Discrimination Unit. The university’s success in this area is demonstrated in national rankings, most recently in a survey by the Berlin/Brandenburg Consumer Protection Department. Among 42 participating universities, the University of Bremen had the sixth-highest share of women in professorships. In terms of the share of women in leading faculty positions, it even ranked third.

From Informatica Feminale to Perspektive Promotion

According to Anneliese Niehoff, however, the university’s success in this area is not only due to the Female Professors Program. “In terms of gender policy, the University of Bremen was quick to establish its own unit in the area of anti-discrimination and gender equality,” she explains. This allowed the university to implement projects and measures, which in turn enabled it to stand out in its application to the Female Professors Program. This success not only benefits the female professors, but also has a positive effect on the entire university. After all, the obtained funds also flow into gender equality initiatives and projects for students and research assistants.

The University of Bremen currently has several measures in place to promote gender equality:

Since 1997, the university has organized the Informatica Feminale. Every year, around 200 to 250 people participate in the summer university for women in computing – students, research assistants, high school graduates, and business women. Since 2005, the program has been expanded to include a summer university for women engineers. Last year, Informatica Feminale was awarded a prize for outstanding gender equality work by the German Council of University Faculties in Computer Science.

The perspektive promotion program offers women counseling in their decision processes for or against pursuing a PhD. This includes individual consultations, for example on issues such as financing or completing a doctorate while parenting. Anneliese Niehoff argues that this support is also crucial in disciplines that traditionally have a higher proportion of women, such as the humanities and social sciences. This is because she and her team have observed that men in these disciplines are much more likely to complete a doctorate than women. “Gender equality is not just an issue in the STEM subjects,” she concludes.

Anneliese Niehoff sitting on the stairs.
“Gender equality is not just an issue in the STEM subjects,” says Anneliese Niehoff, head of the Equal Opportunities/Anti-discrimination.
© Matej Meza / Universität Bremen

One of the outcomes of the Female Professorship Program is the go diverse project that was established in 2017. It provides counseling on appointment procedures for professorships, but also on other staff selection procedures for employees in academia, technology, and administration. Among other things, the go diverse team provides counseling on how job advertisements can be phrased in such a way that they appeal to a wider group of people. In addition, go diverse offers advanced training on issues of gender and diversity. The aim is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds – not only in terms of gender, but also a person’s age, origin, or religion – to apply to university jobs and to ensure that they are considered in the selection process.

The BIG – Bridge between Internationalization and Gender program is aimed specifically at international women in academia, including students. “We realized that not all of our existing offers are suitable for them because they often have specific questions and perspectives – for example regarding working conditions for international researchers or the German health and social system,” says Anneliese Niehoff. For this reason, BIG organizes information events on topics such as the possibilities and conditions for pursuing a PhD, as well as discussion nights and networking meetings for international researchers.

Intersectional Discrimination

Initiatives such as those of go diverse and BIG, which, in addition to gender, address the multiple dimensions of discrimination, are a good example of the intersectional work of the Equal Opportunities/Anti-Discrimination Unit. This is also reflected in the structure of the unit. “Our unit now consists of three divisions,” explains Anneliese Niehoff. The Equal Opportunities Office is joined by the ADE – Anti-Discrimination and Conflict Management Office and the Diversity Office.

“Gender equality is still an important issue,” emphasizes Anneliese Niehoff. At the same time, however, in recent years people have become more aware that sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic background, positioning as a person of color, religious affiliation, or physical and mental impairments are also significant and that many people are discriminated against and disadvantaged on multiple levels. “The range of topics we work on has become more diverse,” Anneliese Niehoff states. “But the common thread is that we advise the university management on how to combat discrimination – on whatever level it occurs.”

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