You pointed out that individual disciplines are confronted with challenges of different kinds, calling for specifically tailored approaches. Could you give an example to illustrate that?

   
I personally contributed one idea to the Physics Department. With the current structures, the Department loses women, for example, after a pregnancy. The reason is that an ambitious, dedicated, successful professorship depends on the full commitment of the whole team to reach its challenging goals. If one member of the team becomes pregnant, that has a major influence on whether the defined goals can be achieved, as fewer resources are available overall. The group should consist of the best (female and male) researchers, who are in turn ambitious and enjoy their work. Implicitly, a postdoc is expected to work more than a hundred percent. A good postdoc pursuing his or her career goals will be totally committed. With the best will in the world and the greatest motivation, a postdoc who is pregnant cannot physically handle that kind of workload – as I can confirm from my own experience. If this change in the postdoc’s circumstances is not recognized and addressed, she will find the work situation immensely stressful, and even more so because of the demands she places on herself because of the pressure to succeed. When she makes it through the first pregnancy, it does not get easier, and we also see further attrition with additional pregnancies. For a research group led by a professor, it could just be easier not to employ women at all and avoid these challenges.
The solution I proposed for this issue was first to discuss with the postdoc whether she wants to carry on. If so, then she can continue to work on full pay, and with more flexible working hours. For the project, she then recruits together with her professor an additional doctoral student, who is given some of her postdoc’s work co-supervised by her. As a working mother, it’s essential to delegate. Whatever is not part of the core responsibilities of her job is delegated. At the same time, for a successful future research career, the focus is clearly placed on measurable criteria such as research and publication activity. In addition, by jointly supervising the doctoral student, the postdoc gains valuable managerial experience. For the research group, this solution is positive because a skilled, motivated postdoc and an additional doctoral student are contributing to the project. Financially, this measure is feasible, since only minimal additional costs are required to generate the same output. The Physics Department can thus continue to employ suitably qualified women in accordance with their skills and expertise and prevent them from exchanging their career plans for the role of an overqualified assistant. By relieving the pressure specifically associated with maternity, both parties – and ultimately also society – are winners.
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