Katja Windt is Professor and Vice chancellor at Jacobs University in Bremen Germany.

Germany losing women’s competence

Svenska 2015-11-17

Germany has a low number of female scientists, particularly in higher positions. The Curie magazine has visited Jacobs University in Bremen and spoken to Professor Katja Windt about how the conditions for women in science can improve.

The brick buildings are scattered across the green campus. In one of them the visitors are greeted with a quote from the philanthropist Klaus Jacobs, the founder of Jacobs’ foundation which supports the university: ”Young or old, rich or poor, woman or man, everyone has the right to a good education”

At the first floor professor and vice-chancellor Katja Windt’s office is found. The way to get there seems obvious when she speaks about her career, but it’s not evident in a country like Germany, where many women stay at home or work part-time when they have had children.

The possibilities were there

Katja Windt chose the young and relatively small university since she liked the interdisciplinary way of thinking and the clear ambition to think outside the box. This is taught and applied already from the basic levels.

Her career began with studies in engine technology where she was one of ten women among 600 male students.

“There was always an opportunity to get to the next step, always a range,” she says.

Maybe fewer people are competing for positions in the technology subjects, Katja Windt muses. She tells that right now a lot of companies in technology and IT are looking actively for women. Her tip is thus to be oriented towards these subjects, both in the academia and the industry.

Network, flexibility, and a tad of creativity

Katja Windt has three children. She and her husband chose private childcare in the form of a parent cooperative.

“A cooperative means that you have to be more active, but we appreciated the flexibility. It was OK to call and tell them you would be a bit late to pick up the children.”

She means that the scientist profession allows flexible working times. It is possible, for example to stay at home during the day and work at night when the children are ill. Sometimes it is fine to be a little creative.

“I have brought my children to work as well, mostly it is fine.”

Apart from that she built a network with neighbours and friends who could help each other. With a higher position came higher wages and thus the possibility to hire a housekeeper.

Mentor system and support

Katja Windt would like to tone down her own career and would rather talk about what should be done to support women in academia. She thinks that women need more support and more role models.

Jacobs University is working actively with a mentor system where one mentor supports around 15 students.

“The benefit of this system is that fewer are quitting their studies, and this is profitable from a socio-economic perspective. The mentor can catch on to problems early, when for example the studying achievements or motivation declines. When it comes to our foreign students it can be as simple as something have happened to the family at home,” Katja Windt says.

She thinks that this system is particularly good for women and that there should be mentors at different levels. For pregnant women there should be support and a discussion about how the career can continue after the parental leave.

Wants a forceful endeavour

“I would like to se the society making a forceful attempt in making it possible for women to come back. We are losing tons of competence, competence that we need.

Jacobs University runs its own preschool. Other solutions are flexible working times, the option to work part-time, and not the least a higher wage, making it possible and profitable to return. And having a career.

To create options for higher positions she means that support on a political level might be necessary to implement processes like quotas systems. More assured career paths in the academia could also be an important tool.

Katja Windt also points out differences in perspective, which are important for the possible careers.

“Women are scrutinized more judgmentally and are more self-deprecating. Women have to dare, believe in themselves, and see opportunities instead of obstacles.

Equality on different levels

A large part of the students at Jacobs University, three thirds, are from other countries. The tuition fee is relatively high, but it is possible to apply for a scholarship covering the costs. Thus even students from fairly poor circumstances can get a good education.

The university do not just offer an ordinary university education in the form of courses, seminars, and examinations, but also different projects where the ability to organise and lead is promoted. The talent for and will to develop these skills are already included in the selection process.

The students are learning different skills like starting a business, communicate, and debate. Later they will have those skills, no matter if they are going to work in the trade and industry or have a career in academia.

Katja Windt is proud over the opportunities she can offer her students. She relates one of the graduation ceremonies where the student holding the graduation speech came from a small farm in Afghanistan. Studies and higher education were not something he took for granted, but with the help of the scholarship it had been possible.

“It is lucrative to invest in education. It is lucrative to invest in people, we open doors,” Katja Windt concludes.

Text: Natalie von der Lehr
Photo: Jacobs University