14.11.2022 - Biomedicine, Healthcare, Life science

Latvia has highest proportion of female inventors in Europe

At 30.6%, Latvia has the highest proportion of female inventors among European Patent Office (EPO) member countries. Only 13.2% of patent applications filed by European inventors are filed by women. In Europe, the proportion of female inventors is lower than in South Korea (28.3%), China (26.8%), and the USA (15%).

The share of female inventors is also high in Portugal (26.8%), Croatia (25.8%), Spain (23.2%), and Lithuania (21.4%), according to the Women in Inventing study. Germany (10.0%), Luxembourg (10.0%), Liechtenstein (9.6%), and Austria (8.0%) have the lowest rates.

EPO President António Campinos said the study provides new insights into women’s contribution to technological innovation and the gaps that need to be addressed to better realise the potential of women inventors in Europe.

“Some progress has been made in recent decades, but more needs to be done to promote inclusiveness in patents. Women’s involvement in science and innovation remains a major challenge for Europe and a key factor for strengthening our competitiveness and sustainable development,” said Campinos.

Women’s contribution to science and technology has increased in recent decades, but is not yet on a par with men’s, a study shows. For the first time, the EPO has collected and analysed data on women’s participation in inventions patented in European countries between 2010 and 2021.

Chemistry, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals show highest numbers

The sector with the highest proportion of female inventors is chemical engineering (22.4%), while the lowest is mechanical engineering (5.2%). In the chemical, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical fields, female inventors account for more than 30% of patent applications.

Patent applications from universities and public research organisations have a significantly higher proportion of female inventors (19.4%) than applications from private companies (10.0%), according to the study. It also shows that women are less likely to work individually and more likely to work in teams of inventors. This reflects the increasing division of intellectual labour and the growing role of knowledge accumulation and systematisation. In technology areas such as chemistry and life sciences, traditionally specialised fields for women inventors, successful teamwork is an essential prerequisite for increasing the role of women in patenting.

Analysis of employment and doctoral enrolment data in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics shows a decline in the share of women among researchers and research staff. It is therefore necessary to analyse and tackle the factors that hinder women’s more active involvement in intellectual property innovation in these sectors.

The study is part of the EPO’s commitment to provide data and research on innovation in Europe. The EPO also compiles and publishes an annual Patent Index, highlighting the countries, regions, companies, and sectors that are leading the way in terms of patent applications. This study is due to be discussed in more detail at the EPO’s virtual panel discussions on Women and Intellectual Property Innovation, scheduled for 16, 23 and 30 November.

Top fields are medicine and health sciences

According to the Central Statistical Office, in 2020 there were 3,938 women and 3,781 men with PhDs in Latvia, wrote Labs of Latvia.

“In Latvia, women’s involvement in science has a positive balance. We are a good example for Europe,” said Brigita Daļecka, lead researcher at the Water Research and Environmental Biotechnology Laboratory at Riga Technical University.

She suggests that the high proportion of women in science is due to the fact that, historically, the profession, like teaching, has seemed more suitable for women. Namely, it does not require physical strength. At the same time, pay has always been lower than in other sectors, and men prefer other professions in which they can earn more.

The highest proportion of women in the scientific workforce in Latvia is in the medical and health sciences, 68%, according to the Ministry of Education and Science.  This is followed by the humanities and arts (64% of women), social sciences (62%), and agricultural and veterinary sciences (61%). However, the proportion of male scientific staff is consistently higher in engineering (65%) and natural sciences (54%).

“Looking at the Ministry of Education and Science’s statistics on the number of women and men in science, I think Latvia is almost an ideal country! 54% of men in science, means 46% of women, which is almost half! This ratio is closer to a balance than in medical and health sciences, where the number of women reaches 68%,” says head of the Information and Communication Department at the Institute of Solid State Physics, Dr. Phys. Līga Grīnberga.

Only 603 female scientists under 39

“There are only 603 female scientists with a PhD in Latvia under the age of 39. We need the younger generation in science,” says Daļecka. There are 1,209 women aged 40-54 and 1,116 women aged 55-69 with PhDs. She believes that all efforts should be made to encourage the younger generation to enter science. To do this, the scientific-academic environment must be further improved, the prestige of the profession raised, salaries increased, the environment and infrastructure improved. And all this has to be done at the same time: just increasing salaries or buying new equipment will not do.

“You have to love being a scientist. You have to be interested in it. It cannot be done blindly just because it pays well. So, you have to think about how to provide an interesting working environment and give opportunities to develop oneself. And that must start at school. That’s why I never say no when schools invite me to talk about the day-to-day work of a scientist,” said Daļecka.

Agnese Stunda-Zujeva, a researcher at the Institute of General Chemical Technology of the Faculty of Materials Science and Applied Chemistry of Riga Technical University and co-founder of the biotechnology startup SpirulinaNord, also believes that interest in science starts at school. She has stressed the importance of not giving children all the information ready-made but letting them experience the joy of discovery. “Then society will realise how much there is that is unknown, how exciting it is to learn and that being creative is not just about singing and dancing, but also about drawing, using a screwdriver, mixing substances and observing, for example, patterns in nature, emotions, politics, and more,” says Agnese Stunda-Zujeva. She hopes that the new competences model in education will change this and that children will see teachers not as a know-it-all, but as an ally on the path to learning new skills.

To inform and inspire

“I have long reflected on the topic: why do we perceive gender equality so much in terms of numbers? And why is it that when gender equality is mentioned, it is automatically assumed that women are the ones who need to be ‘motivated’?” says Grīnberga.

In her view, women should be motivated and supported to take up managerial positions and to study stereotypically “unfeminine” professions such as physics or programming. Similarly, men should be motivated and supported if they choose to study stereotypically “unmanly” professions, such as literary studies or to become a dental nurse.

“Latvia should support and encourage the development of skills of talented students, whatever the field!” emphasises Grīnberga.

How to encourage this? By informing and inspiring. By showing in a credible but exciting way what scientific environment is really like, what the daily work and events are like, what the opportunities and responsibilities are. Grīnberga sees the L’Oreal fellowship For Women in Science as an excellent way to support women scientists, which also attracts media attention.

Source: Anda Asere (labsoflatvia.com). Photo: Shutterstock

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