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The people are our potential: Towards more women in science careers

The Common Regional Market Action Plan 2021-2024 for the Western Balkans is an ambitious plan that has a crucial gender component. Currently there are employment and pay gaps, overall less female entrepreneurs and innovators as well as fewer voices of women in political decision making. To improve the situation, Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council has recently launched a new regional Network of Women in STEM, focusing on encouraging young women consider higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To contribute to this agenda, EU4TECH take this opportunity to highlight some of the amazing and empowered women scientists involved in PoC.

Suzana Gotovac Atlagić

Suzana Gotovac Atlagić, for example, works on environmental nanotechnologies and the application of locally sourced materials. For the third year in a row her team has been awarded as the best research team (“Scientific achievements award”) by the Ministry of Scientific-Research Development, Higher Education and Information Society of Republika Srpska. She has working and studying experience in several countries, including Japan where she spent 5 ½ years after her graduation, and Switzerland where she worked for 2 ½ years as a teaching assistant at the national University of Neuchatel. She had offers from these top research centres for longer term contracts- yet, she had the urge to go where she was needed most and in 2007came back to her home country. While at the beginning this was not easy, she now concludes that it is actually the best place for raising her three daughters.  At the same time she is challenging science as a teacher and project leader (at an actually dominantly female department), working with an ambitious group of (mostly female) students and cooperating with local industry (where in turn she does meet more men). “Such a combination of family and career might not have been possible in Japan,” she says, prizing a national support for maternity leave and good tradition of pre-school childcare system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, while only very few women apply for patents (in the European Union, the share is just 10%), Suzana now does – using support from EU4TECH. This could also be an aspect, which her home institution, the University of Banja Luka, will address in its upcoming Gender Equality Plan.

EC Gender Equality Plan

The European Commission now makes participation in some programmes, such as Horizon Europe, the main EU research and innovation funding programme, conditional on the implementation of a Gender Equality Plan. As a result, many universities and research organisations in the EU and the Western Balkans are currently elaborating such a plan. Suzana says that “the plan could clarify for the university, that it is obligatory to have women and men equally present at all levels” – even if in her chemistry department, this might mean that she needs to increase the participation of men. Indeed, the figures related to female participation in science are usually better in the Western Balkans than in the European Union, which can be celebrated, but several aspects call for further improvements.

Sanja Milošević Govedarović

At the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Serbia, gender equality figures are also not the problem. And, as Sanja Milošević Govedarović, another EU4TECH PoC participant working in the field of material science and chemistry with a focus on energy storage, points out: “women are well supported”. As a young mother of two, she acknowledges that while paid maternity leave is a benefit, taking a break does put a career on hold and  travelling abroad is more difficult. But with the recent move towards more virtual networking and presentations, research and innovation become more family friendly. She feels the need of support to take adequate  care of her children while concluding her successful Proof of Concept project. She also expects the next step to be a patent application for the use of a local material in thermoplants. For a team normally doing basic research, this is a big and exciting step to the market.

So what is the next step to get more women in leadership positions? The Regional Cooperation Council and its network will point a way, child care facilities in scientific institutes are a wish of our interviewees, encouragement as it is provided by the EU4TECH project and the presentation of role models in leadership and decision making are important. The Gender Equality Plans are an eligibility requirement in Horizon Europe, but also an opportunity for the regional institutions to motivate girls to get into engineering and technology as the demand for STEM jobs will only increase!


For more information visit:

Launch of the Women in STEM network by the RCC:


https://www.rcc.int/priority_areas/52/women-empowerment

Link to University of Banja Luka and Suzana Gotovac Atlagić:
https://www.unibl.org/en/fis/zaposlen/5227-suzana-gotovac-atlagic

Link to Vinca’s Centre of Excellence and Sanja Milošević Govedarović:
https://ives.edu.rs/CONVINCE/

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