It's a Man's World

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

The United Kingdom is the big winner—and women are the major losers—in the first round of grants for "advanced scientists" awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). The final results, released earlier this month, show that U.K. institutions will host 21% of the 275 grants, worth up to €3.5 million each and reserved for well-established scientists. That puts the United Kingdom well ahead of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy.

Somewhat embarrassingly, women made up only 14% of the applicants and will receive only 12% of the grants. "That was very disappointing to all of us," ERC Vice-President Helga Nowotny told ScienceInsider this morning. But she notes that the outcome reflects the low number of female full professors in Europe. ERC is considering remedies, Nowotny says, such as asking review panels to give candidates with unconventional career tracks special consideration and encouraging more women to apply. Still, she adds, "We cannot and will not undertake affirmative action."

There's a reason for that. ERC has been adamant that it wants a break with the E.U. tradition of sharing the wealth more or less fairly. Here, it's all about excellence--so tough luck for those countries (Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the three Baltic states) that didn't bag a single grant. If ERC started favoring women now, it might come under pressure to take affirmative action for lagging nations as well—and that is about the last thing it wants to do.