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  • Perspective
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A European perspective on structural barriers to women’s career progression in neuroscience


Despite an unprecedented number of women entering neuroscience, and decades-long recruitment and retention efforts, women continue to be disproportionately underrepresented in European academic tenure-track faculty and leadership positions. This Perspective focuses on two major career points where women exhibit diminished representation: the transition from postdoctoral fellow to junior professor and the promotion to more senior (tenured) faculty positions. We discuss below recently implemented country-specific and Europe-wide initiatives supporting equal career progression and propose further concrete steps to be taken to break down the structural barriers that prevent women’s progression up the academic career ladder as European neuroscientists.

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Fig. 1: Underrepresentation of women among (STEM) professors in Europe.
Fig. 2: Country-specific negative effects of motherhood and childcare approaches on women’s employment.

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Data availability

The data in Fig. 1 come from two sources. The GCI information, the percentage of European women per academic position and the percentage of women among grade A (full) professors by country in the natural sciences are taken from the report She Figures 2021 (European Commision, 2021a; source: Women in Science database, DG Research and Innovation – T1_questionnaires). The dataset of FENS members was obtained via personal communication with the FENS Office and represents FENS members as of February 2023. We note that only 3,223 of 20,865 members provided information on their position and gender; these data are used in this plot. The data in Fig. 2 come from two separate publicly available datasets (online data codes: lfst_hheredty, ilc_caparents) from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union ( The ‘employment impact’ was calculated by subtracting the employment rates of women with children from the employment rates of women without children.


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We acknowledge the influence of our personal biases and privileges on the shaping of this manuscript, and we apologize for any oversights or omissions. We thank A. Barker, G. Laurent and V. Stempel for suggestions and comments. We thank FENS and T. Asakawa for providing us with anonymized membership data. The laboratory of E.M.S. is supported by the Max Planck Society and the European Union (ERC, DiverseSynapse, 101054512). A.M.B. is supported by an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship (ALT 238–2021). Views and opinions expressed are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Max Planck Society, the European Union or the European Research Council. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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Correspondence to Erin M. Schuman.

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Bourke, A.M., Spanò, T. & Schuman, E.M. A European perspective on structural barriers to women’s career progression in neuroscience. Nat Neurosci 26, 1842–1847 (2023).

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