Only one in seven inventors in Europe is a woman

Between 2010 and 2019, only one in six inventors in France was a woman (16.6%). This figure is slightly better than the European average of one in seven (13.2%). MAlthough this indicator increased by 2.6 points compared to 2000-2009, it remains extremely low.

This is the conclusion of a study published by the European Patent Office (EPO) this Tuesday on female inventors in patent applications to the EPO between 1978 and 2019. So, 50 years on, the rate of female inventors filing patents continues to rise, but stays the same. relatively low. ” At the end of the 1970s, the share of female inventors in Europe was only 2%, and the 5% threshold was crossed only in the 1990s. “, he explains Gallery Yann Ménière, Chief Economist at the EPO, before expressing that “ Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of women applying for patents doubled “However, it will take a few more years to reach parity,” he said.

Moreover, the evolution is not the same in Europe. The European champions of female invention are Latvia (30.6%), Portugal (26.8%) and Croatia (25.8%), and France ranks only 13th with 16.6% of female inventors. It exceeds the European average. In turn, Germany (10%) is at the bottom of the ranking, in 32nd place among 34 countries, and Austria is in last place (8%).

Chemistry, the favorite sector of female inventors

Women censor themselves because scientific fields are offered to them less than research “, he declares Gallery Claude Grison, eco-chemist, CNRS researcher and laureate of the 2022 European Inventor Prize. According to him, gender stereotypes transmitted by society do not encourage women to explore the worlds considered male. But when women dare to do so, they usually turn away towards disciplines where patents are scarce, such as life sciences or human sciences “.

EPO research shows that the favorite sector of female inventors is chemistry (22.4% of European inventions in this sector between 2010 and 2019 are by women), like Claude Grison. Women are less interested in science, but when they are, they are interested in chemistry ”, explains Yann Ménière. In addition, women’s patent applications in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals account for almost 30% of all applications.

On the contrary, only 5.2% of female inventors are in mechanical engineering, and only 7.3% in electrical engineering. These sectors are more attractive to men, and this is particularly due to social and cultural organizational phenomena that gender the sectors, according to the EPO’s chief economist. This affects the country’s activities », states Yann Ménière before adding this Germany’s poor ranking is partly due to the large weight of mechanical industries in the inventions produced there. », predominantly male industries.

Limited access to senior positions

The first EPO study on female inventors also highlights that universities and public research organizations in Europe have a higher share of female inventors in patent applications (19.4%) than private companies (10%). Claude Grison explains that this trend, which is also found in France, is mainly due to the fact that women prefer research to industrial environment which is more hierarchical and competitive The EPO’s chief economist adds that the public sector, especially the university, is more resilient to failure.

We see a higher proportion of female inventors among inventive teams “, also emphasizes with Yann Ménière Gallery. Indeed, whether patent applications can be filed as a team or individually depends very much on the technical fields. However, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, sectors favored by women, are mostly made up of teams. Thus, if some women file patents on their own, this phenomenon remains very rare according to the EPO.

In addition, women rarely hold high-responsibility positions among teams of inventors. Indeed, although many men reach high positions, women have a harder time getting there. On the other hand, over time, the proportion of women in senior positions increases at the same rate as the proportion of women in general. “, comments Yann Ménière, proof that women’s situation improves at the end of their careers, when family imperatives are less.

Many levers of action

According to the winner of the European Inventor Prize 2022, although the situation is changing, gender stereotypes are still ingrained in our society. The aim of the EPO is then to objectify the gender inequality observed in the workplace.”invention. In particular, we wanted to contribute to the public debate on the issue by providing quantitative indicators to decision makers ”, declares Yann Ménière. According to her, the causes of the problem are systemic and therefore the task ahead is to accelerate the development of women in the sector. We must find leverage at all levels, especially in terms of organizing support for education and women’s professional careers. “, he explains.

In addition, Claude Grison indicates that the image presented in the patent does not stimulate women. If we presented this as an opportunity to transfer research activity to the socio-economic field, women would apply more, because today they generally think that a patent is doomed to industrial application. However, the research proves that women are less interested in the industrial environment.

ZOOM: Women Inventors Abroad

France has a higher proportion of female inventors among foreign-born inventors EPO chief economist says. Indeed, although 16.6% of patent applications from France to the EPO are made by women, their role is more significant among foreign researchers working in France (22.8%). According to him, this is explained by the fact that female inventors are more active in universities and research organizations, where there is more professional mobility.

While the study demonstrates the importance of foreign female inventors in France, it also highlights that Europe has a fairly low proportion of female inventors (13.2%) compared to other regions of the world. Although this indicator in Europe is higher than Japan (9.5%), it is much lower than the USA (15%), China (26.8%) and South Korea (28.3%). ” This is an economic problem because it means that we have untapped potential while other economic powers are exploiting it. Yann Ménière concludes.