Women are less likely to receive a Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO in Dutch) talent subsidy for young researchers even though they write research proposals of the same standard as those by men. Their qualities are systematically underestimated.

Female applicants have a 14.9 per cent chance of being given a so-called Veni grant; the figure for males is 17.7 per cent. The discrepancy does not lie with the research proposals themselves, because they are adjudged to be of an equal standard.

The committee members systematically rate women lower than men, according to a study by psychologists Naomi Ellemers and Romy van der Lee. In three researched submission rounds for the so-called Veni grants, 33 fewer grants were awarded to women; unequal treatment meant these grants went to men.

Acceptance opportunities lower for many female applicants

The two psychologists investigated the state of affairs among 2,823 submissions for the Veni grants for young researchers. They actually did this at the request of the NWO itself.

“Particularly in the areas where many female researchers submit applications, the acceptance opportunities for women are lower,” the researchers write. These fields are the earth and life sciences, social and behavioural sciences and the medical sciences.

‘Devote more explicit attention to gender awareness’

Committee members appear to be less aware of their own prejudices when there are already many women among the winners, the psychologists suggest. Very many applications are also submitted in these fields, making competition more intense; issues other than quality then come more strongly into play.

The researchers offer a few recommendations, including training for committee members, who need to be more aware of potential sexual discrimination. The NWO has announced that it will “devote more explicit attention to gender awareness.”