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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | BerlinScienceSurvey | First comprehensive data on discrimination in science

First comprehensive data on discrimination in science

This news appears in the BUA newsletter in June 2024.


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Even science is not safe from discrimination and abuse of power. Time and again, individual cases come to light and cause outrage. Are these cases that have come to light really just isolated incidents or the tip of the iceberg of an unhealthy working culture? Is discrimination more widespread than assumed? The Berlin Science Survey provides reliable figures for the entire Berlin research area for the first time.

In the current BSS survey, respondents were asked to state whether they had observed or experienced discrimination at their current workplace. Discrimination was defined as follows: "Discrimination means that a person or group is devalued or put at a disadvantage compared to others on the basis of one or more characteristics."

The results of the BSS show that discrimination is a widespread phenomenon and is not limited to individual cases. 23% of researchers state that they have experienced discrimination in their current working environment at least once in the last 24 months. Of these, 9.3% have experienced it several times and 3.2% even regularly (Figure 1). Significantly more (almost 40 %) state that they have observed discrimination at least once - including 18.7 % several times and 5 % regularly.

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Figure 1 Discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination is obviously not a negligible phenomenon. Almost one in four academics has experienced discrimination themselves.

Figure 2 shows which groups are particularly affected by discrimination. In the current Berlin Science Survey, diversity characteristics were surveyed that make various subgroups identifiable. Unsurprisingly, but for the first time verifiable by figures, women (34%), diverse scientists and those belonging to ethnic or religious minorities experience discrimination more frequently (approx. 40% each) than the average. People with long-term mental or physical illnesses (38% and 34% respectively) also report discrimination more frequently than the overall average.

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Figure 2 Discrimination by subgroup

The BSS data is the first cross-sectional data for the Berlin research area. They show that discrimination in science is not limited to individual cases. The collection and provision of such cross-sectional figures can be an important first step towards raising sensitivity to the issue and raising awareness of discrimination in everyday life among all those involved. However, further research is needed to better understand possible structural problems: In which work contexts does discrimination occur more frequently? Is there a connection with the general conditions, work cultures, pressure of expectations, stress? What role do uncertainties and dependencies play within the working groups?

And above all: What are the key areas where politics and management can exert influence in order to improve the framework conditions in science? After all, if science wants to attract the "best minds", as is often claimed, then the conditions for a research landscape free of discrimination and abuse of power must be created.

The Berlin Science Survey

The Berlin Science Survey (BSS) is a scientific trend study on cultural change in the Berlin research area. For this purpose, the Robert K. Merton Center for Science Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin regularly surveys the experiences and assessments of scientists in the Berlin research area online. To date, 2,776 scientists from the Berlin Research Area have taken part in the latest study. We would like to thank everyone who took part in the study. The various and sometimes complex topics of the current survey will be successively evaluated over the coming months and the results published.