Promoting gender equality in research institutions and integration of the gender dimension in research content

EC - FP7

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Background and references

by Federico Zemborain - published on , updated on

Current situation and problems still to be addressed

Under-representation and glass ceiling

European statistics show that, today, despite a number of positive trends such as the growth in the number of women at doctoral level (over 50% of PhD graduates are women), women in scientific research and innovation remain largely under-represented. There are less than 20% of women in Grade A positions, corresponding to full professor or equivalent.

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Gender schemas, social stereotypes, and unconscious bias

The impact of gender schemas, of negative social stereotypes leading to stereotype threat, of unconscious/implicit gender bias on both the performance of women and the assessment of women’s scientific capabilities and contributions, have been evidenced through a significant number of studies.

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Structural and organisational barriers in research and academic institutions

In most research organisations and universities, pervasive cultural and organisational factors continue to affect the participation and advancement of women, which can only be addressed through systemic, structural change. The 2011 European Commission (EC) report, "Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation", identified five main sets of problems faced by research institutions.

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Integration of the gender dimension in research programmes and contents

Not including sex and gender analysis into the methodology, content and impact assessment of research can lead to poor science and missed opportunities: not only does integrating sex/gender in research ensure “that any assumptions made or issues addressed are based on the best available evidence and information” but it also ensures that “the concepts and theories adopted do not blind researchers to important aspects of sex and gender that could be a fertile source for innovation.”

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State of play at EU and national levels

In its 2012 policy Communication on “A Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth”, the EC announced that the ERA reform agenda would focus on five key priorities, among which was “gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research”. This priority has indeed been translated in Horizon 2020, the new EU funding programme for research & innovation (2014-2020).

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a) European Commission initiatives and policies

Gender equality through structural change initiatives

The most effective, innovative and enlightening EU-funded projects have made it possible to:

  1. be provided in 2010 with a comprehensive review and meta-analysis of thirty years of research developed at European, national and regional levels on gender and science;
  2. develop sex-disaggregated statistical indicators, the “She Figures”, published every 3 years since 2003;
  3. create a database of gender equality programmes in science and technology in North America, Australia and Europe and offer policy recommendations and best practice examples in a report on structural change in research institutions published in 2011;
  4. foster the dialogue on gender and science between European science leaders and adopt ensuing recommendations in a number of higher education and research institutions;
  5. co-fund the implementation of tailored gender action plans within European research organisations and universities, through FP7 since 2010 and now, through Horizon 2020.

The gender dimension in research contents

Efforts towards the integration of sex and gender analysis into research contents have been more recent and have included:

  1. In 2009, the production of an EC-funded “Toolkit on Gender in EU-funded Research” as a means to help introduce the gender dimension in research projects in different thematic scientific areas.
  2. The EU-US "Gendered Innovations" project went a step further in promoting sex and gender analysis as a means to create new knowledge and innovation, via detailed case studies in science, health, medicine, engineering and environment.
  3. The FP7-supported genSET project initiated in 2011 the first European Gender Summit, which has since extended to North-America, Africa and Asia.
  4. The GenPORT web portal, financed through the 2012 Science-in-Society work programme will facilitate access to a wealth of resources on gender and science, technology and innovation.

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b) Other European-level initiatives

Other joint initiatives addressing gender issues in research and higher education developed at European level are worth mentioning:

  1. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) published a position paper on “Women, research and universities: excellence without gender bias” in July 2012.
  2. The main European organisations representing the “science doers” (LERU, European Association of Universities, Science Europe, European Association of Research and Technology Organisations, and NordForsk) have produced a joint statement with the EC to address the ERA priority on gender equality and mainstreaming in research organisations.
  3. Science Europe, the European association of research-funding and research-performing organisations, recently created a standing working group on Gender and Diversity.
  4. Several ERA-related initiatives were also launched, among which: the ERA Steering Group for Human Resources and Mobility; the ERA-related Human Resources Strategy for Researchers; and EURAXESS, the web portal providing access to a complete range of information and services for researchers in Europe.
  5. A new type of COST initiative, a targeted policy-oriented network on Gender, Science, Technology and Environment (genderSTE) was launched in 2012.

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c) National and regional level initiatives in Member States and associated countries

Various national programmes, policies and funding schemes have been developed in recent years in a number of Member States and associated countries.

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d) National and regional level initiatives outside Europe

In the US, initiatives such as the pioneering ADVANCE programme developed since 2001 by the National Science Foundation, have successfully encouraged over universities into changing their institutional policies, procedures and practices to improve the situation of women faculty in STEM disciplines. The US National Academies have also established a standing Committee for Women in Science, Engineering and Medecine, and are partners in the GENDER-NET project.

In Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have dedicated significant efforts recently to foster the inclusion the sex/gender into health research, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council have developed programmes to support women in STEM. They have joined GENDER-NET respectively as partners and observers.

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A need for concerted actions between national/regional programme owners and managers

All these European, and international programmes, initiatives, projects, policies and reports build up to provide a sound basis for the development of informed collaborative actions between key national and regional programmes, aimed at enhancing the promotion of gender equality in research institutions and the better integration of the gender dimension in research an innovation in Europe.

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