20 yrs of EU activities in GE. Still a long way to go

In 2019, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of EU activities to advance gender equality in research. Marcela Linkova from the Czech Centre for Gender and Science and Chair of ERAC Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation, discusses advances achieved as well as the continued gaps among European countries.

Over the past twenty years big strides have been made in Europe to advance gender equality in research and innovation. We have far more knowledge about the complexity of the issues involved and the ways they interact. Many countries have adopted (more or less complex) gender equality policies, including those specifically focused on research. Sophisticated tools have been developed to advance cultural and institutional changes through gender equality plans in research organisations and universities (such as the GEAR tool and those available on the various structural change project websites), as well as in research funders. And today more researchers and policy makers accept that research and higher education are not immune to gender and other forms of inequality. Despite these important developments, we continue to see stark differences among EU countries.

Last year, the European Research Area and Innovation Committee’s (ERAC) Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation (SWG GRI) analysed the ways in which member states and associated countries implemented the 2015 Council Conclusions on Advancing Gender Equality in Europe. Twenty-two out of 29 delegations from member states and associated countries participated in the study. The analyses concluded that significant steps have been made in several countries and in their research funding organisations. However, a large gap persists between higher and lower innovators. Lower innovation countries tend to have a lower gender equality index and fewer actions and strategies to promote gender equality in research, while higher innovation countries have a higher gender equality index and larger number of more complex actions and strategies to promote gender equality in research. It is clear that money matters both for promoting innovation and gender equality. The SWG GRI presented recommendations to member states and associated countries as well as to the Commission, including stepping up actions toward gender equality in lower innovation countries and focusing on monitoring and evaluation of gender equality policies in higher innovation countries. The integration of sex and gender analysis (or attention to the gender dimension in research) requires further action across the board in the EU.

The European Research Area initiative has also been a major boost for gender equality. Ten countries adopted a new policy document in response to the 2015 Council Conclusions and in eight of these, the new document was the ERA National Action Plans and Strategies. Often, this was the first policy document to address gender equality in research, especially in the EU-13 countries.

Another topic that the SWG GRI engaged with was gender bias in research evaluation. The resulting policy brief shows again differences among countries, which can be clustered in five groups: 1) countries with poor awareness of the issue and no existent action taken to redress gender bias; 2) countries where some awareness exists, together with uncertainty as to which actions to take; 3) in several countries awareness is growing and measures are under preparation; 4) in another cluster of countries research funders adopted actions to eliminate gender bias; and lastly 5) in few countries we see coordinated action taken by research funders and research and higher education institutions that are embedded in national policy.

In the policy brief, the SWG GRI also presented recommendations concerning: 1) sex-disaggregated statistical data collection and monitoring; 2) gender bias training for staff and evaluators; 3) having gender experts on evaluation panels; 4) having gender observers on evaluation panels; 5) formalisation and transparency of the evaluation process; 6) having gender balance on evaluation panels; 7) introducing double-blind review; 8) gender mainstreaming of funding programmes, particularly eligibility rules and evaluation criteria; 9) Open Science; and finally 10) gender proofing of language of call texts.

As we are preparing for the next Framework Programme, Horizon Europe, it is important to keep these findings in mind. The European Commission and its Framework Programmes have historically played a very important role in supporting gender equality; the funding for cultural and institutional change projects has been instrumental for this, especially where such support is not available at the national level. As we can see, member states, their research funders and research institutions and universities, also have a huge role. They can learn from each other and share what has worked and what has not. Our experience in the SWG GRI underscores the vital importance of such policy coordination at the EU level.

By Marcela Linková, the Centre for Gender and Science