GENDERACTION: Future of GE in EU

On 9 April 2019 GENDERACTION organised a conference to mark its two year’s existence together with the 20th anniversary of EU activities to promote gender equality in research and innovation. With the next framework programme and a review of the European Research Area and its priorities on the horizon, the conference brought together 68 key stakeholders to discuss recent developments in Member States and the European Commission and address priorities and concerns for the future.

To set the agenda for the conference, GENDERACTION prepared a policy brief on the future of gender equality in European research and innovation which identifies key recommendations for future policy. The key recommendations include: taking an intersectional approach to gender equality, developing provisions in Horizon Europe to incentivize Widening countries to take concrete actions for gender equality, involving the Business Enterprise Sector in gender equality work, reinforcing the requirements related to the integration of gender dimension in research and innovation in Horizon Europe and national funding programmes, and active promotion of gender equality in international cooperation.

GENDERACTION invited Professor Mieke Verloo, a prominent feminist political scientist, to frame the conference discussions. Professor Verloo addressed the complexity of gender equality from three perspectives: intersectionality, the dynamic nature of gender relations including the engagement of mainstream non-gender actors and the embeddedness of these processes in fast changing Europe, which has seen a resurgence of conservative politics and attacks on gender equality. Verloo concluded with a call for more research into how Bad Practices travel and how to continue safeguarding gender equality work in a situation of negative feedback loops.

Research funders have a potent role in research and innovation today: They have the power to set the rules for working conditions and institutional practices as well as the requirements for how sex and gender is addressed in research. GENDERACTION invited Research Council of Norway, the Czech Technology Agency and the Spanish State Research Agency to share their vision for further gender equality work and concrete actions they take.

The Spanish State Research Agency provides incentives for gender equality measures, focusing on flexibility, human resources and work-life balance; also, gender studies are supported and the gender dimension has become a sub-criterion on evaluation.

The Research Council of Norway (RCN) recognizes that gender equality work must be sustained, otherwise other priorities become more important. It has instituted a moderate preference for women investigators all other things being equal, and the gender perspective is integrated in all work programmes. There is recognition that the Business Enterprise Sector and STEM fields pose the biggest problem. The RCN also aims to stop the prevalence of temporary contracts and address hyper-competition in the system to manage quality and productivity. According to Jesper Simonsen, hyper-competition is the main problem today.

Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest research areas today and there is a growing body of research showcasing how the failure to address gender and racial biases negatively affects AI. GENDERACTION wanted to highlight AI as a research field requiring immediate gender equality action, and invited Sabine Theresia Köszegi,  a member of the Commission High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence and a Full Professor of Labour Science and Organisation at the TU Wien, Gina Neff, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, and Milagros Sáinz Ibáňez, the leader of the Gender and ICT research group at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Algorithms are an aggregation of the world, and we have no idea of what can happen when they enter the world. We need to study the everyday practices of people using AI. We need to track systemic failures of systems in a database of AI abuses and carry out detailed audits on general AI and machine learning systems. Gender inequalities in AI are canaries in the coalmine, said Professor Neff, and the ICT research community must take ownership of the problem in AI. It was suggested that AI should get a pass to enter the market. In the final discussion Professor Verloo noted that AI is most used today in the military and sex industry, and we need public budgets to counter-balance this.

It indeed appears that we are at a breaking point. We are making advances in gender equality and awareness in some quarters is growing while, at the same time, opposition to “gender ideology” and attacks are mounting. Representing European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research, Jean-David Malo called for new, disruptive solutions. GENDERACTION will take up this call and provide further policy recommendations on the missions Europe will set out to tackle through Horizon Europe while continuing the work at Member State level.