How to promote gender balance in decision making
Mirror gender equity at all levels in your institution
Research and innovation (R&I) play key roles in striving towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. This means the EU should make full use of its human capital by involving both men and women at all levels of R&I. Unlike direct and indirect sex discrimination, which limits research performance, promoting gender equality at all levels contributes to achieving excellence and efficiency (see the European Commission’s (EC) report on structural change). Promoting gender equality in decision making is therefore essential to Europe’s sustainable growth.
One objective underpinning the EC’s strategy on gender equality in Horizon 2020 (mainstreamed in each part of the Work Programme) is ensuring gender balance in decision making. The strategy aims to reach 40% participation of the under-represented sex in panels and groups (50% for advisory groups). In most member states the under-represented sex is women, especially at the highest levels, even though women make up nearly half the workforce and more than half of new university graduates in the EU. In both political and economic decision making, much work remains regarding gender balance. But it will be worth it. Research shows that gender diversity pays off: there is a positive correlation between women in leadership positions and business performance.
Key actions and guidelines for cultural and structural change
Change towards gender equality cannot be done with scattered ad
hoc actions, but must be structural, integrated and systematic
Structural change for gender equality in institutions must focus on all levels: decision-making bodies and staff as well as labour conditions. INTEGER’s Guidelines for structural change in higher education and research organizations is a comprehensive toolkit providing actions and strategies to help users move towards gender equality in their institutions. The guidelines, which are based on good practices brought together by the INTEGER project, are designed for peer research and higher education institutions seeking to improve the position and progression of women researchers through the implementation of gender action plans. The INTEGER website offers further guidance through its “Plan-Do-Check-Act” steps and provides access to different tools and templates.
A major reason for the slow progress on gender equality in research, despite all the available knowledge on gender, is that many universities and research institutions lack the capacity and experience to analyse and transform that knowledge into specific gender management actions applicable to their structures and procedures. Progress on integrating gender in R&I relies on a firm and sustained top-level commitment, as stressed in the EC report noted above.
Women are often marginalized in science decision making, and the lack of transparency in systems creates myths and confusion. Opaqueness in decision making and unconscious bias in assessing excellence and in employment policies and practices are all problems faced by research institutions. Women are more likely to succeed in recruitment and promotion when there is clarity about what is required, information about opportunities is freely available, and clear criteria are used in decision making. Clarifying how organizations function and what their values are also benefits men.
In its Women, Research and Universities: Excellence Without Gender Bias report, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) identifies the challenges that women face in the course of their academic careers and specifies leadership, vision and strategy as one priority area in which universities can usefully undertake gender actions. On a practical side, the Gender Bias Learning Project offers online training to identify and understand the distinct patterns of gender bias to ensure it does not derail individual careers.
Strategic areas of change: Measures, tools and best practice examples
The Genis Lab’s guidelines offer tools to initiate and implement institutional change processes in scientific and research organizations. These tools aim to promote gender equality and foster structural change towards Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) by addressing stereotypes, organizational scientific culture, gender auditing and gender budgeting.
‘Gender budgeting’ works to mainstream gender into organizations’ resource allocation decision processes. The generally accepted definition of this term emerges from the Council of Europe’s special group report, which concludes that ‘gender budgeting is an application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process (...), incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality.’
Genis Lab’s methodology is an adaptation of a well-tested tool for organizational change–the International Labour Organization Participatory Gender Audit (PGA) -which has been successfully applied across a broad range of public sector institutions, employers’ organizations and trade union organizations. A PGA is an action-research methodology that helps ‘map’ an organization from a gender equality perspective. The reasons for gender disparities in organizations are rarely explicit; more frequently, they are hidden in the organization’s rules, culture and modes of functioning. A PGA is essentially a self-reflection journey taken by a gender audit team together with its organization to assess and transform the organization’s social dimension.
The active engagement of leaders from different sectors and hierarchical levels is necessary if gender equality is to be acknowledged among the top organizational priorities. The Structural Transformation to Achieve Gender Equality in Science (STAGES) Guidelines suggest strategies for structural change in research organizations in three areas: women’s leadership, women-friendly environments and gender-aware science. In addition, GENOVATE’s online learning package on gender competent leadership in academia provides an overview of gender-related leadership issues targeted at leaders and managers in higher education and research institutions. It aims to create awareness of gender equality issues in a cross-cultural context and to encourage prospective leaders to reflect on possible solutions according to their institutional needs.
Finally, GenderSTE’s Cultural and Institutional Change Strategy and Recommendations address how to promote gender equality in science by promoting cultural and institutional change. This practical manual, written in plain language, offers specific examples of tools that can help individuals initiate activities at individual and institutional levels. It offers concrete advice on how to achieve gender-balanced representation of women and men in decision-making and leadership positions.
Engaging and equipping leaders to understand the elements of supportive workplace environments and the process of organizational change that can improve and enhance academic environments can be a powerful tool for achieving structural change for the better. Evidence suggests that women and men would both benefit from a system in which performance requirements are clear, information is freely available and well-defined criteria are used in decision making.
How to ensure gender balance in R&I teams
We need all the talent we have –from both men
and women– to maintain our ability to innovate
Understanding gender in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)
The most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human talent –the skills and productivity of its workforce. To keep up the excellence within a workforce, we need the skills of both men and women. As a defining value in our society, gender equality is a matter of common concern. Investing in equal opportunities for men and women in research and innovation (R&I) promotes teams that perform better and attract top-level players.
Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020. One of the three main objectives of Horizon 2020’s gender equality strategy is to foster gender balance in R&I teams, closing the gap in women’s participation. Ensuring gender balance in R&I teams is vital to producing high quality outcomes that benefit everybody.
Structural change in research institutions
In February 2011 the European Commission (EC) convened the Expert Group on Structural Change and tasked it with identifying the most appropriate means to reinforce structural change activities. The report Structural change in research institutions summarizes this work and focuses on research institutions aiming to enhance excellence. It shows that gender-aware management of universities and research organizations has a positive impact on policies and practices that affect the recruitment, promotion and retention of both women and men, which ultimately benefits the quality of research. The report also details key areas for change and offers examples of good practices, such as “Science and Technology Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence”.
Recruitment and appointment processes for senior academic positions differ among European countries. There are, however, important topics that can enhance fairness in general and gender equality in particular. One place to explore these topics is the FESTA expert report. This report contains flow charts illustrating the appointment systems used by five FESTA institutions; it identifies the criterial and procedural gender biases in those systems and provides specific guidelines to reduce or eliminate those biases. Practitioners involved in hiring processes and stakeholders who influence regulations can use the FESTA report as a set of guidelines and aims for creating awareness of the biases that may influence appointment criteria and processes, thereby ensuring a fair process with equal opportunities for both women and men.
The genSET consensus report offers good practices and recommendations for action on the gender dimension in science. genSET is a project and a forum for sustainable dialogue between European science leaders, stakeholder institutions, gender experts and strategy decision makers that aims to help implement effective overall gender strategies. The project offers a range of capacity building support activities, including consensus seminars, interactive workshops and dissemination and valorisation events.
Producing structural change requires promoting capacity development of staff involved in these processes. GENOVATE’s online learning package on gender competent leadership in academia provides an overview of these issues for senior leaders and managers in higher education and research institutions as well as for other academics in leadership and management positions. It also addresses the importance of gender diversity in academic research and innovation. The package offers practical advice and examples showing how different institutions handle gender equality issues in their own contexts. It also aims to create an awareness of gender equality issues in a cross-cultural context and to encourage prospective leaders to reflect on possible solutions according to their institutional needs.
Similarly, the GenderSTE Guidelines: Cultural and Institutional Change addresses how to promote gender equality in science by promoting cultural and institutional change. This is a practical manual, written in plain language, which offers tools to help initiate activities at individual and institutional levels. It also provides concrete advice on how to achieve gender-balanced representation of women and men in decision-making and leadership positions (see also the How to Promote Gender Balance in Decision-Making section in this Toolkit).
The League of European Research Universities (LERU) and UNESCO provide two final resources. LERU’s report Women, Research and Universities: Excellence Without Gender Bias identifies the challenges that women face in the course of their academic careers. LERU also specifies leadership, vision and strategy as one of the four priority areas in which universities can usefully undertake gender actions. With a broader scope, the UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan for 2014–2021 provides information on processes for coordinating, implementing, monitoring and reporting on action in support of gender equality, and on institutional mechanisms for pursuing gender equality, with a focus on capacity development, coordination and accountability.
Ensuring an appropriate working environment is key to promoting gender balance in R&I teams. The TRIGGER project’s Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment provides information and tools to prevent harassment in all its forms. It aims to transform higher education institutions into more egalitarian and women-friendly environments for both men and women. The guidelines include definitions of the different forms of harassment; examples of behaviours that could be qualified as harassment; advice for victims, faculty and decision makers; and a list of informational resources.
Overcoming challenges posed by gender bias
The existence of gender bias undermines the supposed gender-neutrality of science and technology (S&T), which is based on the assumption that S&T’s rational activities are not ’polluted’ by the social and cultural dynamics that produce gender discrimination. The PRAGES Guidelines distil lessons learned from experiences in universities, networks and S&T-related enterprises that have aimed to promote gender equality in science and technology institutions. The guidelines are divided into three strategies: how to support work–life balance for all, how to overcome stereotypes of women and science, and how to promote women’s leadership in science.
Identifying and understanding the distinct patterns of gender bias is the first step towards ensuring that bias does not derail careers. The Gender Bias Learning Project is an online training that focuses on those patterns. It enables individuals to overcome the challenges posed by gender bias in the workplace and empowers individuals to learn what they need to know about gender bias and to share their experiences.
As a final note, there is no trade-off between promoting gender equality and promoting excellence in research and innovation. Instead, we can achieve a win-win situation for all researchers and innovators, for their institutions, and for Europe.
How to embed gender equality in research proposals
There is no trade-off between promoting gender equality and attaining
excellence in research. Instead, we can achieve a win-win situation for all
researchers, their institutions, and for Europe.
The Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach is increasingly present in funding calls, both explicitly and implicitly, to foster the ethical acceptability, sustainability and social desirability of research and innovation (R&I) outcomes.
Although the holistic concept of RRI is still far from being mandatory in most R&I calls, some of its policy agendas already constitute normative requests in many calls, as is the case for gender equality and ethics and research integrity. Other policy agendas are being gradually incorporated (e.g., open access and public engagement), and some remain present in a more diffuse way (such as science education, open science and governance, which are related to the impact section in many cases). In addition, applicants are increasingly being asked to think about other dimensions of their proposals, such as the interdisciplinary character or the diversity of voices considered.
Thus, even though designing a project proposal implies meeting the funder’s eligibility requirements, evaluation criteria and prescriptions, incorporating RRI principles to some extent may help researchers improve their R&I processes, anticipate the potential impact of their work and gain a competitive advantage for securing funds.
Incorporating a gender perspective into Horizon 2020 research proposals
When researching interactions between natural resources and humans, it is essential to incorporate a gender perspective to ensure unbiased results, as established in Horizon 2020. The GenPORT project helps by providing background resources for embedding gender in research proposals within the Societal Challenges pillar of Horizon 2020.
The Vademecum on Gender Equality in Horizon 2020 offers practical guidance on the effective application of the new gender equality provisions in this programme. This means integrating gender equality issues at each stage of the R&I cycle: from submission of proposals to programming through implementation, monitoring and programme evaluation.
Another useful resource is Yellow Window’s Gender in Research Toolkit. Although this toolkit was developed for the 7th Framework Programme, it still provides practical guidance and suggestions for later EU-funded R&I programmes¬ –such as Horizon 2020– on how to increase female participation and integrate the gender/sex dimension in research content. The toolkit focuses on the importance of taking gender into account at all stages of the research cycle, starting with creating gender-sensitive ideas for proposals and gender-sensitive hypotheses. It includes a checklist for gender in research as well as many recommendations on what to be aware of when incorporating gender into both proposals and the projects themselves.
By underlining the importance of gender equality and making it visible both in European policy and externally, the EU can become an example of best R&I practice. This has already begun for the proposal phase.
How to reflect on and integrate the gender dimension in R&I content
There are sound reasons for the research community to invest in gender-sensitive research agendas. Investing in equal opportunities for men and women attracts top-level researchers and yields research teams that perform better. Similarly, investing in a gender-sensitive approach to research content promotes creativity and excellence, increases research quality and validity, and, ultimately, improves the societal relevance of research results.
There is a proven need for a gender dimension in research design, implementation and organization. We need to consider how research itself is designed and carried out; it is not as gender neutral as it often appears to be. Many studies have shown that gender inequalities have influenced research outcomes on a large scale, particularly (but not only) in the life sciences, which still often neglect women in research design. In fact, in its Women, Research and Universities: Excellence Without Gender Bias report, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) identified the lack of a gender dimension in research as one of four priority areas in which universities could usefully undertake gender actions.
The European Commission’s Gender in Research Toolkit discusses how addressing the gender dimension means considering gender as a key analytical and explanatory variable in research. If relevant gender issues are missed or poorly addressed, research results will be incomplete and potentially biased. Gender can thus be an important factor in research excellence. This toolkit provides practical guidelines and a checklist for researchers, helping them become more sensitive towards the gender dimension in science so they include it throughout the whole research project (ideas, hypotheses, design, methodology, data collection and analysis, and dissemination).
In this respect, the Vademecum on Gender Equality in Horizon 2020 provides actors involved in the programme’s implementation with practical guidance on the effective application of the new gender equality provisions at each stage of the research cycle (from submission of proposals to programming through implementation, monitoring and programme evaluation). You can also check out the genSET Consensus Report, which offers a range of downloadable guidelines and recommendations for action on the gender dimension in science.
The gender dimension is often cited in the context of biomedical research and innovation. As the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) report Consideration of Sex as a Biological Variable in NIH-funded Research shows, the quality and scalability of biomedical research depends on considerations of key biological variables such as sex, especially in preclinical research; however, these variables are not systematically considered. In addition, gender has been shown to critically affect behaviours, such as consumption habits and adoption or rejection.
For other fields, check out the Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering and Environment project, which developed practical methods of sex and gender analysis and provides case studies as concrete illustrations of how these analyses can lead to innovation. Or take a look at the Mobility of Care project, which used a gender perspective to analyse the main Spanish transportation surveys and propose measures for improvement. The key result was the creation of a new analytical category for transportation statistics and surveys.
Finally, the Good Practices of Gender Sensitive Research: Guidelines and Information Sheet provides background and criteria for identifying good examples of gender-sensitive research initiatives. While the PRAGES Guidelines, with a more structural scope for research institutions and programmes, devotes a chapter on how to include the gender dimension in the process of designing research and innovation (R&I).
Gender-sensitive research takes a twin approach: it pays attention to the participation of women and men, providing equal opportunities for all, and it integrates gender into the research content –from the initial research idea to the dissemination of results. Reflecting on and integrating gender in R&I content is ultimately about making adaptive changes, either large structural changes or small initiatives that subtly contribute to huge impacts over time.