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LIBRA Report Summary

Project ID: 665937
Funded under: H2020-EU.5.b.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LIBRA (Leading Innovative measures to reach gender Balance in Research Activities)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The overarching goal of the LIBRA project is to increase the representation and participation of women in leadership positions in life sciences. In Europe approximately half of our PhD students are women. However, the number of women researchers starts to decrease at the postdoctoral level and drops dramatically in leaderships positions with 20% as grade A researchers and 15.5% as directors (She Figures 2012). These numbers demonstrate a dramatic waste of talent and resources in education, research and the labour market.

LIBRA brings together 13 research institutes in life sciences in 13 European countries, three of them being associated partners. They all participate in a new alliance, EU-LIFE, which aims to build and promote excellence in life sciences throughout Europe. Their commitment to excellence is also a commitment to gender equality. Together with the support of an expert organisation on gender (ASDO), they first assess their current policies and procedures to identify gender biases and obstacles. This is a process of mutual learning that leads to the design and implementation of ten harmonised and tailored Gender Equality Plans (GEPs). The GEPs aim to bring about long lasting and profound structural changes to remove institutional barriers and empower women to be equally successful as men in their research careers. Specifically, all GEPs address four main areas of interventions: 1) recruitment policies and procedures; 2) career development and training; 3) work-life balance (WLB), and 4) sex and gender dimension of research.

Importantly LIBRA actions will culminate in the partner research institutes developing sustainable policies that promote the recruitment and retention of women in science, decision making processes that are free from any gender bias, and integrate the consideration of gender in experimental design leading to a gender aware and unbiased European Research Area.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The very first step towards improving the institutional environment to achieve gender equality is to understand what the shortcomings are and due to which arrangements gender bias discriminates women in research. Therefore, LIBRA started with assessing the situation at each partner institute, identifying procedures and practices that produce or induce such biases and arrangements. Subsequently, the gender expert organisation of the consortium analysed the collected data and provided to each of the institute a diagnostic report. In parallel the consortium developed a GEP template, including 84 actions for improving gender equality in the four areas of intervention: 1) recruitment policies and procedures; 2) career development and training; 3) WLB, and 4) sex and gender dimension of research. Each partner tailored the GEP template according to their needs by choosing relevant actions. In average each partner chose 36 actions to be implemented by March 2019. All ten GEPs have been launched in August 2016 and the implementation will be monitored in collaboration with the gender expert organisation. At the same time LIBRA ran awareness campaigns for unconscious gender bias and surveyed the staff perception on the areas of intervention. The preliminary results show that gender bias and staff perception specifically depends on the professional role, such as students, post-docs, and principle investigators and have been presented on the Vitae Researcher Career Development International Conference 2016. More in-depth analysis will be done and the consortium will disseminate the results widely.

The implementation of the GEPs will require a cultural and societal acceptance of all the staff at the partner institutes, and thus the directors active support. Therefore, the project coordinator was in close contact with the institutes directors and the staff community during the first year of LIBRA. She presented the project’s objectives and first results at the EU-LIFE community meetings and engaged the directors to actively support gender equality in their institutes. Furthermore, LIBRA invited staff from the human resource departments to workshops on “Work-Life-Balance in research” and “Recruitment without gender bias”.
Besides realising institutional changes to allow women to reach leading positions in research, LIBRA will encourage but also support the partner institutes to include the sex and gender dimension in their research. In the first year the consortium collected best practices, studied existing case studies, and is preparing teaching material to train the next generation scientists.

By disseminating the goals of LIBRA in a short video (, we increase visibility for the project and hope to engage other academic institutions to follow the LIBRA example.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

LIBRA is addressing the multi-dimensional problem of gender equality in research and innovation. The awareness raising activities and dissemination of LIBRA goals helped to tackle the challenge of unconscious bias in the ten partner and the three associated partner institutes and even beyond. Furthermore, the institutional assessment unhid discriminating structures and correction measures are now developed in the institutional GEPs.

Unfavourable working environments in research are factors why many women, but also men, drop-out of research. LIBRA identified opportunities how to improve those working environments and thus making the researcher’s profession more attractive for the best talents. By choosing a share of those opportunities and including them in the GEPs all the LIBRA partners contribute to the effort to make research more inclusive.

The “scissors diagram”, describes the phenomenon that the participation of women in research lowers dramatically as one goes up the academic career path. LIBRA is currently designing a pilot career development program for female post-docs, taking into account the special challenges women meet in their careers. After the completion of the pilot, LIBRA will evaluate if such measures were well received by the 20 participants and supported them in pursuing a scientific career.

The LIBRA “Career” website started to present diverse role models for scientists, and tries to change the general implicit association of a scientist only with men. Furthermore, by inviting principle investigators to present their research and to include how they managed it along with their private life is challenging the existing role models and might help younger scientists to envision a scientific career.

One additional aspect of gender equality in research and innovation is to include the sex and gender dimension in the research question itself. LIBRA increased the awareness for this topic by surveying the institutes’ staff and by participating in a round table discussion of a national conference.

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