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WOMEN-CORE, women in construction scientific Research

The WOMEN-CORE project has been established to address the under-representation of women working in construction research. It is a three-year STREP Project (FP6), co-funded by the European Commission and coordinated by TECNALIA.

The overall objective of the WOMEN-CORE project was strengthening women scientists’ participation in construction research in Europe by means of: enhancing the knowledge of women and their influence in construction research, identifying of main research areas attractive from women's perspective and identifying and assessing gender-specific needs of R&D in construction sector. WOMEN-CORE combined different methods and techniques of data collection of existing and new sources of information, analysis (quantitative and qualitative), synthesis and evaluation, based on three main axes: the statistical analysis from existing sources; the fieldwork to explore new sources (surveys, interviews and case studies); and new developments in research content. WOMEN-CORE relies on a clear distinction between construction as an industry and construction as a field of research. Construction research was defined according with the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP), considering seven focus areas: Cities and buildings; Underground Construction; Networks Systems; Cultural Heritage; Quality of Life; Materials; and Processes and Information and Communication Technologies. According to this definition, the core academic disciplines related to construction research are: Architecture; Urban Planning; Mechanics including fluid mechanics and dynamics; Building structures; Water management and structures; Transport organisation and structures; Environmental engineering; Construction and economic Management; Building physics; Construction Technology and Organisation; Information Technologies; Heating, cooling, ventilation, electricity (HVAC) and networks; and Geotechnics, underground structures. Around 1,500 European research institutions devoted to construction have been identified and classified into four main categories: Higher education institutions, research centres, construction companies (SMEs and LEs), networks and government institutions. The analysis done in WOMEN-CORE was focused on three different targets in construction research: a) individuals, b) institutions and c) content of research: a) Individuals: The main characteristics of the scientific career in construction research and the most relevant trends that shape the professional development of construction researchers have been identified. Significant differences between women and men have arisen as key issues with relevant implications with regard to professional continuity and success. Gender inequalities have been seen at level of stability, pay, promotion opportunities and expertise with some of them probably related to career breaks because of family responsibilities. Besides the inequalities at an organisation level there are other factors difficult to measure where women and men differ. They are partly related to women themselves, partly because of a lack of support outside their work, which makes it difficult for women to build up a career. In particular women seem to lack self-confidence when going for promotion and higher positions. The traditional division of labour within the researchers’ household still persists and affects the career opportunities of women and men differently. b) Institutions: Research institutions, through institutional practices and structures, play a relevant role that can either enhance or minimise gender inequality. Polices implemented to attract, retain and promote women as researchers, as well as measures for work/life balance, targets and quotas have been identified and analysed in order to define and recommend suitable initiatives to increase gender equality. Regarding the situation of female construction research in industry it seems that for women it is more difficult to have a linear career progression due to the inflexibility of working time or part-time contracts, lower level of seniority and therefore lack of role models, reasons which seems to attract women more to work in an academic environment. A higher proportion of women working in an academic environment seem also to be influenced by other gender equality measures, such as networking and mentoring and set up targets, which Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are more obliged to fulfil than private industrial companies. c) Content of research. Results from the mapping of construction research have shown actual changes in the content of research, including fields with a more integrated and multidisciplinary approach of scientific and technological issues, often focused on environmental and socially-sensitive issues. The emergence of these new fields may constitute a good opportunity for changing old-fashioned structures and encourage a higher participation of women in construction research, although this could also be a source of horizontal segregation. The findings of WOMEN-CORE confirmed the pertinence of a set of recommendations with respect to overcoming the difficulties met by WOMEN-CORE partnership during the analytical work, as well as offer specific means which may improve women’s careers in construction research, contributing to an equal working environment and a more equal society. The recommendations could be integrated within new policies to improve gender equality in this sector. Different key groups could benefit from them: policymakers at European, national and local level, stakeholders in the construction sector, research institutions (HEI, public and private research centres and industry) and individual researchers. This approach will allow every group to make suitable decisions about their strategy for gender mainstreaming and career management and progression. The network ENCORE, Equality Network for Construction Researchers in Europe, was launched in December 2009 as result of WOMEN-CORE project.