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Bridging the research gender gap

Dedicated to advancing gender equality in academia and research, the SAGE project is helping universities identify and remove barriers to female recruitment, retention and advancement.


Academe and research suffer from a significant gender gap. In fact, men are three times more likely to reach top-level positions, with women only representing 20 % of all leadership roles. Furthermore, although 40 % of all researchers in higher education are female, they account for only 31 % of corresponding authors in scientific publications. “Closing this gender gap is fundamental to increasing the competitiveness of the European research sector – and universities must play a key role in accomplishing this,” says Eileen Drew, director of Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership and coordinator of the EU-funded SAGE project. “At the heart of the SAGE project is a belief that having more women involved in research increases the number of skilled researchers in our academic institutions. It also adds a different perspective to research programmes, promotes diversity, improves decision making and enhances creativity and innovation.”

Advancing gender equality

Dedicated to advancing gender equality in academia, the SAGE project developed a toolkit that universities can use to design effective Gender Equality Plans (GEPs). “The toolkit aims to help institutions identify and remove barriers to female recruitment, retention and advancement and better address the inherent gender imbalances in decision-making processes,” explains Drew. At the core of this process is the collection of gender disaggregated data and reviewing existing policies, procedures and practices. Analysis of these factors is fundamental to the development of GEPs, which list the specific actions to be taken to address any gender gaps in, for example, recruitment and career development, promoting work-life balance, and curriculum and research. “Faced with clear evidence of female under-representation, SAGE universities are using the toolkit to revise their recruitment and promotion procedures to ensure they are not biased towards any particular gender,” adds Drew. “One distinct outcome is that decision-making bodies have already achieved far better gender balance, and two SAGE universities appointed women rectors.” In addition to promoting the SAGE model, the project also organised a number of other initiatives, including an online course on creating a gender sensitive institution. Another highlight was the first European SAGE Day, which saw the launch of the Charter of Principles for Gender Equality in Higher Education. The day was celebrated in seven countries, including a core event in Brussels.

Tangible changes

Although 36 months (the duration of the SAGE project) is a very short period for institutionalising major structural reform, the project has seen tangible changes. For example, SAGE institutions introduced new gender courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, some of which are mandatory. Furthermore, ongoing monitoring of gender gaps has been incorporated into human resources and student office practices, and one university is developing a new transparent promotion policy. Universities also introduced leadership training for managers and female researchers, with one appointing a counsellor to challenge and prevent gender-based discrimination and harassment on campus. Even though the SAGE project is now closed, the work is really just beginning. “The consortium will continue to promote gender equality as a means of ensuring research excellence and the best use of the entire pool of available talent,” says Drew.


SAGE, gender gap, higher education, European research, Trinity College Dublin, academia, universities

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