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Gender Equality Actions in Research Institutions to traNsform Gender ROLES

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Overcoming institutional resistance to gender equality

Entrenched biases continue to hamper gender equality in research and innovation. EU researchers are targeting these obstacles through Gender Equality Plans and new communication tools, such as a humour initiative and a board game.

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Women continue to be under-represented in technical fields such as ICT and STEM, despite making up almost half of doctoral graduates. They also make up only a third of researchers in the EU, and their working conditions tend to be more precarious than those of their male counterparts. “Women are under-represented at the highest level in academia and in decision-making positions,” says Maria Silvestre, from the Social and Human Sciences Faculty at the University of Deusto, Spain. “They are less successful than men in accessing research funding, and are significantly under-represented among inventors. In short, gender inequality continues to exist today in research and innovation in higher education.” To address such entrenched inequalities, and in line with the European Commission’s commitment towards gender equality in R&I, institutions have introduced Gender Equality Plans (GEPs). These plans detail the need for specific actions, dedicated budgets or better coordination to ensure that concrete steps are taken to achieve necessary changes. While a positive step forward, there are still barriers to overcome. “This resistance might be explicit or hidden, and might come from individuals, groups, or might be at institutional level,” adds Silvestre. “This can take the form of denial, disavowal of responsibility, inaction and repression.”

Effectively implementing GEPs

GEARING ROLES (Gender Equality Actions in Research Institutions to traNsform Gender ROLES) was launched in 2019 with the aim of removing barriers to female recruitment and career progression. At the heart of the project is the design and implementation of six tailored GEPs for the research and innovation institutions that form part of the consortium. Pairing events have been organised, to encourage these institutions to exchange their knowledge and experiences. More broadly, the project, which runs until the end of 2022, also seeks to promote female leadership in research organisations, strengthen the gender dimension in research programmes and build a sustainable network of organisations dedicated to advancing gender equality. These aims are being achieved through a number of actions, such as the Humorarium initiative. “Project partners are currently developing an action that uses humour as a means to counter resistance,” explains Silvestre, the project coordinator. “Why not counteract sexist ‘jokes’ with feminist humour?” Still under progress, the Humorarium initiative will show how feminist art and humour can be a powerful means to reach different groups of people and promote equality in a light and effective way. GEARING ROLES has also launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #COUNTERIT, and the project team has made extensive use of social media networks to both raise awareness of gender issues in research and innovation and exchange experiences and knowledge. Other innovative initiatives have included a board game called Nobel Run where players compete to manage a research team and win a Nobel prize, and a mentoring scheme called the FELISE programme.

Achieving sustainable change

“Gender equality in higher education still has a long way to go,” says Silvestre. “Yet, GEARING ROLES has already achieved a great deal, and will continue to do so over the next year.” For example, the six GEPs developed have been approved. “This means that six higher education institutions have understood and embraced the importance of and the need for working towards gender equality,” she notes. “Progress in key areas such as career progression, pay gap, female representation, sexual harassment, and mainstreaming gender in research and teaching, among others, will now be achieved, thanks to the implementation of these GEPs.” A number of training courses on leadership in research have been delivered. Through the FELISE mentoring programme, and also through specific workshops to design career development plans, the project team hopes to directly involve over 100 female researchers. “Our hope is that this project will help transform gender roles, and therefore contribute to the quest for gender equality in higher education in Europe,” says Silvestre. “We hope this provides a model for other institutions to follow, and therefore contribute to structural change in R&I institutions.”


GEARING ROLES, gender, women, graduates, academia, R&I, STEM, doctoral, Gender Equality Plan

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