While nearly half of doctoral graduates in the EU are women, disparities persist across certain disciplines. Critically, too few female graduates go on to follow careers in research and innovation. “The percentage of women among researchers in the EU is just under 33 %,” notes GENDERACTION (GENDer equality in the ERA Community To Innovate policy implementatiON) project coordinator Marcela Linkova, head of the Centre for Gender and Science at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences. “Men are also twice as likely to hold full professorships than women. In terms of leadership positions, women make up less than 24 % of heads of higher education institutions. We see positive developments, but change is slow.” Academia tends to be hierarchical, and many biases are deeply entrenched, which can compromise meritocracy. Also, when the gender dimension in research and innovation content is not properly taken into account, it can produce skewed and less than robust research that does not answer the needs of all.
Importance of policy
The GENDERACTION project was launched in recognition of the importance of policymaking in achieving gender equality progress. “Policy sets the framework,” says Linkova. “Our objective was to create a European network of policymakers in order to coordinate policy, advocate gender equality and exchange good practices. One of the benefits was that in doing this we have also built a community of colleagues with whom to share challenges, because working to advance gender equality can be challenging.” The project team worked to support structural change in Member States through Gender Equality Plans. The team studied national action plans and strategies defined by Member States in the context of the European Research Area priorities, and reviewed the types of indicators used to measure progress towards gender equality. This enabled the team to demonstrate that careful attention needs to be paid to indicator selection. Using a specific indicator, such as the proportion of women among professors, is not sufficient on its own to capture the reality of gender equality in research. Another major task for the project team was to develop policy advice. Much of this advice focused primarily on Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation (R&I). Recommendations include fostering intersectional approaches to gender equality and addressing sex and gender analysis in research. “We published a series of policy briefs, and this was recognised by the European Commission as a key contribution to gender equality in the European Research Area,” says Linkova. “This makes us very proud. We also opened up new areas, such as gender equality in international cooperation in science, technology and innovation. All this advice is now available on our website.”
Prioritising gender equality
The GENDERACTION project has already helped to reshape how gender inequality in research is addressed. The project team’s work contributed to the early drafting of the Ljubljana Declaration, an acknowledgement of gender mainstreaming and gender equality that has been endorsed by 36 countries, including 25 Member States, as well as by the European Commission. “The Declaration is a great achievement of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, and sets the priorities for gender equality in R&I for the coming years,” remarks Linkova. “Our policy advice has also been used in the negotiation of Horizon Europe, as well as the new European Research Area policy agenda that has just been adopted.” In the meantime, the policy network established by the project will continue to discuss and make use of the project’s recommendations at national level. “We made it clear that having a policy network in Europe to advance gender equality in R&I can be a very efficient way to achieve progress,” says Linkova. “The only thing now is to make sure that we continue moving forward.”
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