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GRant AllocatioN Disparities from a gender perspective

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Creating gender-fair research funding systems

An EU-funded project explores the factors behind gender imbalances in grant allocations.

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Reducing gender imbalances in research grant allocation will ensure equal opportunities for women and men in science. Some countries have enacted advanced gender equality policies, which have lowered some disparities in grant application success. However these differences still remain widespread. “Gender bias and gender disparities in the research system are still prevalent, and gender bias in grant allocation has not disappeared,” explains Michael Ploder, head of the research group for technology, innovation and policy consulting at Joanneum Research and GRANteD project coordinator. “It’s crucial that all researchers have equal chances to be funded irrespective of their sex, gender, age, native language or other social dimensions, as grants are important steps in building up a research career,” he adds. To this end, the EU-funded GRANteD project identified the multitude of factors that can lead to gender imbalances throughout the grant application process. The project focused on real-life situations, to show where gender bias occurs, and what impact it has on research careers

Creating a conceptual framework for gender bias

The GRANteD researchers developed a complex conceptual framework to study potential bias in assessing research proposals. Using quantitative approaches, they tested a range of variables that might cause gender bias, and also which factors explain the impact of a funding decision on career development. They analysed data from various case studies and data sets to investigate whether gender disparities exist and whether grant assessments disadvantage women or men. The results of analysing longitudinal data show that concerning the career impact of grants, male researchers are still advantaged. They become full professors in less time and with fewer achievements in terms of bibliometric indicators, compared to their female colleagues. Through over 100 personal interviews with panel members, panel chairs, remote reviewers and managers of research funding programmes, the team explored policy implementation and the challenges that emerge when formal gender equality policies are applied by peer-review panels and remote reviewers. “Gaining these in-depth insights helped us understand why some policies are not effective and how they can be modified to have more impact,” says Helene Schiffbänker, senior researcher at Joanneum Research, and principal investigator on the GRANteD project.

Finding a positive impact of gender equality policies

The project found disparities in gender success rates diminish in research funding organisations (RFOs) with a long-standing tradition in gender equality policies, at least in grants for early-stage researchers. In other RFOs, such policies still do not or only rarely exist. “Awareness and capacities of reviewers for the implementation of innovative gender equality policies are partly lacking,” notes Schiffbänker. “More efforts in capacity building could increase the impact,” she adds.

Highlighting the power of gender equality policies

The GRANteD team hopes that national policymakers and RFOs can see the progress that can be achieved when gender equality policies are broadly implemented. “At the same time, we learned that policies become more complex and tackle different aspects of imbalances in the research ecosystem, which requires additional awareness from applicants, reviewers and those who design these policies,” says Ploder. GRANteD’s findings are already feeding into other EU-funded projects, including GENDERACTIONplus, which aims to train representatives from RFOs and national authorities in the design of specific gender balance policies, and also INSPIRE, which works with funding agencies to promote gender-inclusive innovations.


GRANteD, gender, imbalance, equality, policy, research grant, capacity building, allocation

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