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Women’s careers hitting the target: gender management in scientific and technological research

Final Report Summary - WHIST (Women's careers hitting the target: gender management in scientific and technological research)

Executive summary:

Women's under-representation in the scientific and technological research is a complex phenomenon, as it emerges from more than 10 years of European policies for gender equality in science and the issue of supporting women's scientific careers cannot be solved simply adopting an input-output perspective. In light of this, the activities of the project WHIST were planned and implemented in continuity with the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) project PRAGES, which highlighted the need to go beyond the numerical data on gender gap in science and to base concerned actions, measures and policies on a deeper comprehension of the difficulties that hinder women's careers.

On this basis, WHIST aimed at improving the capacity of scientific and technological (S&T) organisations of managing, monitoring and increasing gender diversity in their midst. This has been done by planning and fostering a joint learning process in three different organisations in as many countries, namely, Fraunhofer IAO of Stuttgart - Germany, University of Aarhus - Denmark and European Space Agency (ESA) - France, in order to turn their demand for gender diversity management into a set of experimental activities, aimed at a better understanding of what happens when initiatives to support women in the world of research are actually started and implemented. The project also devised and disseminated tested recommendations for favouring a structural change in science and technology organisations in Europe, mainly through the guidelines resulting from the project.

As a whole, the process of conception, design and implementation of the WHIST experiments was conducted as a single path of experimentation and production of new knowledge on gender dynamics in scientific and technological research organisations. A holistic approach (able to take into account the full range of topics and issues to be addressed) and an analytical one (grounded on the knowledge of the actual context in which the action takes place) were adopted at the same time, in order to identify the most effective solutions and took in consideration the strategic directions to conduct successful interventions identified through PRAGES, namely: making science and technology an enabling environment for women; including gender dimension in the whole process of research and innovation; and promoting women in leadership positions. The experimental activities were followed by an accompanying research, which used as empirical basis the observation and the collection of information coming from the experimental work, allowing the project team to learn from the concrete experience and build on the lessons learned.

The University of Aarhus worked to create a women-friendly environment and to support women's leadership in science, mainly by: a mentoring pilot programme; several action plans for gender equality at Faculty level; the creation of incentives to hire 20 new women professors; the mapping, in a gender perspective, of factors leading to abandon the University.

ESA tried to orient the corporate culture to understand, respect and valorise cultural and gender diversity through the creation of a corporate Institutional Committee, a set of corporate behavioural guidelines establishing common interpersonal standards of behaviour and integrating the gender dimension, a corporate communication campaign on standards of behaviour, a pilot programme to support the partners of ESA women expatriated staff. %
Fraunhofer IAO has adopted a quality-based approach to manage the gender dimension and dynamics in the working environment in a number of integrated actions, i.e. two annual reports on equal opportunities; a renewed section of the intranet on gender and diversity; a re-entry support service addressed to employees in parental leave after baby break; a seminar to enhance gender equality.

Through the 'Guidelines on Gender Diversity in S&T Organisations', the WHIST team attempted to build on the actual experience and concurrent reflection conducted through the experimentations, formalising the lessons learned. These latter concerned: the obstacles to the action geared at gender equality; the capacities that promoters of gender equality actions can develop and diffuse to achieve the established objectives; the key role of negotiation activity, which is necessary in situations where divergent points of view arise; the size of the interventions, which often goes beyond the individual research institute, referring instead to a wider sphere of action, even out of the same field of science and technology, acting in the political and regulatory environment at national level. Again based on the experiences carried out, a series of conditions and possible actions are proposed, in order to make a change in scale, triggering a capacity for social innovation. The guidelines also contain a set of recommendations for those who want to take a similar path.

The final outcomes of WHIST have been presented and discussed in a final public conference in Brussels (7 November 2011). The project lasted 31 months (May 2009 to November 2011) and has been co-financed by the Italian Government. See more at:

project context and objectives:

Despite over 10 years of interventions geared at promoting equality among women and men in scientific research, in the European Union, as well as all around the world the gender gap remains wide. This entails an important waste of talents and a general risk for member states and individual research organisations to lose competitiveness. Studies, measures and actions in this regard have been the object of intense debate which has gradually revealed the need for a new paradigm for policies to promote women in science. According to the European Commission (EC), indeed, these policies should more and more aim at strengthening the research and innovation capacity of research institutions, through a structural change focused on the valorisation of all the different skills and competencies available.

The project WHIST has been carried out with the general aim of improving the capacity of STR organisations of managing, monitoring and increasing gender diversity in their midst with the awareness that making full use of both male and female human resources and scientific talents contributes to the advancement of science and to a higher level of innovation in the European context.

In order to achieve its goals, the project has been implemented through several interconnected activities. Specifically:

1. the drafting of a first set of guidelines for planning experimental initiatives for the management of gender diversity in scientific and technological organisations, as part of work package two (WP2);
2. the organisation of three workshops for starting the implementation of the experimental initiatives for the management of gender diversity (WP3);
3. the testing of experimental initiatives for the management of gender diversity (WP4, WP5 and WP6);
4. the implementation of a common program for supporting the experimental initiatives (WP7);
5. the drafting of guidelines for managing gender diversity in scientific and technological organisations (WP2);
6. the conduction of a series of public communication activities (WP9);
7. the organisation of a final conference on the management of gender diversity in research organisations, based on the WHIST results (WP8);
8. the use of procedures of project management aimed at achieving and maintaining a high level of quality of results and at ensuring technical and administrative coordination (WP1).

project results:

The project WHIST has represented an opportunity to study what happens, what obstacles arise, what resources can be mobilised and what effects are produced in S&T organisations while changes affecting gender balance are under way. For this reason the most important results have been obtained during the experimentation phase.

The features of WHIST experimentations were determined by taking into account the indications to translate these strategies into concrete actions.

WHIST experimentations took place in three partner organisations: the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, more precisely the Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO (Fraunhofer IAO) in Stuttgart (Germany) and the belonging Institute for Human Factors and Technology Management of the Stuttgart University (IAT), the ESA (ESA) in Paris (France) and Aarhus University in Aarhus (Denmark). The activities lasted 16 months (from February 2010 to May 2011).

The experimental activities were designed between July 2009 and February 2010 using the Experimentation Planning Road Map (EPR). The EPR allowed the three promoting organisations to make a situation analysis of gender equality in their organisations. From an initial identification of the general orientations vis-à-vis the contents and objectives of their experimentations and taking into account PRAGES results, the ideas for the design of the activities were defined (November 2009). The design ideas were then transformed into executive projects (February 2010), after checking with key actors in the sponsoring organisations and other WHIST partners. The design phase coincided with the start-up workshop of the experimentations (coordinated by the University of Milan) in February 2010.

In designing the experimentations, reference was made not only to the theoretical content of the PRAGES guidelines but also to some assumptions. The first one was the unitary nature of the experimentations, being part of a single experimental action intended to produce new and broader knowledge on the factors that can increase or reduce the capacity for impact of gender equality programmes in science and technology. The second was the priority of knowledge, which links the success of the experimentations not only to their capacities of triggering transformation processes within the organisation, but also to their capacity of generating new knowledge on gender dynamics in science and technology, considered as a priority as much as it was attaining their practical objectives. The third was the significance of the experimentations' success for the whole WHIST project output. The fourth was the key role of the accompanying research, being the observation of the experimentations in their making of pivotal importance, both for their success and for that of the WHIST project.

The accompanying research, led by ASDO, has been aimed to study the feasibility conditions of measures functional to the promotion of women in science and it provided an in depth analysis of the dynamics and actors involved in the production of forms of gender discrimination in science.

Last but not least and connected to the accompanying research, the exchange of information, data and opinions among the experimentation staffs has been considered of pivotal importance.

To favour their success, preserve their unitary nature and promote exchange of information and data among WHIST partners, the three experimental activities have been accompanied by a Joint Experimentation Support Programme, coordinated by ASDO. The programme has been organised into three main components:

1. ASDO established a 'virtual' operations room at its premises, in order to support the partners implementing the pilot initiatives. Through the operations room technical assistance activities have been provided and communication flows between the partners have been handled.
2. Monitoring activities have been implemented in order to check the actions, to assess their progress and to produce the information for the continuous evaluation process. Two monitoring modalities have been used, adopting two different approaches, i.e. a technical approach (implementing the work plan) and a qualitative approach (resolving specific problems and non-technical issues).
3. The working seminar was geared at presenting and discussing the findings of the accompanying research, illustrating the monitoring and evaluation activities and facilitating the information exchange among all consortium members and staffs, so as to support experimental activities and, after their completion (June 2011), to outline the contents of the guidelines for the management of gender diversity. The Seminar included three sessions (30 April 2010, 28 October 2010, 15 June 2011), respectively at the beginning, in the midst and at the end of the experimental activities.

Lessons learned through the action-research path

The first major lesson was to understand that interventions for the promotion of gender equality in science are areas of action that come up against an articulated and complex set of obstacles, which should, first and foremost, be identified and studied using specific tools. The experimentation and research carried out in the WHIST project offered the promoters an opportunity to recognise, formalise and catalogue obstacles hindering actions to promote gender-sensitive science. The dimension and complexity of the obstacles give rise to a reflection on the scope of the interventions, which often transcends the framework of a single gender balance programme or a single scientific organisation.

The second lesson concerns the existence of and the need for a set of capacities to address gender inequality in research institutions, which clearly came out of the experimentation. The term capacity seems to be the best way to represent what happened in the organisations that participated in the WHIST experiment. These capacities, in fact, emerged as qualities which, once activated, were able to produce effects in terms of change. What is clear is that they are based on different forms of negotiation which the three institutions had to activate to overcome the opposition of hostile, or at least not entirely favourable, environments to initiatives such as those proposed.

Prompted by the difficulties encountered and the capacities brought into play to achieve the project goals and overcome the obstacles, the joint experience of the experimentation and accompanying research led to the formulation of a series of concrete recommendations for gender equality policies in science.

The experimentation confirmed the importance of taking account of two dimensions of change, when undertaking gender equality initiatives. The first includes predominantly cognitive and intangible aspects, such as the interpretation and awareness of gender inequality in science, as well as the motivation to act to remove the factors of discrimination. The second is the possibility of having a concrete impact on reality, producing changes in the institutional dynamics and operational set-ups of research institutions. For this reason, the presentation of the obstacles, capacities and recommendations in the final guidelines are organised on the basis of these two dimensions.

It is also believed that the secret of transforming the successes and progress made by research institutions towards gender equality into lasting changes lies in the activation of an overall capacity to exploit the internal changes in the institutions concerned to trigger forms of social innovation.

Obstacles as a risk factor for action

The three institutions involved in the WHIST project were able to see immediately that the experimentation involved a complex course of action, exposed to many risk factors, due to large and small difficulties which had to be first of all recognised and identified.

Not always, in fact, did things go in the direction hoped for by the promoters and sometimes the results were disappointing compared to the efforts made. In some cases, the beneficiaries did not fully understand or appreciate the actions targeting them, in others it was not possible to maintain the enthusiasm generated at the beginning. Sometimes the actions with most chances of success were actually taken over by other departments of the target institution, excluding those who had designed them. In most cases the initiatives were successful, partly because the emergence of obstacles resulted in an organisational learning process capable of finding ways to overcome them.

A first result of the experimentation and the accompanying research, therefore, was precisely the identification, determination and classification of obstacles encountered during the implementation of gender equality measures. Several factors hindering the development or deployment of capacities for action on gender were described and catalogued, aided by reference to international literature. Fifty three obstacles were identified and classified, according to two different dimensions. The first (interpretative and motivational dimension) is the interpretation of gender discrimination in science, the awareness of stakeholders and, consequently, their mobilisation. The second (institutional and operational dimension) concerns the institutional and operational arrangements of scientific organisations and the possibility that the desired transformations could actually take place.

The interpretive and motivational dimension

Many of the obstacles encountered during the experimentation regard the interpretive and motivational dimension of the actors involved, aspects that are mainly of a cognitive nature and which are often the least obvious.

The first set of difficulties encountered by the experimentation regard the hidden nature of the discrimination that characterises virtually all male-dominated work environments, science and technology research institutes being no exception. In such environments, as was observed directly, even the women themselves are inclined to deny the existence or the significance of gender issues. It should not be taken for granted, therefore, that an organisation decides to initiate or strengthen actions in support of gender equality. This is certainly true of research organisations, where there is a very widespread opinion - largely disproved by the facts - that the rules governing scientific activity (meritocracy, result-orientation, etc.) in themselves prevent the emergence of forms of discrimination.

Other obstacles to the initiatives in the experimentation regard the production of information and knowledge to document the presence of factors contributing to gender discrimination in the target organisations. It was not always easy to counter the scepticism of many internal interlocutors, because this type of initiative was, in many ways, unprecedented in the three organisations, hampered by privacy issues or the impossibility of accessing complete or updated information on the staff.

Moreover, the three experimentation teams also had to deal with communication dynamics inside and outside the research organisations. Often this communication is slow and inadequate and tends to reproduce gender stereotypes or stereotypes concerning the fundamental characteristics of research or scientific disciplines. Thus, for example, it was not always easy to make use of internal communication tools such as the intranet, characterised by rigid protocols or obsolete set-ups.

Furthermore, the investigators ran into various forms of dissent, which usually remain more or less latent but which exist and inevitably emerge when initiatives are taken, becoming visible and raising issues that are usually not talked about. This happens even more often when the measures taken are to the advantage of a particular group (such as women), apparently at the expense of other groups, who may feel discriminated against (such as young male researchers).

As well as open dissent, the attempt to mobilise human and material resources for the implementation of planned activities also came up against a lack of motivation among the actors involved in them. In addition to the general indifference of the male staff to gender issues, in some cases the various departments involved and the beneficiaries themselves had divergent views. In a scientific organisation, especially if large, it does not always follow that a decision made by management to accept a project is shared by those who must then implement it, or that its objectives and its content are interpreted in the same way by everyone. This is certainly true of institutions which have multiple decision making bodies and which may not all be located in the same city (or even the same country), like some of those in which the experiments were conducted.

The difficulties in motivating and mobilising people seemed in many cases to also be closely interrelated to organisational and bureaucratic dynamics, which greatly affect their actual involvement, such as excessive workloads, difficulties in developing monitoring mechanisms, dependence on areas and departments of the institution which have different priorities and work schedules to those of the promoters.

The institutional and operational dimension

During the experimentation, as already mentioned, many of the obstacles found were also of an institutional and operational nature, some of which are macroscopic in dimension.

First, the experimentation came up against regulatory conflicts or deficiencies, which can make it impractical or extremely difficult to implement even measures enjoying broad consensus in research institutes. For example, a national law or the constitution itself can prevent the implementation of positive discrimination, even when a particular group has been shown to be at a disadvantage.

In addition, the experimentations often had to face a series of organisational barriers, i.e. small and large-scale issues regarding, for example, the allocation of resources, the arrangement of working hours and contracts, intra-organisational and interpersonal rivalries that characterise all organisations, especially complex ones. In several cases, these factors weighed heavily on timelines and the probability of success.

But more than contingent factors, what became of central importance for the experimentations, as it would be for any reform process, was a kind of structural inertia that characterises the normal operation of large institutions, especially public ones, which makes any change difficult and slow. Aspects such as high staff turnover in some sectors, cumbersome administrative and bureaucratic procedures, the negative effects of some institutional characteristics such as geographical decentralisation, or organisational and decision-making autonomy, slowed down and complicated planned activities.

Last but certainly not least, there were the effects of the global economic crisis to contend with, which has immediate effects on the priorities of institutions and their ability to effect decisions already taken (due to staff cuts, for example, or a changes in priorities in the calendar of activities).

In the light of all the obstacles listed above, the experimentation and the accompanying research made it possible to redefine the arena for change. Progress towards gender equality, in fact, requires changes in institutional set-ups, organisational cultures and the current practices of research institutions. The creation of a deep and irreversible impact on these issues goes beyond the scope of internal policies, whether they are specifically aimed at balancing gender, or a more prudent management of human resources. In some ways, it goes beyond the scope of scientific and technological research itself.

Very often, indeed, to introduce significant changes it is also necessary to act outside the organisation, communicating, creating alliances and involving external actors. This does not mean that the field of action is not wide for every research institution to develop and implement plans for change. However, promoters should analyse all the issues that come into play, understand them and take them into account in the design and in all subsequent implementation phases.

It is not a question, or not only a question, of widening the scope of the analysis, but to identify, each time, the appropriate field to treat a specific aspect of gender inequality. As we shall see later, in some cases it is necessary to refer to the central authorities of the state (for example, to apply for exemptions to existing laws), while in others, negotiations must involve interlocutors within the target institution (such as researcher trade unions), or the establishment of new relations with enterprises or external organisations is necessary, using, where appropriate, the individual social capital of the personnel involved.

The capacities required of actors promoting change

A second area of lessons learned concerns the capacities needed to cope with the obstacles which arise when change is under way.

Faced with a risk situation and the obstacles described in the previous section, the experimenters showed tenacity and inventiveness, gradually developing capacities, both in terms of understanding and intervention. The accompanying research showed that these capacities are essential for anyone working towards the goal of altering the gender balance in a scientific organisation.

As mentioned above, the organisations involved often seemed to be opposed, if not openly hostile, to innovation. It should be remembered that in many cases the problems transcend the gender dimension and refer to the more general difficulty of introducing profound and lasting changes in large organisations.

Every activity undertaken, then, was the result of more or less explicit negotiation, which covered not only the ordinary aspects of everyday activities, such as space and time, but also more fundamental issues, such as the existence of forms of discrimination, whether to introduce special measures openly in support of women, or whether to support all women or only the best.

Therefore the category of negotiation was deemed useful to describe what happened in experimentations, which can be defined as an activity that involves two or more persons or groups of people who interact to resolve an issue on which there is no agreement. This category can also include, according to an accepted definition in the social sciences, activities which, while not requiring direct discussion, are still aimed at changing the social set-ups in question.

By observing the activities in progress, interacting and discussing with the promoters and, above all, reflecting on their difficulties and their successes, it was possible to understand the centrality of negotiation for the success of their efforts.

Through the double perspective of capacities manifested (or to be developed) and the forms of negotiations that were actually used, it was possible to observe and classify the actions taken by the promoters to overcome the obstacles, taking into account the different contexts, the operational models adopted and the results achieved.

The capacity to interpret and motivate

A first, important capacity that the experimenters demonstrated was the capacity to interpret the origin and the profound dynamics of gender discrimination and, at the same time, motivate and mobilise the different actors in the institution to help remove them.

First, when there was not enough data readily available, action was taken to access information, finding ways to overcome restrictive regulations and operational difficulties. Then, updated statistics on horizontal and vertical segregation of women in organisations were produced and disseminated, adopting, wherever possible, a comparative approach. In doing this, a form of interpretive negotiation was implemented, that is one directed at building and disseminating an idea of the discrimination of women in research institutions that highlighted the extent and depth of the problem, avoiding simplistic and minimalist views and uncovering the reality of the stakes involved.

At the same time, the experimenters worked on the internal environment and other factors that affect motivation for action. To this end, steps were taken to: systematically collect the views of actual and potential beneficiaries; gradually create internal consensus on content; arouse interest in the issues; prevent the development of hostility towards the actions; promote closer internal relations; increase the visibility of women in the organisation; review the forms and content of internal communication.

These can be seen as forms of symbolic negotiation, aimed at disseminating and sharing, through public communication, cognitive structures that have a mobilising effect (symbols) about the value of women's contribution to science.

These actions, which show an increase in interpretive and motivational capacity in the experimenters and a constant exercise of different forms of negotiation, have resulted, in the target institutions and also to a certain extent outside them, in: increased awareness of gender issues among the staff; the emergence of new demands for knowledge; the expression of new needs for training and services; greater transparency; an increase in the visibility of women in the organisation; the identification of new priorities in public agendas; the mobilisation of internal actors beyond the duration of the experimental projects; the emergence of an interest in the actions being undertaken in other research organisations.

The promoters of the WHIST project highlighted some of the effects of the implemented actions. These effects are manifested in different forms in the three institutes, but all have contributed in some way to an increase in the interpretative and motivational capacity of those involved, starting with the direct beneficiaries and including, more generally, the organisational culture and practices of the institution.

A first result was the creation of an awareness of gender issues within the organisation. In ESA, for example, there was a general increase in the awareness, to a lesser or greater extent, of gender related problems in the institute. Some facts point to this new tendency. Firstly, greater consideration was given by ESA staff and management to gender and diversity issues, which before were hardly mentioned. Secondly, members of the institutional committee became more aware of the issues which influence the quality of working life in the ESA, particularly as regards women. Thirdly, there was a general increase in the awareness of the culture of prevention of risk situations. Finally, informal discussion networks were set up at the grass roots level of the organisation. Male and female mentors at the University of Aarhus reported a greater awareness of the problems of young female researchers.

Another specific result was an increased awareness among project beneficiaries. For example, the participants in the mentoring programme at the University of Aarhus, became more generally aware of the goals of scientific activity and the unwritten rules of the working environment. This awareness strengthened, in many of them, the determination to pursue a science career at the university.

More in depth the Aarhus University Final report of the experimentations activities reports that: 'The evaluation of the mentoring programme reveals very positive experiences as expressed by both mentees and mentors participating in the programme. During the interviews the mentors praised the idea of mentoring by declaring that through the programme they were able to give young female mentees help to navigate in the research environments and to keep their research careers on track. In addition, the mentors stated that they not only served as professional supervisors, but that they also helped to introduce the mentees to national and international contacts and networks, supported them in applying for research funding, expanding and strengthening their networks etc. The mentoring programme functioned as an instrument for the young female researchers to better understand the customs, norms and cultures within academia. Interviewed mentors stated that during the mentor-mentee sessions they were able to communicate 'tacit knowledge' to the young female researchers and to tone down potential frustrations and misunderstandings.

Also among the young mentees, the mentoring programme is perceived as a success. The statements about the mentoring programme were very positive from the beginning. According to the mentees, the sessions with the mentors did provide valuable skills for dealing with career-related issues. The mentors experience, knowledge and insight were made available to the mentees supporting their career development. Topics of mentoring interest included among others research and publishing, getting grants, professional exposure, teaching, the tenure process and work-life balance. All interviewed mentees stated that the programme was in general very helpful in dealing with the challenges faced by female junior researchers.

In general, new knowledge was produced and new demands for knowledge arose. In IAO a database was produced and knowledge and experiences were shared even with others outside the project staff. In particular, IAO information, materials and documents about returning to work were harmonised and made more directly accessible to project beneficiaries; new information was acquired on the problems of parents on leave; a storage and collaboration platform was set up on gender diversity and gender equity, begun under 'Action four - Workshop on gender diversity' by the project staff. In ESA, the internal circulation of statistics on the gender gap produced, among other positive outcomes, an increased number of requests for such data from different departments of the institute.

In addition, the project beneficiaries were able to identify new needs. In IAO, for example, the beneficiaries of Action three 'Re-entry process after baby break' requested new communication tools for parents on leave, which was identified as a critical aspect for continuity in the working life of staff in the institute. In ESA, cognitive effects included managers being able to identify new staff training needs, as a result of an awareness of issues regarding standards of conduct to help remove obstacles encountered by women in their careers.

A greater focus on work-life relations in scientific organisations was also noted. The IAO, for example, became aware of the need to reconcile work/life both among women and men. This is demonstrated by the fact that the main users of the specifically created intranet page on gender are staff members with families, who tend to see this page mainly as a tool to help establish work-life balance. Also additional family services were introduced and actions to support the re-entry of parents were launched. In addition, in ESA, those most at risk (such as contractors, whose employment in the agency is temporary and who consist mainly of young men and women) have shown a greater interest in issues related to working life. In Aarhus, some researchers who were consulted about dropping out rates at the university made proposals to help reconcile young scientists with their young children, such as the activation of family-friendly services, the provision of better job opportunities for those requesting part-time, the planning of re-entries in the first six months; the chance for those with small children to have a greater number of hours of assistance for administrative tasks or help from students.

Another effect produced by the experimentations was a general increase in transparency. According to the project team, the publication of genderised data on the ESA intranet facilitated an overall increase of transparency in the agency. This would appear to be confirmed by the creation of a forum for dialogue on issues previously avoided, thanks to the opportunities for discussion provided by the guidelines. Aarhus has also seen increased transparency, with the activation of a monitoring system that continually highlights the gender gap in the university (making it possible to take concrete actions to address issues found).

As reported in the Fraunhofer Experimental initiative final report : 'An important activity undertaken as part of the experimentation in IAO was to take systematic inventory of the issues concerning equal opportunities that were already on the Fraunhofer Intranet and which could serve as a model for the IAO Intranet. The topic 'equal opportunities' is presented quite comprehensively on the Fraunhofer-Intranet. However it appears somehow confusing as it is a little bit unstructured. There is some information which is only interesting for the woman in charge for equal opportunities (BfCs) of the Fraunhofer Institutes and not for the employees, like the list of appointments for the BfCs and information for the BfCs about their meetings. Moreover, a lot of the information is out dated and obsolete. For some topics, information can be found in different categories. For example the topic child care is found in three subcategories of the category 'Job and Family'. Information about the Girls' Day are not only in the subcategory 'Girls and technology: Girls' Day at Fraunhofer', but also in the sub-category 'Activities and projects'. Furthermore, some sub-categories have the same name, for example there are sub-categories called 'tools' in category one 'Players for equal opportunities' and in category three 'Job and family'. This is confusing for the user because the overview of the navigation can easily be lost.

Another outcome was new initiatives. A direct result of the availability of genderised statistical data on the intranet was a bilateral ESA/EC meeting on the subject, organised by the ESA representative at the EC. Then new priorities were put on the agenda: for example, the ESA institutional committee for the promotion of quality of life prepared a paper for ESA's Agenda 2015.

Another effect of the experimentation on organisational culture was the adoption of new approaches and perspectives. In IAO, in particular, a new and broader perspective on gender and diversity has gained ground, also helped by the scientific and non administrative background of the new head of the equal opportunities. In ESA, as an indirect effect of the increased visibility of gender issues in the agency, the Communications Department (despite some opposition to the experimentation) introduced more initiatives involving women, thus setting a new course. Furthermore, in relation to the production of guidelines on behaviour, an early warning culture to prevent unacceptable behaviour seems to be taking root.

Other consequences of the actions taken include new communication and interpersonal dynamics in all three institutes. In ESA, for example, the emergence of new alliances between different departments for a human resources policy to change the work culture, along with the creation of new inclusive partnerships between key actors and institute management, have been observed.

As regards consensus, specifically, there has been an increase in the visibility of women and gender issues in scientific research organisations. In the case of ESA, there was positive feedback on various aspects of the communication campaign on gender issues. Then, in the case of AU, female role models were appreciated: some beneficiaries reacted positively to female mentorship, a role model for which they felt the need. Again in AU, the beneficiaries of mentoring programmes developed greater self-esteem and there was a general appreciation for these programmes.

As specified in the ESA final descriptive report: 'as part of a communication campaign carried out at ESA, 'a new series called 'Women at ESA' was launched in March 2010 at the symbolic date of the eight March. Four different women who are role models of career success in the Scientific and Technical field were published on the HR intranet and also on the ESA intranet. All staff has also received the news as an e-newsletter'.

The women interviewed 'had to be convinced to participate as their feared too much exposure and also with the wish to be treated as any other staff and they did not want to be marginalised for being women and simply be praised for their professional success.

Staff feedbacks on the initiative have been extremely positive and successful as they felt it was the first time women were asked the right questions regarding their perspectives of career evolution and the difficulties they meet in their daily work life.'

An interesting outcome, in terms of motivation, is the great commitment shown by the actors, even beyond what was expected. For example, at IAO, the equal opportunity manager was directly involved in making sure the actions were sustainable beyond the duration of the WHIST project and in AU mentors and mentees decided to continue the mentoring programme beyond the experimentation period. In AU, the mentors made a positive assessment of their voluntary participation, although, according to some, the institute could have recognised the importance of the programme and their commitment in terms of time by awarding a financial contribution.

In general, as well as numerous positive results within the institutes, there were also some external successes, such as arousing the interest of other parties. The experimental initiative carried out in the IAO and, in particular, the collection of data and information for the preparation of a gender report aroused the curiosity and interest of the IAT administration (University of Stuttgart). This interest, as stated by the parties concerned, represents an important first step in the realisation of further joint activities in the field of gender equality, which, while they are perceived as necessary for the two organisations that work side by side, they cannot be considered as an automatic result of collaboration between organisations that are legally distinct in all respects.

There was also great media interest in the gender issue at the university. In Aarhus, a public debate was initiated on the existence of gender discrimination at the university in general and against women in academia in Denmark, which involved the media and women in public life.

The capacity to bring about institutional and operational change

In addition to interpretative and motivational capacity, the experimenters also worked on boosting institutional and operational capacity, developing negotiation skills to implement changes in rules, organisational operations and day to day behaviour.

As mentioned above, during the experimentation it was necessary to carry out negotiations, both inside and outside the target institutions. In some cases, negotiation with the outside was at a high institutional level, also involving the government of the country. As regards the institutional situation within the target organisation, new ways of using existing tools were proposed (for example, the preparation of periodic reports on equal opportunities), or new forms of institutional communication were implemented (such as inter-institutional committees).

These two types of action, albeit different in scale, may both be considered as forms of institutional negotiation, having the goal of changing the rules of the game that tend to reproduce the status quo causing discrimination against women in organisations.

To be effective, then, the three experiments had to implement interventions that could impact the material and environmental reality of the target organisations, working to ensure that the agreed initiatives were actually carried out. To this end, it was essential to collaborate with the administrative staff, a key actor in getting things moving and unblocking situations.

To facilitate the implementation of planned initiatives, constant efforts were made to include and involve more interlocutors in the implementation and monitoring of new activities, starting from the operational sectors of the institution and then going on to the associations of employees and also external parties, such as HR managers of similar organisations.

In many cases it was necessary to rethink and redesign some of the activities during implementation to take account of occurred changes.

All these examples can be seen as forms of operational negotiation. This activity concerns the realm of material power and involves getting things moving, changing attitudes, behaviours and procedures to make concrete improvements to the position of women in organisations.

The results of experiments on institutional and operational capacities included: an increase in the competences of the beneficiaries; the establishment of new relations between departments of the same institution; the triggering of new internal communication dynamics; the confirmation or reissue of the experimental programmes; the introduction of new measures and procedures; a review of internal policies; the design of new initiatives and new modus operandi.

In their final evaluations, the WHIST experimentation promoters pointed out a number of results that could be indicative of improved institutional and operational capacity. First, the effects reported by the people who benefited from the programmes will be illustrated and then the changes that affected the whole organisation.

Regarding the direct beneficiaries, a series of outcomes should be highlighted, some of which were mentioned by the beneficiaries themselves. As regards the evaluation of the mentoring programme at the University of Aarhus, the mentees said:

1. they received short and medium term career planning information;
2. they were included in quality professional networks or their networking capacity was strengthened;
3. they became more aware of the actual working conditions in the university, which enabled them to manage their effects;
4. they noted an increase in their personal capacity and professional skills;
5. they became more acquainted with the research environment;
6. they received advice on balancing work and family life and became more competent in this regard.

The positive effects of the actions undertaken involved other actors within the research institutes that promoted the experimentation. For example, new relations were created between departments within the same institution and new communicative dynamics were triggered in the organisation. In particular, a 'bottom-up' institutional communication process was activated in the IAO involving staff at different levels. In ESA new alliances were made between departments.

Perhaps the most evident result in institutional and operational terms of the experimentation in the three institutions was the continuation, confirmation or replication of some of the programmes implemented on an experimental basis.

In particular, the University of Aarhus decided to continue mentoring activities and extend them to all faculties and possibly also to young male researchers. ESA decided to continue all the actions undertaken. Finally, the Fraunhofer presidency decided to replicate the baby welcome package initiative on a larger scale.

The positive effects of the experimentation on the institutional dynamics of the organisations include the launch of new policies and procedures - some of which were introduced during the experimentation.

At Aarhus the request made by the Human Resources Task Force to make an exception to the national law has been accepted by the Ministry of Science and allowed the hiring of 20 new women professors and associate professors making it possible to implement an important measure for gender balance in teaching staff. The application was approved by the Ministry in July 2010. The university management decided to implement the action as of February 2011.

In IAO, the Governing Council (ILA) agreed to introduce an item on equal opportunities in the standard monthly meeting agendas.

As regards acceptable behaviour guidelines, in ESA a review of current policies for the prevention of harassment is currently being carried out.

As specified in the ESA final descriptive report on experimentations ESA: 'The guidelines do integrate a strong statement from the Director General and give instructions and practical advices for staff when facing critical situations, with a particular focus on preventing from the roots gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The guidelines contain also a section explaining why the guide has been developed; a section describing what is expected from each individual working for ESA; the four principles at ESA; best practices and examples of misbehaviour; a section highlighting top and middle management commitment in monitoring progress made and improving the quality of the working environment with a particular stress on women.

The experimentation also provided an opportunity to design new initiatives and to adopt new modus operandi.

In Aarhus, as a result of the mentoring programme, new interdisciplinary studies involving the departments of mentors and mentees were also started.

Last but not least, mention should be made of some effects produced by the experimentation on external relations and joint initiatives with other similar organisations or partners. These included IAO discussions with IAT (Institute for Human Factors and Technology Management Stuttgart University) on the management of personnel. This dialogue also involved consultation on initiatives aimed at gender equality and the gradual dissemination of information on initiatives of this type (with WHIST and otherwise), both in IAO and other Fraunhofer institutes. This led to the adoption of the gender perspective and the start of negotiations to activate new initiatives in other institutes.

The capacity to trigger social innovation processes

Finally, the experimentations and the accompanying research were able to see a third capacity at work, as yet still underdeveloped during the WHIST project, based on the deployment of all capacities and, therefore, employing the different forms of negotiation described above. This capacity could be termed social innovation.

It involves making the gender equality reforms that have been implemented within research institutes produce an irreversible change in the institutions themselves, so that they become a common heritage and an integral part of both the scientific and technological research system and the social culture of the region. At the end of the next section we will discuss some of the conditions required to activate this broader and more complex capacity.

The arena of the fight against gender discrimination in research is vast. In fact, WHIST findings showed that many obstacles faced by the promoters (and the solutions) are not unique to gender issues in the strict sense but to science and technology in general, in their relationship with society. In addition, while several issues that emerged in the experimentation can be addressed by interventions within individual organisations, many others, perhaps most, can only be solved by actions on a larger scale, involving various types of public, private and non-profit actors, at local, national and even trans-national level.

This means that if we really want to change the condition of researchers (at local level or in specific institutions), not only do we need to effect real change in individual research organisations but we also need to have the courage to think big and think for everyone. This means trying to produce structural, profound and somewhat irreversible effects, which to a certain extent are in the world of science and technology and in the relationship between science and society as a whole. In essence, we must endeavour to promote social innovation, in collaboration with all actors concerned with these issues.

This is a third type of capacity, which leaders (at all levels) committed to gender equality in research must be able to effectively develop and implement. In addition to the capacity to interpret reality and motivate the actors and the capacity to change the rules of the game and the actual functioning of organisations, it is necessary to develop a specific capacity for social innovation.

Without going into the broad debate on the notion of social innovation, in this particular case we refer to the capacity to negotiate and promote, as far as possible and within different contexts, radical and lasting changes in the relationship between science, technology and society, which can impact the condition of female researchers.

Of course, it is a capacity that may have different degrees of intensity and different forms of application, but it must still have at least one essential feature: the adoption of a strategic perspective that is broader than the one required to operate in a single organisation, where only specific issues are concerned and a relatively small number of interlocutors are involved.

This should be done in the knowledge that a quantitative and qualitative improvement in the situation of women in research will contribute to the expertise, intelligence, sensitivity and vision required for the development of science and technology, creating a closer link between science and society, critical to human, social and economic growth.

On the basis of the WHIST findings, we can say that this particular capacity for social innovation must meet certain requirements:

1. action against the discrimination of women in scientific research should be linked to collective action and movements through which women have over time produced important public policies and general social change;
2. political and cultural institutions must be involved, at every level - local and (if necessary) national - in the elaboration and implementation of policies to support women in scientific research;
3. the media should be used to raise awareness among the general public of the crucial importance of science and technology and its organisational structure in contemporary society, of the gender issues in the world of research and the interventions undertaken, or that can be undertaken in this field;
4. citizens should be encouraged to participate (locally and in Internet networks) in the management of the current problems of science and technology and specifically gender issues in research.

All this calls for actors promoting gender equality-oriented interventions in research to acquire a new kind of political savvy, in the sense of a moral and behavioural attitude that stimulates and follows up actions to promote social innovation in this field.

The guidelines on gender diversity in S&T organisations

The main output of the project as a whole is represented by the 'Guidelines on Gender diversity in S&T Organisation' presented on seven November 2011 at the final conference of the project which has been held in Brussels.

The guidelines aim at capitalising the outcomes of both the experimentations and the Supporting Action as a whole in order to facilitate the design and development of future actions. They are part of a wider policy of structural change, launched by the EC after the first 10 years of activities on gender and science.

The guidelines provide operational guidance for gender equality actions in research organisations, as they emerged from the implementation and analysis of three pilot experimentations, coordinated each other. The project has enabled the team of the three concerned institutions, on the one side, to develop a set of capacities needed for the transformation of existing organisational arrangements and, on the other side, to observe such capacities in action through the accompanying research.

The guidelines are primarily addressed to the leaders of the scientific research bodies and public and private universities, as well as groups and associations of women within the institutions themselves, in order to provide them ideas and suggestions to implement or enhance initiatives aimed at gender equality in their organisations. More generally, the guidelines are also addressed to public, private and non-profit organisations involved in policy research and in equal opportunities policies, as well as to civil society organisations, business associations and trade unions, scientific associations and networks of national and European media.

Potential Impact:

General overview

The expected impact of the WHIST project was to contribute to changing the attitudes of the targeted audiences with regard to gender diversity in research organisations and foster change. The project contributed to the above-mentioned impact achievement at different levels:

1. it facilitated the ignition of real change in gender management, supporting the launch and implementation of experimental activities in universities and institutes already active in this field, namely ESA, Fraunhofer IAO and the University of Aarhus and thus producing permanent impacts on the participation of women at the highest levels of research, as well as on the methods used for recruitment and retention of research personnel in the three European research organisations involved in the experimentation (all of which are of considerable size) (see WP 4, five and 6);
2. the project contributed to the change of attitudes with regard to gender diversity in research organisations in further European research organisations which, although not directly involved in the experimentations, have been in any case directly involved into the project through the interactive workshops on gender diversity management and the final conference (WP3, WP8);
3. it developed and tested, through the experimentations, methodologies allowing to actually implement the strategies in support to women's leadership and the recruitment and retention of research personnel (see WP4, WP5 and WP6);
4. at the same time, through the joint process of experimentation and research leading to the final version of the guidelines (WP2), the project increased the degree of knowledge on the most effective instruments and solutions for tackling the various obstacles to the presence of women in scientific research;
5. indirectly it contributed, through the dissemination of the final version of the guidelines, the international conference and the other public communication activities (WP8 and WP9), in inducing changes in gender management, with respect to the presence of women at the research top levels, the recruitment and retention of research personnel in further European research organisations and the promotion of gender equality in research;
6. the WHIST project also facilitated the integration of the gender dimension throughout European Research through all its activities (and the impacts mentioned so far) and particularly through the production of the guidelines (WP2), the international conference (WP8) and the public communication activities (WP9);
7. it facilitated (through the same activities) awareness-raising processes within the scientific community, in the general public and among policy makers about gender and research;
8. finally, albeit within the limited domain of S&T and, more specifically, within the European Research Area (ERA), the project contributed to the implementation of the EC strategy on gender equality.

It must be stressed that the direct impact of the project undoubtedly has a cognitive character (thanks to the guidelines, the interactive seminars, the international conference and public communication), but also a strictly operational character (thanks to the experimentations). However, the project has likely already had further indirect impacts on gender management (and thus on both the participation of women at the highest levels of research and the methods used for recruitment and retention of research personnel), since the project products (guidelines, public communication, etc.) enabled transferring the lesson learned drawn out of the experimentations to other European research organisations and, more generally, to the ERA as a whole.

Moreover, the implementation of WHIST produced an increase in institutional capacity building and a better awareness on the themes that it addressed, at the level of the Member States (the leadership of the Department of Equal Opportunities of the Italian Government - a 'high level actor' able to devise policies at both national and European level - facilitated the attainment of this result and the actually achievement of the aforesaid impacts.

Finally, some of the activities carried out (above all, those under WP2, the international conference under WP8 and the public communication under WP9) increased the level of knowledge on discriminatory dynamics as well as on positive actions against vertical segregation in various professional and institutional domains connected to S&T.

In general terms, the implementation of WHIST can be seen as part of the European efforts aimed at establishing a sort of 'regime' (or control mechanism) to reduce two main risks, namely the weakening or inefficiency of the effects produced by measures adopted at European level to strengthen scientific and technological research systems and a continuous waste of qualified and trained female human resources which undermines all the efforts at creating that 'European space' of research capable of competing worldwide.

Furthermore, the efforts made through the project in promoting a full integration of gender dimension in the scientific arena (with all its positive implications on the development of science as a whole) have likely had some impacts in the direction of the intensification and improvement of the dialogue between science and society.

In order to maximise the results of projects and studies already carried out and to favour an actual accumulation of knowledge (in theoretical, methodological and operational terms) in relation to which the project sets out to make progress, it appeared essential to insert the first task of the WP2 'Review of the literature and documentation' at the start of the project, focused on the gathering of further information (in addition to those contained in the initial project proposal) on the main risk areas for gender diversity in research organisations and on the relative 'regimes'.

In order for the project to effectively contribute in achieving the impacts defined by the European Union on this topic (which are mentioned above), WP8 and WP9 were also relevant in that they included the organisation of a conference at European level and a number of activities for communication, dissemination and exploitation of the results.

Project website:

The public website of the project WHIST is available at the following link both in Italian and English version: