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TAking a Reflexive approach to Gender Equality for institutional Transformation

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TARGET (TAking a Reflexive approach to Gender Equality for institutional Transformation)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-12-31

TARGET aimed to contribute to the advancement of gender equality in research and innovation (R&I) by supporting a reflexive gender equality policy in seven gender equality innovating institutions (GEIIs) in the Mediterranean basin, including three research performing organisations (RPOs), three research funding organisations (RFOs) and a network of universities. They share as a common characteristic that they had little experience with gender equality policies and that they are located in countries which were characterised as relatively “inactive” in developing gender equality policies in research and innovation (R&I) before TARGET started in 2017.
TARGET did not only aim at the formal adoption of a gender equality policy but emphasised an iterative and reflexive process towards equality at the institutional level as well as the establishment of a community of practice (CoP) for gender equality within the institution. The approach is based on a three-dimensional gender equality concept. The gender equality plan (GEP) and in case of the network of universities the gender equality strategy (GES) aims to achieve a gender balance in all fields and decision making, the abolishment of structural barriers for women’s careers and the integration of the gender dimension in research content and teaching. Furthermore, TARGET assumes that actual change is the result of increased institutional willingness and capacity to identify, reflect on and address gender bias in a sustained way.
In concrete TARGET pursued the following objectives:
• Build the institutional capacity of 7 GEIIs for a reflexive gender equality policy in 5 EU countries and 2 non-EU countries over 56 months. This includes competences to conduct a gender audit, to design, implement, monitor and self-assess a tailored GEP in parallel to the establishment of a CoP integrating relevant stakeholders.
• Foster an active reflexive learning process within the GEIIs through institutional change making workshops each run in conjunction with a supporting institution at each stage of the GEP/GES process as well as between the GEIIs at each stage of the GEP/GES process through five CBWs for the development of customised GEP tools: audit, planning, monitoring and self-assessment.
• Generate actions for multiplier effects through the innovative, network supported use of institutional change agents with national level leverage: reinforcing gender equality in R&I in countries relatively inactive in this field – through national level workshops.
• Design, develop, test and integrate effective tools for each stage of the GEP/GES (audit, planning, implementation and monitoring, evaluation) that can be customised to the specific RFO/RPO and be of use to the network and other research institutions.
• Develop new knowledge for institutions, practitioners and policy makers based on a comparative analysis of customised GEP/GES implementation and sustainability to provide a basis for effective sharing of practice and future change initiatives in both proactive and relatively inactive countries in the field of gender equality in R&I – taking into account the differences in cultural, socio-economic and political settings.
During the third reporting period TARGET supported this process in GEIIs by providing:
• a space for debate, sharing experiences and mutual learning on gender equality policies in research organisations, through the organisation of two study visits, three co-creation workshops and the final meeting;
• feedback on GEP/GES implementation based on the interim and the final evaluation report by the evaluation team;
• tailored assistance to each institution by the supporting partner, including the re-conceptualisation of planned activities of GEP/GES implementation as online events, the final monitoring report and the organisation of the national dissemination event;
• advice and feedback by members of the advisory board regarding GEP/GES implementation as well as sustainability of achievements in the framework of the final meeting;
• a forum for monitoring of project development, dissemination activities and discussion of next steps, through the organisation of several online project meetings;
• support of GEIIs to reflect on GEP/GES implementation when developing their contribution to the TARGET book publication.
Furthermore, TARGET pursued its dissemination strategy at international level – including cooperation with sister projects – as well as national or regional level.
The implementation of TARGET followed the initial plan till March 2020 with some minor delays. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic GEP/GES implementation at most GEIIs slowed down for a couple of months till online formats have been developed. The extension of project duration allowed to implement the activities planned at GEII level.
The TARGET approach is innovative as it aims going beyond the formal adoption of a GEP by establishing a gender equality policy based on reflexivity. TARGET experiences show that developing a GEP following an evidence based, cyclical and reflexive approach is demanding as it requires time, financial and personnel resources, top-down commitment, support from an internal CoP and advice from facilitators – in a varying degree depending on management support and political context. The successful implementation of TARGET has been facilitated by linking gender equality with other important institutional strategies, policies or projects. This supported the acceptance of gender equality goals or initiatives in the organisation as well as the active involvement of top and middle management. In some cases, TARGET implementation was supported by an emerging national discourse about gender equality in R&I (like in Greece) – a development which has been strengthened by the GEP requirement for Horizon Europe applications formulated by the European Commission.
However, implementing partners faced resistances to change within the organisation. Resistances can take several forms, from denying the problem – “there is not such an issue as gender discrimination in our organisation” – to formally agreeing to implementing change without really supporting it. “Slowing down the process” can be a strategy for both the organisational governance level – which is constantly resetting priorities without including gender in the most pressing ones – as well as at the operational level, which sees more complications than benefits in implementing gender balance-oriented actions. Moreover, these kinds of resistances can be catalysed in countries where the external context of the organisation is very traditional and resistant to gender equality.
TARGET experiences clearly show that it is difficult for implementing institutions to compensate for a lack of national policy discourse on gender equality in R&I. It also becomes evident that there is a need for a policy discourse between the European Union and Member States to arrive at a common understanding of gender equality which goes beyond women’s representation, provides arguments to engage in gender equality and establishes criteria for good practices. The new GEP requirement in Horizon Europe may provide a starting point for such a policy discourse.
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