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Leading Innovative measures to reach gender Balance in Research Activities

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - LIBRA (Leading Innovative measures to reach gender Balance in Research Activities)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-03-31

The main goal of the LIBRA project was to increase the representation and participation of women in leadership positions in life sciences. In Europe approximately half of our PhD students are women. However, the levels of women researchers start to decrease at the postdoctoral level and drop dramatically in leadership positions. These numbers demonstrate a dramatic waste of talent and resources in research.

LIBRA brought together ten research institutes in life sciences in ten European countries. They all participate in an alliance, EU-LIFE, which aims to build and promote excellence in life sciences throughout Europe. Their commitment to excellence is, by definition, also a commitment to gender equality. Together with the support of an expert organisation on gender, they developed, implemented and followed-up institute tailored Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) aimed to bring about long lasting and profound structural changes to remove institutional barriers and change structures so that women who are equally successful as men can be recognised and rewarded as such. Specifically, all GEPs addressed four main areas of interventions: 1) recruitment policies and procedures; 2) career development and training; 3) work-life balance (WLB), and 4) sex and gender dimension of research.
Importantly the project was expected to culminate in the partner research institutes developing sustainable policies that promote the recruitment and retention of women in science, ensure decision making processes are free from any gender bias, and integrate the consideration of gender and sex in experimental design contributing to a gender aware and unbiased European Research Area.

LIBRA video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhX4fN95gVE&t=40s
LIBRA started with assessing Gender Equality at each partner institute, identifying procedures and practices that contribute to biases. Subsequently, the gender expert organisation of the consortium (ASDO) analysed the collected data and provided each institute with a diagnostic report. Each institute tailored the LIBRA GEP template according to their needs and chose an average of 36 actions to be implemented by March 2019. The implementation of the GEPs required a cultural and organisational change, especially at the level of the human resource and communication departments, and scientists, most importantly the Principal Investigators (PIs) and Directors. Therefore, LIBRA invited staff from the human resource departments to workshops on “Work-Life-Balance in research” and “Recruitment without gender bias”. As a follow-up of those two workshops the consortium produced (1) the LIBRA recruitment handbook with guidelines for inclusive, transparent and unbiased recruitment processes, that were implemented by the partners in the institutional recruitment policies, and (2) and an online tool for self-development including self-reflection and career stage analysis.

To increase the awareness of the importance of a balanced lifestyle LIBRA coordinated several activities amongst the partners: A campaign encouraged about 3000 institutes’ staff to take the Implicit Association test and learn about their own biases and a provocative poster campaign encouraged men to share the caring responsibilities traditionally taken on by women. The awareness campaigns were supported by professional training on unconscious bias that was delivered to 429 PIs, Department Heads, and supervisors. In addition a seminar series that highlighted how successful group leaders negotiated their career path while maintaining their life outside of the lab provided practical role models to aspiring young researchers.

LIBRA’s main activity to support the career development of women was the COMPASS programme, supporting 20 women postdocs from the partner institutes to break the glass-ceiling. The feedback was positive throughout, and participants believe that the programme helped them to manage the most critical step in their academic career. Until now, eight of the 20 postdocs succeeded in getting a job offer as a PI, and are currently setting up their own groups. Since career advancement depends mainly on the evaluation of other scientists, the director, or advisory board, LIBRA wrote a guide that provides considerations and practical advice for fair and gender inclusive promotion and evaluation processes.

Besides having more women in leading research positions, LIBRA helped partner institutes to include the sex and gender dimension in their research. The consortium collected good practices and case studies, and developed an online training module for scientists. Beyond the institutional context, LIBRA also advocated for the topic amongst the broader research community. LIBRA held a stakeholder workshop and engaged 58 delegates from 13 European countries from research, industry, publisher, and funding agencies into the discussion. 60% of the delegates that provided feedback were inspired to make changes in their organisation, which was the objective of the workshop.

Besides the participation in these LIBRA coordinated activities, the partner institutions also committed to many more institutional measures in their GEPs. These GEPs were subject to monitoring and evaluation by the gender expert organisation ASDO, and resulted a mid-term and final report which included a gender mainstreaming progress analysis and an analysis of internal stakeholder mobilisation to support the change process.

LIBRA resources on Zenodo: https://zenodo.org/communities/libra/?page=1&size=20
Online Sex and Gender dimension in research training tool: https://www.libra-sgr.eu
Online tool for Self-Development hosted by the LIBRA partner CEITEC: http://libra.ceitec.cz/self-
The implementation of the GEPs pushed forward sustainable institutional changes in all four areas of intervention and a detailed evaluation at each partner institution was performed by ASDO.

One of the very visible, and often recognised, issues of gender imbalance is the low number of women in leading positions. Before LIBRA the average number of women in scientific leading positions at partner institutions was 26%. At the end of LIBRA the number was increased by 3% to 29%. SheFigures2018 report an increase of only 1.6% for the average of EU28 countries during the 3 years from 2013-2016. The LIBRA partner institutes increased twice as fast during a similar time period. The individual partner institutes are now nearly all far above the percentage of the average of their country (compared to data from 2016, She Figures2018).

As a sustainability measure for structural change, the institutions developed new or updated existing institutional policies, processes, and guidelines, e.g. related to recruitment, WLB, evaluation of tenure track group leaders, the Sex and Gender dimension in research, pregnancy safeguards, and more general but also career development related HR protocols and procedures. As one of the most important measures, all partners have now a gender disaggregated reporting systems established.

As a sustainability measure, each LIBRA partner has agreed to continue their efforts in Gender Equality in a new working group under the umbrella of EU-LIFE (https://eu-life.eu/) and have designed a 2-year action plan.
LIBRA kick-off meeting
LIBRA logo