Relevance of gender in the policy area
Promoting gender equality is a key principle of the EU in all its activities. European research still shows a pronounced under-representation of women, particularly in the hard sciences and in leadership positions. Gender equality in research is essential not only for fairness and inclusiveness, but because it could help address current and future deficits in skilled labour within the EU and support the transition to a fair, green and digital society . Gender equality provides important leverage for enhancing the competitiveness of research and innovation (R & I) organisations in Europe, for increasing their innovation performance and for transforming them into more equitable and inclusive organisations.
According to the European Commission’s She Figures 2021, women accounted for just 33% of European researchers in 2018. Women are particularly under-represented in the business enterprise sector (BES) but also among inventors and founders. In addition to the low percentage of women researchers, women are also under-represented in top-level and decision-making positions in European research. The European Commission shows that – despite progress – gender inequalities in science persist.
Extensive research has been undertaken regarding the reasons and mechanisms that keep women away from research and from moving up the career ladder in this field. Studies have revealed gender-discriminatory practices, such as biased recruitment, promotion and funding processes and criteria. There is also a strong influence of gender stereotypes in relation to R & I. Gender discrimination in science may take different forms, sometimes overt, but most often subtle and hidden. It may operate even in highly formalised and seemingly gender-neutral peer-review processes or selection and promotion procedures. Furthermore, working cultures in R & I organisations are experienced as not inclusive and frequently even toxic, especially – but not only – by women. Gender-based violence and sexual harassment have long been overlooked as sources for why women leave R & I.
Conventional research agendas often fail to take sex and gender differences into account and to distinguish different possible impacts related to gender. This phenomenon leads to omissions and distortions and may also result in missed market opportunities. But integrating sex and gender analysis into research sparks and enhances creativity by offering new perspectives and questions, and by opening new areas of R & I.
Gender equality in research is thus still influenced by a set of persistent gender inequalities:
- gender segregation in research and innovation;
- gender-related career challenges and gender imbalance in senior positions in academia;
- gender gaps in research productivity;
- gender bias in access to research funding;
- gender-blind and gender-biased research;
- gender-blind and gender-biased organisational culture and institutional processes.
In the European Research Area Policy Agenda for 2022–2024, the European Commission emphasises that gender equality will be pursued through promoting institutional change in R & I organisations. Gender equality plans (GEPs) are the main policy instrument used to achieve this change. Furthermore, it recommends that gender equality policies need to address intersections with other diversity categories and potential grounds of discrimination, such as ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. Increasing the inclusiveness of gender equality policies in this regard also means that efforts should be made to ensure an equal implementation of these policies in all Member States and in all R & I sectors, especially targeting organisations in the BES.
Gender inequalities in the policy area – Main issues
The latest edition of She Figures 2021 reported that gender parity has almost been achieved among doctoral graduates in the EU. However, the data also show that gender gaps in specific fields of study continue to exist and contribute to gender segregation not only in education but also in the R & I workforce. Women are still under- represented among doctoral graduates in the majority of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at the EU level: women represent 38.4% of doctoral graduates in physical science, 32.5% in mathematics and statistics, 20.8 % in ICT, 27 % in engineering and engineering trades, 40.9 % in manufacturing and processing and 37.2 % in architecture and construction.
Figure 1. Proportion (%) of women among doctoral graduates, by narrow field of study in natural sciences, ICT and engineering, 2015 and 2018
Sources: She Figures 2021, Eurostat – education statistics (online data code: educ_uoe_grad02) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (graduates by field).
Research shows that gender segregation in research is driven by the same root causes as gender segregation in the labour market as a whole: gender stereotypes, choice of study field, gender division of labour and time constraints, and covert barriers and biases in organisational practices. In general, the influence of these factors seems to be diminishing among the younger cohorts of highly qualified women.
Despite the progress of gender equality among doctoral graduates in Europe, women continue to be under-represented in the R & I workforce: women are less likely to be employed as scientists and engineers compared to men: only 3.1% of women in the labour force are employed as scientists or engineers, compared to 4.4% of men. Furthermore, women accounted for only 32.8% of the total population of researchers in the EU Member States in 2018. Since 2015, the proportion of women researchers has stagnated, although the compound annual growth rate of the number of women researchers between 2010 and 2018 amounted to 3.9%, compared to 3.3% for men. This means that the number of women researchers increased faster than that of men, but the difference between the compound annual growth rates is not big enough to lead to a higher share of women researchers among all researchers in the Member States.
In addition, gender segregation is visible between the main economic R & I sectors in Europe. The higher education sector (HES) and the government sector (GOV) have the highest proportions of women researchers (42.3% and 43.7%) compared to the BES (20.9%). The compound annual growth rates between 2010 and 2018 for the number of women (and men) researchers are highest in the BES with 7% for women and 5.8% for men, whereas in the HES the compound annual growth rate amounted to only 2.8 % for women and 0.9% for men. The R & I sector is therefore marked by clear differences regarding the representation of women as researchers: in the HES and the GOV, the proportion of women and men researchers is gender balanced, while the BES is characterised by a considerable under-representation of women as researchers.
However, taking a closer look at the HES reveals that, despite the overall gender balance, there are also distinct patterns of gender segregation visible in the HES that are reflecting the gender gaps in different fields of study reported at the beginning of this chapter: the proportion of women researchers is considerably lower than that of men in natural sciences and in engineering and technology. Therefore, She Figures 2021 concludes ‘Horizontal segregation persists across fields of research and development (R & D), even in sectors where women researchers tend to be better represented.
The gender segregation between the main sectors of R & I also has strong implications concerning the resources for conducting research. Overall, the R & D expenditure (in purchasing power standard) per capita researcher (in full-time equivalents (FTEs)) is quite different between the sectors: the BES, where the share of women researchers is lowest, has the highest spending per researcher, whereas in the HES, with a much higher share of women researchers, the R & D expenditure is considerably lower than in the BES.
Women scientists seeking to climb the career ladder are still facing a number of barriers. In 1999 already, the European Technology Assessment Network report described the situation of women scientists in universities, research institutes and academies at that time, mentioning the continuous drop in the numbers of women at each level of the academic ladder.
This phenomenon is referred to by the image of a leaky pipeline. Ever since Berryman (1983) introduced this conceptual approach, the process of becoming a researcher has been conceptualised as a ‘pipeline’. This image of a pipeline refers to the normative sequence of educational and employment stages of a typically scientific career. From this point of view, the decreasing proportion of women moving up the educational/professional hierarchy is attributable to women’s higher rates of attrition from the science pipeline: at each moment of transition from one educational/professional stage to another, the pipeline loses more women than men.
The latest data available in She Figures 2021 show that the leaky pipeline is a persistent phenomenon: women amount to 54% of bachelor and master students and to 59% of bachelor and master graduates in the Member States, which slightly drops for doctoral students and graduates (both 48%) and decreases further for Grade C (47%), Grade B (40%) and Grade A (26%). Between 2015 and 2018, the leaky pipeline hardly changed in the EU. Only at Grade A level, a slight increase of the share of women could be observed from 24.1% to 26.2%.
Figure 2. Proportion (%) of men and women in a typical academic career, students and academic staff, EU-27, 2015–2018
Sources: She Figures 2021, Women in Science database, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation – T1 questionnaires, education statistics (online data codes: educ_uoe_enrt03, educ_uoe_grad02).
She Figures 2021 also reports that the extent of vertical segregation is even more distinct in STEM fields. Although the share of bachelor and master students (32%) and graduates (35%) is considerably lower than for the whole population of students, the share of women increases a little bit for women doctoral students (37%) and graduates (38%), but then drops to 35 % for Grade C positions, to 28% for Grade B positions and to 19% for Grade A positions. Additionally, the proportion of women among Grade A researchers has slightly improved for the STEM field since 2015 – from 17% to 19% in 2018.
Figure 3. Proportion (%) of men and women in a typical academic career in science and engineering, students and academic staff, EU-27, 2015–2018
Sources: Women in Science database, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation – T1 questionnaires, education statistics (online data codes: educ_uoe_enrt03, educ_uoe_grad02).
The Glass Ceiling Indicator (GCI) describes the relative chance of women compared to men to reach academic top positions. In 2018, the GCI amounted to 1.6 compared to 1.5 in 2015, which indicates that women still do not have the same chances as men to advance into academic top positions. Furthermore, the glass ceiling has become slightly thicker in the last years, meaning the chances of women have decreased a little bit further.
The vertical segregation is also evident in the data on women heading universities or research institutions and women on the boards of universities and research institutions. The latest figures show that only 23.6 % of higher education institutions (based on capacity to deliver PhDs) were headed by a woman rector in 2019. This figure has increased slightly since 2016 (21.2%). The proportion of women on boards adds interesting information to this overall pattern. In general, board data cover scientific commissions, R & D commissions, boards, councils, committees and foundations, academy assemblies and councils, along with different field-specific boards, councils and authorities. These boards exercise a crucial power of influence on the orientation of research. On average in the EU Member States, 31.1% of board members were women in 2019, whereas in 2017 they represented only 27%. Among leaders of these boards the proportion of women amounted to 24.5% in the Member States in 2019 (2017: 20%).
That women are under-represented among Grade A researchers is also evident in the proportion of women Grade A positions among all women academic staff: only 7.6% of all female academic staff are in a Grade A position, whereas 15.7% of all male academic staff are employed in Grade A positions. Only a small proportion of women researchers are working in the highest positions in the R & I sector and the majority of women are in more junior research positions. This is also substantiated by the fact that women researchers are better represented in the younger age groups in the HES and GOV sectors, while in the older age groups fewer women are represented.
In 2019, women researchers in the HES were more often part-time employed (11.1% of all women researchers in the HES) than men researchers (7.2%). Furthermore, women researchers in the HES tend to be employed in precarious contracts more often than their male colleagues: 9% of women researchers and 7.7% of men researchers worked under precarious contracts in the EU in 2019. Under the category of precarious working contracts, She Figures 2021 has subsumed researchers with no contracts, with fixed term contracts of up to 1 year or less or with other contracts (often associated with student status). Additionally, women researchers are reported to be employed in positions characterised by a higher teaching load, less access to research funding, fewer opportunities to conduct (independent) research and limited career perspectives.
In summary, the glass ceiling effect is strongly reflected in the low representation of women in decision-making in academia. Despite an improved proportion of women at the different steps of the academic career ladder, women constitute a minority among the top levels of the academic hierarchy. In 2019, only a minority of institutions in the HES were headed by women and around a third of the board members were female.
Gender gaps in R & I are not limited to positions, working time or work contracts, but are also evident in R & I outputs like publications or patents. These outputs are of high importance in the meritocratic R & I field as researchers authoring more publications, especially in highly cited journals, and with higher numbers of citations or registering more patents and inventorships are considered as more influential, productive and consequently as having achieved higher levels of excellence. This results in a higher reputation and a competitive advantage for grants, awards and positions within the R & I field. Therefore, measuring the R & I outputs of women and men researchers has received growing attention in the last decade.
She Figures 2021 reports that women authors were under-represented in the pool of active authors at all levels of seniority in the EU-27 between 2015 and 2019. The gender gaps in active authorship are widest in the fields of natural sciences and engineering and technology. Women authors also seem less likely to be lead authors compared to men researchers, but measuring the number of publications of women and men researchers makes evident that women in their early career stages publish a similar number of papers as men. As seniority increases, the publication gap between women and men widens, meaning that women in higher research positions publish less than men in the same positions. Regarding the impact of publications authored by women or men, no significant gender differences are evident, regardless of seniority level. Women are also significantly under-represented among inventors in the EU-27. For every ten inventorships held by men, only one was held by a woman. Between 2006 and 2018, the number of inventor teams composed only or mostly of women has increased only very slowly, by 0.03% per year.
In order to maintain autonomy and ensure scientific excellence, access to research funding should be based on merit and individual scientific achievements. Scientific excellence, however, is not an absolute term but a composite of several determinants. In 2004 already, research funded by the European Commission demonstrated that the term ‘excellence’ may hide several gender biases. This was confirmed by other research on academic hiring and research assessment procedures, which showed that research assessments are not based on merit and scientific achievements only, but are influenced by other factors like gender, nationality, academic rank, reputation of host institutions, disciplinary proximity of applicants and reviewers, nepotism, etc.
Despite this critical review of the ‘myth of meritocracy’ in R & I, there is an ongoing debate on whether research funding assessments are influenced by gender bias and, if so, to what extent. On the one hand, there is evidence from different disciplines showing that female applicants are assessed less favourably, resulting in fewer research grants or awards and lower funding amounts allotted. She Figures 2021 reports that, in the EU Member States, the research funding success rates of women are 3.9 percentage points lower than those of men. Nevertheless, the picture between the different EU Member States and associated countries is more complex because in countries like Belgium, Bulgaria or Denmark, for example, women have higher success rates than men. On the other hand, there is a growing body of literature stating that women and men have nearly equal chances to be successful in research funding applications across countries and disciplines and that gender bias does not influence the success rates of women and men. These mixed findings might be a result of the different methodological approaches used in these studies. Nevertheless, as some research funding bodies already have gender equality policies in place, these might correct for the implicit biases of reviewers and the final funding decision would therefore be unbiased although individual reviews are. More research and empirical evidence are needed to get a clearer picture of the situation and to draw properly informed conclusions and recommendations.
Beyond the gender bias in research assessments, women researchers also face significant barriers and challenges in their research careers and are less represented in higher academic ranks, which might lower the probability that they apply for research funding grants and awards. Although gender differences in application behaviour have not received the same attention as research on gender bias in research funding, there is evidence that women apply less often for research grants and for smaller amounts of grant money.
Lastly, women are also under-represented in decision-making procedures in research funding bodies as a number of panels are not gender balanced or gender equal and women are also less often contracted to review the quality of grant applications. That said, a higher representation does not necessarily have a positive effect on the prevalence of gender bias, it is a question of fairness and equal opportunities for women and men in R & I.
Although research results and empirical evidence are not fully conclusive, research funding is important for a successful research career: it allows researchers to establish independent research activities and programmes and is often used as an indicator for research excellence and productivity in research assessment processes for grants, awards or positions. Obtaining research grants is therefore decisive for publications, for the reputation of researchers, for getting permanent and higher positions and consequently more grant money. This connection between success in research funding, academic performance and successful research careers has been referred to as a vicious cycle that contributes to glass ceiling effects in the careers of women scientists. This is why transparent and bias-free research funding procedures are so important in the campaign to achieve gender equality in research careers and in the research system overall.
Because sex and gender are fundamental determinants of the organisation of life and society, acknowledging and taking these differences into account is paramount in the creation of scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, much research is still gender blind or gender biased. The She Figures 2021 publication provides data substantiating the fact that research is still mostly gender blind: just under 2 % of EU publications between 2015 and 2019 included a sex/gender analysis. Data for the Horizon 2020 R & I programme show that only 3% of the funded projects integrated a sex and gender dimension in their research programme.
Research is considered as gender blind when research results are extrapolated to the population as a whole, without due consideration of the sample composition. For example, heart disease has been classified as a disease that primarily affects men and clinical standards were based on male pathophysiology and outcomes. The result was that women and gender-diverse individuals were often mis- and under-diagnosed as they showed different symptoms. Research that has taken sex analysis into account could show that the pathophysiology of ischemic heart disease is different for women and new diagnostic techniques could be developed. There are, however, also examples and good practices from other disciplines or fields of technology, like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, urban planning, transport technologies, agricultural technologies, that show why considering a sex/gender analysis in R & I processes is important and leads to more valid results.
Some research funding bodies require the integration of sex/gender analysis into research proposals as part of their excellence or evaluation criteria. For instance, in its key funding programme for R & I (Horizon Europe), the European Commission demands the specification of how research proposals aim to integrate a sex/gender analysis into all its funding activities and asks reviewers to evaluate this under the excellence criterion. There are also other research funders in the EU Member States, like the Deutsche Forschungs-gemeinschaft in Germany, the Irish Research Council or the Austrian Research Promotion Agency that recognise the importance of sex/gender analysis in research content and have devised specific policies to promote its integration into research programmes.
Furthermore, there is research evidence that shows how the integration of sex/gender analysis in research processes can lead to innovation, full use of talent, an appeal for scientific careers and an increase in the quality of scientific research.
In universities and research institutions, the majority of crucial decision-making procedures were established at a time when the presence and impact of women was limited. Although only slowly, ‘structural change’ to make universities and research institutions more gender-aware, thereby modernising their organisational culture, has been evolving over the years.
A well-established body of research findings demonstrates the manner in which largely unexamined errors in the way of assessing merit create inequitable outcomes for men and women. Research also shows that, despite good intentions and a commitment to fairness, both men and women are likely to undervalue women’s accomplishments. This tendency is unsurprisingly embedded in institutional processes, such as recruitment, performance evaluation and advancement, which are widely perceived as objective and focusing only on selecting the most excellent candidates and applications. Changing these seemingly gender-neutral structures and processes is of utmost importance in promoting fairness and gender equality in organisations.
Beside these structures, research organisations are experienced as highly competitive, output focused and even toxic by women and other groups. Moreover, gender-based violence and sexual harassment are prevalent in higher education and in research organisations, although exact figures are missing as many incidents remain unreported and there is a lack of large-scale research projects on the topic. Consequently, working cultures in R & I organisations are not experienced as inclusive and welcoming by women, resulting in feelings of isolation and non-belonging. This research gap will be closed by the EU-funded project UniSAFE.
Striving for more gender equality and inclusion in R & I therefore requires a complex set of interventions that aim at changing organisational structures, procedures and processes, but also their culture and the ways of knowledge production in R & I.
Existing gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level
The Council of the European Union
In 1999, the Council of the European Union adopted a resolution on women and science, in which the question of the under-representation of women in the field of scientific and technical research was recognised. The resolution also acknowledges that ‘the gender mainstreaming of research policy is not limited to the promotion of women as research workers but should also ensure that research meets the needs of all citizens and contributes to the understanding of gender-relevant issues’.
With the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, gender equality became a strategic objective for the development of both the EU and its Member States. Indeed, in 2000, the Lisbon Council set out the objective of making the EU the most competitive and knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of achieving sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. To this end, it was stipulated that by 2010 women should fill at least 25% of positions in the public research sector, so as to ensure a better representation of women in decision-making bodies.
The Council of the European Union (the Council) set gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research as one of the key priorities of the European research area (ERA) back in 2012, considering that the integration of a gender dimension into the design, evaluation and implementation of research needs to be improved to effectively foster R & I excellence.
In the conclusion of the ERA progress report in 2014, the Council of the European Union noted that there is a persistence of gender bias in careers, gender imbalance in decision-making roles and a lack of gender dimensions in most of the national research programmes. The Member States were invited to support gender mainstreaming and equal opportunities.
The Council also openly endorsed the ERA’s 2015– 2020 roadmap, which aims at translating national equality legislation into effective action to address gender imbalances in research institutions and decision-making bodies, and better integrating the gender dimension into R & I policies, programmes and projects. The European Council called on the Member States to start its implementation through appropriate measures in their action plans or strategies by mid 2016.
On 18 November 2016, the Council adopted a draft council conclusion, containing measures to support early-stage researchers with the goal of raising the attractiveness of scientific careers and fostering investment in human potential in R & D. The conclusion of the Council reaffirms that gender issues are of particular importance in the context of scientific careers and invites the European Commission and the Member States to continue supporting and implementing gender equality actions and policies and to promote effective work–life balance measures. The Council also called upon the Member States to promote best practices and policies that seek to dismantle barriers to the advancement of women in research and enhance the diversity of the research community.
Recently, on 26 November 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on the governance structure for the ERA and the ‘Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe’, thereby completing the deep reform of the ERA. The conclusion sets out priorities and establishes a governance framework for the ERA, including a policy agenda for 2022–2024. The shared values and principles outlined in the report contain gender equality and equal opportunities as one of the priority areas. The European Council clarifies the following requirements in this field for all Member States:
- encompassing gender balance in research teams at all levels, including in management and decision-making;
- combating gender-based violence and harassment;
- tackling gender bias;
- integrating the gender dimension into the content of R & I;
- taking account of diversity in the broader sense, including gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, social diversity, disability, age and sexual orientation, and combating discriminations on all grounds.
The Council’s conclusions propose specific ERA actions contained in the ERA’s 2022–2024 policy agenda, which will be implemented by the Member States on a voluntary basis, in cooperation with countries associated to the Horizon Europe programme.
Following the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam, which established equality between women and men as a specific task of the EU and a horizontal objective affecting all community tasks, the European Commission formalised its commitment to advance gender equality in research in its communication ‘Women and Science: Mobilising women to enrich European research’. In this document, the European Commission stressed the importance of the exchange of experience between Member States and of promoting women’s participation in a research-financed EU. The Commission also acknowledged the severe under-representation of women in science and set out an action plan to promote gender equality in science. Gender equality is to be understood in terms of the three dimensions that characterise the relationship between the issues of gender and science. In the 1999 EU communication, these three dimensions were referred to as ‘by, for and about’ (i.e. recognising the need to promote research by, for and about women).
Within the fifth framework programme (1998– 2002), several efforts were made to promote gender equality in framework programme activities. This approach was broadened and reinforced during the implementation of the sixth framework programme (2002–2006), which established two main objectives: the target of 40% women’s representation in committees, groups and panels and the integration of the gender dimension in research content. Further framework programmes give continuity to these two goals in order to foster scientific excellence.
Towards a European research area and Horizon 2020
In more recent years, the European Commission has addressed gender equality in research in two different ways: through its main funding instrument, Horizon 2020, and within the ERA in collaboration with Member States.
The creation of the ERA was proposed by the European Commission in its communication ‘Towards a European research area’ of January 2000. The objective of creating the ERA was endorsed by the EU shortly afterwards at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council meeting. The issue of women and science is at the core of the ERA. The strategic objective of the ERA calls for an intensification of action that is needed to promote gender equality in science. Only by ensuring greater gender equality in science, in its widest sense, can science optimise the value that it brings to European society. The ERA pursues three objectives, namely gender equality in careers, gender balance in decision-making and the integration of the gender dimension into the content of research.
Since 2012, gender equality has been one of the key priorities of the Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth. To this end, the Member States were invited to remove barriers to the recruitment, retention and career progression of women researchers, to address gender balance in decision-making and to strengthen the gender dimension of research programmes. In particular, the ERA defined the following three objectives for gender equality in R & I, which also guided the efforts to promote gender equality in Horizon 2020:
- fostering gender balance in research teams, in order to close the gaps in the participation of women;
- ensuring gender balance in decision-making, in order to reach the target of 40% of the under-represented sex in panels and groups and 50% in advisory groups;
- integrating the gender dimension into R & I content and helping to improve the scientific quality and societal relevance of the produced knowledge, technology and/or innovation.
In Horizon 2020, gender was a cross-cutting issue and was mainstreamed in each of the different parts of the work programme, ensuring a more integrated approach to R & I. The legal basis reference document for the Horizon 2020 specific programme document stated that ‘promoting gender equality in science and innovation is a commitment of the Union. In Horizon 2020, gender will be addressed as a cross-cutting issue in order to rectify imbalances between women and men and to integrate a gender dimension in R & I programming and content’.
The science with and for society work programme in Horizon 2020 funded specific initiatives in support of the gender equality strategy. Support was given to research-performing organisations and research-funding organisations in order to:
- remove barriers that generate discrimination against women in scientific careers and decision-making (supporting research organisations to implement GEPs);
- integrate a gender dimension into research content.
Gender equality in a new ERA and in Horizon Europe
In 2020 and 2021, however, a new ERA was launched together with a new R & I framework programme called Horizon Europe. Both aim to continue and intensify the efforts to promote gender equality in R & I. With the new framework, the ERA will promote gender equality and diversity in R & I through inclusive GEPs along with the Member States and stakeholders. The objectives of this framework are promoting a gender-inclusive research culture, implementing sustainable change in R & I organisations and removing barriers to women’s career advancement.
In the ERA policy agenda for 2022–2024, the European Commission focuses on the fight against gender-based violence in academic institutions. Furthermore, gender equality policies should open up to and integrate other categories of diversity and potential grounds of discrimination, such as ethnic origin, disability or sexual orientation. It supports the priority areas for gender equality set out in the Ljubljana Declaration on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation:
- ensure fair, open, inclusive and gender-equal career paths in research and consider intersectional perspectives on gender inequalities;
- facilitate mutual learning opportunities through robust form-follows-function governance;
- address and counteract gender-based violence;
- employ existing and newly developed tools, such as GEPs, to facilitate systemic institutional change and remove institutional barriers;
- support active monitoring and evaluation to ensure continuous improvement;
- leverage synergies to enhance gender equality achievements within the ERA, but also within complementary fields, such as the European higher education area, Cohesion Policy Funds, innovation ecosystems and in international cooperation;
- underpin the above priorities and activities, and fully acknowledge gender mainstreaming as a horizontal principle.
To foster gender equality in R & I, from 2022, all public bodies, research organisations and higher education institutions from EU Member States or associated countries will have to submit a GEP when applying to the Horizon Europe fund. The GEP as an eligibility criterion of Horizon Europe has to fulfil the following four mandatory process-related requirements.
- Public document. A GEP is a formal document published on the organisation’s website, signed by the top management and actively communicated within the organisation.
- Dedicated resources. A GEP must include a commitment to equip the implementation with sufficient resources and expertise in gender equality.
- Data collection and monitoring. A GEP should be informed through collecting and analysing sex- / gender-disaggregated data on personnel (and students, for the organisations concerned). Organisations should report progress annually based on specific indicators.
- Training. A GEP must include awareness- raising and training activities on gender equality for the whole organisation and trainings on unconscious gender biases for staff and decision-makers.
Furthermore, five recommended content-related requirements were defined for the GEPs:
- work–life balance and organisational culture;
- gender balance in leadership and decision-making;
- gender equality in recruitment and career progression;
- integration of the gender dimension into research and teaching content;
- measures against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.
Mainstreaming gender equality into EU research and innovation instruments
The European Research Council (ERC) is a core part of Horizon Europe and has a work group dedicated to gender issues. The third ERC gender equality plan for 2021–2027 defines raising awareness about the gender policy at all levels as a key objective, along with the elimination of gender bias during evaluation and the promotion of gender balance amongst ERC candidates, peer reviewers and other bodies. Therefore, a level of 40% representation of the under-represented group within decision-making bodies is aimed at. Furthermore, various actions against gender bias were implemented by the ERC and the gendERC study (2014–2016) analysed potential gender bias in ERC evaluation and grant allocation processes.
The European Innovation Council Advisory Board monitors the strategy and work programme of the European Innovation Council (EIC) and is composed of experts from different innovation areas. They call on the EIC and all other innovation actors to take immediate action to achieve gender balance along the entire innovation chain. Initial successes, such as prioritising women-led companies invited to interview pitches introduced in 2020, have been recorded. The advisory board announced the following recommendations in the EIC’s 2021 work programme:
- target an equal share of women leading research work packages in EIC pathfinder projects;
- 40% of all bodies should be women, the future objective is 50%;
- expand the share of women-led companies invited to EIC jury pitches to above 40%;
- the EIC Fund should partner with a maximum number of women-led funds and funds with diverse management teams including female decision-makers;
- recommendation to introduce an innovation diversity prize.
Since October 2021, the EIC has been running the women leadership programme to promote the role of women in innovation and technology, alongside other women’s development programmes and awards. The programme aims to enhance the skills and networking of women entrepreneurs and researchers supported by the EIC. It consists of specific training, networking events, one-on-one mentoring and a business coaching programme.
The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) promotes gender equality at all levels. In order to support schoolgirls and students, the girls go circular project of the EIT aims to develop entrepreneurship skills among schoolgirls through challenge-based exercises. The EIT also promotes gender equality among students and alumni members with different activities, for example, the Women@EIT network or the collaboration with EIT Health’s empowering women entrepreneurs in health innovation project. By offering training and support, the project promotes female entrepreneurs in health innovation. The EIT designated closing the entrepreneurial gender gap and considering gender balance and gender-sensitive approaches – in particular in areas where women are still under-represented, such as information and communication technologies, STEM – as objectives of their 2021–2027 strategy.
Aside from all these various policies, actions, mechanisms and bodies aimed at advancing gender equality in R & I, intersectional approaches are becoming increasingly important as they combine different inequality mechanisms. The EU is also taking intersectionality into account in the 2020– 2025 EU gender equality strategy, which contains key objectives and actions to achieve gender equality. The strategy combines gender mainstreaming and intersectionality as a crosscutting approach. By integrating intersectionality into gender equality policies, other inequality grounds, for example, race, religion or sexual orientation, are also taken into account in R & I.
In February 2000, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Member States to increase the number of scholarships available to women in research and to pursue the goal of gender balance in scientific research at the national level.
In 2008, the Parliament adopted a resolution on women and science. This resolution identifies possible intervention measures, including:
- enhanced monitoring of the situation of women in this field, since data broken down by gender are still insufficient;
- new training criteria for evaluation committees, requiring a balanced composition in terms of gender representation;
- introduction of evaluation criteria for research projects that pay particular attention to the presence of women in research units;
- criteria for personnel and research that go beyond criteria based on the number of publications and consider other abilities, such as the ability to collaborate on research and train young talent;
- financial resources intended specifically to support projects proposed by women, who typically encounter greater difficulty in accessing research funding.
The Parliament is committed to strengthening the values of equality and non-discrimination with legislation including, for example, the equal treatment directive (2006) or the work–life balance directive (2019). The work–life balance directive sets minimum requirements for Member States in a bid to boost women’s representation in the workplace and strengthen the role of a father or an equivalent second parent in the family, thereby promoting gender equality.
In the Parliament, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is the principal political body in charge of advancing women’s rights and gender equality. The committee promotes gender mainstreaming by coordinating the Parliament’s gender mainstreaming network, sharing best practices in different policy areas. It was also responsible for drafting the new gender action plan, adopted in July 2020, as well as the roadmap for its implementation, adopted in April 2021, which includes a range of specific actions. From 25 to 28 October 2021, the Parliament’s committees and delegations held a series of events aimed at highlighting the importance of gender equality and gender mainstreaming across different policy domains, including women in research.
In January 2021, the Parliament adopted a resolution on the gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period, addressing the harmful gendered and intersectional impacts of the pandemic and setting out recommendations to overcome them. Among other things, the resolution addresses infection risks, increased domestic and gender-based violence, the increased burden of unpaid care work, and women’s participation in the labour market – problem areas affecting women in research.
Council of Europe
From its inception, the Council of Europe has considered equality between women and men, in all spheres of public and private life, as a fundamental principle of human rights and democracy.
The Council of Europe transversal programme on gender equality, launched in 2012, aims to increase the impact and visibility of gender equality standards and to support their implementation in Member States. To achieve its aim and advance the gender equality agenda, the programme builds on the political and financial support of the Member States.
The Council of Europe also established several bodies commissioned to promote gender equality. The Gender Equality Commission is a Council of Europe Steering Committee composed of representatives of the 47 Member States. The mission of the Gender Equality Commission is to steer the gender equality transversal programme and to provide expertise and a forum for exchange on good practices and issues of concern. The gender equality rapporteurs work to identify ways to integrate a gender equality perspective in the functioning, policies, programmes and activities of their respective body or structure. They identify opportunities to develop new measures and activities to promote gender equality. The gender mainstreaming team is responsible for sharing information and expertise, providing visibility to results, identifying opportunities for joint action and making proposals to facilitate the implementation of the gender equality transversal programme.
In 2018, the Council of Europe adopted its latest gender equality strategy (2018–2023), containing goals and strategic objectives directly affecting women in research:
- prevent and combat gender stereotypes and sexism;
- prevent and combat violence against women;
- ensure that women have equal access to justice;
- achieve balanced participation of women and men in decision-making;
- achieve gender mainstreaming in all policies and measures.
The 2019 Council of Europe recommendation on preventing and combating sexism comprises a comprehensive catalogue of measures both to prevent and to condemn sexism, and it calls for specific action in such areas as education institutions, pointing out that sexist behaviour affects women disproportionally, leading to discrimination and preventing their full advancement in society.
In ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), states made commitments to ensure equal rights for women and men in the field of education (Article 10) and to assure the same conditions for career and vocational guidance and access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories. This equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher-technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training.
Furthermore, the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (58), urged governments to take action to combat the continuous discrimination against women, which still persisted across countries as they prepared to enter the 21st century. The strategic objective B.3. ‘Improve women’s access to vocational training, science and technology and continuing education’ outlines a number of actions to be undertaken by governments. These include diversifying vocational and technical training and improving women and girls’ access to, and their retention in, education and vocational training in such fields as science, mathematics, engineering, environmental sciences, information technology and high technology, developing curricula and teaching materials and formulating positive measures to ensure women’s better access to and participation in technical and scientific areas, especially areas where they are not represented or under-represented.
In accordance with its work programme for 2010– 2014, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) considered ‘access and participation of women and girls to [and in] education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work’ as its priority theme during its 55th session in 2011. In order to contribute to a fuller understanding of the issue and to assist the CSW in its deliberations, the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), convened an expert group meeting (EGM) on gender, science and technology in 2010.
The EGM explored the gender dimensions of science and technology and identified policies and programmes that can accelerate progress towards internationally agreed development goals, including the millennium development goals. It examined strategies for:
- increasing women’s access to and use of technology, including more gender-responsive products;
- increasing women’s access to and participation in science and technology education and training;
- eliminating barriers to women’s participation in science and technology employment.
The EGM provided input for the report of the Secretary-General to the CSW (E/CN.6/2011/3) (59) and for the outcome of the CSW, the agreed conclusions and the set of policy recommendations to be implemented by all stakeholders.
In 2015, the United Nations resolution on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development was adopted. It states that women have a critical role to play in all of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), with numerous targets specifically recognising women’s equality and empowerment as both the objective and part of the solution. The UN emphasises that women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, political participation and equal opportunities for employment, leadership and decision-making. The resolution also stresses that investments to close the gender gap and to foster the systemic mainstreaming of a gender perspective are crucial.
SDG 4 concerns education. The goal is to ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong affordable learning opportunities for all, eliminate gender disparities, ensure equal access to all levels of education and build on gender-sensitive education facilities.
SDG 5 includes a subset of goals seeking to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls:
- ending all forms of discrimination and sexual violence against women;
- ensuring women’s participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making;
- recognising the value of unpaid care work;
- enhancing the use of enabling technology (e.g. communication technology);
- adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
Besides International Women’s Day and the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women, the UN declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, thereby promoting the achievement of full and equal access to and participation in science for women. With that, the UN recognises the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change, acknowledging that there is a significant gender gap at all levels of STEM around the world.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Another UN agency, UNESCO, is required to promote gender equality as part of its mandate. UNESCO is one of the leading specialist UN agencies with a mandate covering five programme areas: education, natural science, social and human sciences, culture, communication and information. These core areas of UNESCO’s mandate are all crucial for advancing the global gender equality agenda.
In this context – and given its mandate in science and its past work on women in science – UNESCO has a key role to play in taking up these issues and working to overcome gender disparities in the access to, influence over and use of STEM. Over the last 30 years, UNESCO’s science policy team has conducted studies on the role of women in science and the gender dimensions of policies related to the development and application of science and technology for sustainable development. It has supported the publication of one of the most comprehensive manuals on gender indicators in science and engineering.
UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector works towards providing strong role models for women and girls in science throughout the world, thereby building the capacities of women in STEM. The STEM and gender advancement (SAGA) project also aims to contribute to reducing the gender gap in STEM fields in all countries and at all levels of education and research by determining, measuring and assessing sex-disaggregated data, and by taking an inventory of policy instruments that affect gender equality in STEM, in order to generate new and improved indicators to support future evidence-based policymaking. In addition, the sector works to promote women’s participation in high-level processes that shape the science agenda and science policies, thus ensuring that the unique perspectives of women scientists and women knowledge holders are incorporated into solutions to the various challenges (e.g. climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater management, health of the oceans, and developing green industries and societies) contained within the advancement of sustainable and equitable development (https://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/ files/documents/saga-sti-objectives-list-wp1- 2016-en.pdf).
The UNESCO Science Report Towards 2030 provides valuable insights into the concerns and priorities of Member States and draws a comprehensive picture of the various facets of science, including gender-related issues (e.g. the gender gap in science and engineering). The report also contains steps to foster greater diversity in the scientific labour force for governments, and for research and science institutions:
- collection of data disaggregated by gender in key sectors;
- implementation of policies to promote the participation of women in science and innovation;
- steps to ensure that science and education systems are accessible;
- commitment to the equal representation of women in science, R & I management and decision-making;
- commitment to gender equality and diversity through funding, programming and monitoring of progress;
- introduction of fellowships and grants to increase the representation of under-represented groups;
- provision of supplementary support for women in the form of training, access to finance and backing for entrepreneurship.
The global UNESCO project, supported by the government of Sweden, is engaged in improving the measurement and policies for gender equality in the STEM area in order to enhance countries’ science, technology and innovation capacities (STI) to achieve the SDGs. The general objective of SAGA is to contribute to reducing the gender gap in the fields of STEM in all countries at all levels of education and research, by determining, measuring and assessing sex-disaggregated data and supporting the design and implementation of policy instruments that affect gender equality in STEM. Furthermore, SAGA aims to analyse how policies affect the gender balance in STEM, undertakes inventories of STI gender equality policies, develops new and better indicators to provide tools for evidence-based policymaking, builds capacity in Member States for data collection on gender and prepares methodological documents to support the collection of statistics.
UNESCO also developed an STI gender objectives list based on different areas of objectives or policy impacts:
- social norms and stereotypes,
- primary and secondary education,
- higher education,
- career progression,
- research content, practice and agendas,
- policymaking processes,
- entrepreneurship and innovation.
The recently published UNESCO Science Report (2021) analysed the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for women, concluding that the digital revolution needs to be inclusive. The findings of the 2021 engineering report indicate the decline in the enrolment of girls in natural sciences and engineering courses in schools and universities, and the lack of women engineers at universities.
Policy cycle in research
How and when? Research and the integration of gender into the policy cycle
The gender dimension can be integrated into all phases of the policy cycle. Below are some useful resources for and practical examples of main- streaming gender into research policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.
Within the research sector, mainstreaming gender means taking three different objectives into consideration: gender balance in research teams, gender balance in decision-making and the gender dimension in research content.
The first objective is related to all the actions that stress the importance of including female scientists in research teams as it facilitates the participation of women in research and, at the same time, introduces the perspective of female scientists to the analysis process. The second objective is related to all the actions aimed at considering the equal presence of women and men researchers among the top levels of the academic hierarchy. The third objective is related to all actions aimed at taking gender as a significant variable within any research content into account. This process of engendering research does not change the scope of the research; it provides new perspectives, raises new questions and uses new analysis tools to create a more complete picture of the problem. As men and women have different roles and power, their perspectives on a problem can be quite different. By combining their experiences and viewpoints, researchers can enhance the comprehension of a problem.
Current policy priorities at the EU level
The overarching policy priorities of the EU policy for research are clearly identified in the European Commission’s 2020 policy communication on the new ERA for research and innovation, which responds to new circumstances and challenges for European research. To this end, these new priorities were set:
- prioritising investments and reforms in R & I;
- boosting market uptake;
- strengthening mobility of researchers and free flow of knowledge and technology;
- improving access to excellence.
On 16 July 2021, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Council recommendation on ‘A Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe’. The pact proposal defines priority areas for joint action in support of the ERA, sets targets for investment and reform, and aims to simplify the policy coordination and monitoring process at the EU and Member State level with an ERA platform. To ensure impact and sustainability, the engagement of R & I stakeholders is intended by the pact.
The European Commission detailed the concrete but voluntary ERA actions for 2022–2024, promoting the priority areas in the European Research Area Policy Agenda. Action 5, under the priority area ‘Deepening a truly functioning internal market for knowledge’, aims at promoting gender equality and fostering inclusiveness, taking note of the Ljubljana declaration. The following out- comes are expected:
- development of a policy coordination mechanism to support all aspects of gender equality through inclusive GEPs and policies, and a dedicated EU network on their implementation;
- strategy to counteract gender-based violence including sexual harassment in the European R & I system and assuring gender-equal and inclusive working environments through institutional change in any research funding or performing organisation;
- a policy approach to inclusive gender equality that addresses gender mainstreaming and opening to intersectionality with other diversity dimensions to advance the new ERA;
- development of principles for the integration and evaluation of the gender dimension in R & I content in cooperation with national research funding organisations.
Horizon Europe follows after Horizon 2020 as the biggest EU R & I programme ever. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market, in order to boost economic growth and create jobs. The framework programme (2021–2027) lays out three priorities:
- fuel the EU’s scientific and technological excellence and strengthen the ERA;
- tackle policy priorities, including green and digital transitions and SDGs;
- boost Europe’s innovation uptake, competitiveness and jobs.
By coupling R & I, Horizon Europe is helping to achieve economic growth and job creation through these three priorities. The goal is to ensure that Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation.