Gender balance in leadership and decision making

Efforts to promote gender balance in leadership and decision-making have been undertaken in numerous countries. However, despite the policies and measures taken, data shows that women remain under-represented in academic and administrative leadership and decision-making positions in universities and research institutions across Europe. For example, according to She Figures 2021 observed that only 14 % of rectors in 46 countries with European University Association members were women in 2019.

Improving gender balance in leadership and decision-making is therefore a key objective for gender equality plans (GEPs). Aspects considered in a GEP may include:

  • how women are represented in decision-making at the top of the organisation, across academic/research departments and administrative functions;
  • what types of barriers exist to ensuring women are represented in decision-making and leadership positions, including structural, institutional and individual barriers;
  • what targets could be set to promote gender balance in leadership and decision-making roles across the organisation;
  • which steps can be taken, and by whom, to achieve these targets.

See below for measures to consider in your GEP, additional tips on what to think of and examples from other organisations.




General guidance and handbooks

  • The information provided in the GEAR action toolbox is strongly oriented towards the Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans. Consult the document directly for additional information and to access links to further best-practice examples.
  • The latest She Figures policy briefs cover the issue of gender imbalance in Europe’s research leadership and present available data and recommendations (see policy brief 3). The policy briefs also connect the discussed issues with key policy priorities at EU, national and institutional levels.
  • The Updated handbook of gender-sensitive indicators in the Baltic Gender project (2019) also provides indicators on career advancement and leadership, as well as decision-making. For each indicator, the handbook provides a definition, a rationale for using the indicator, a list of required data, and how to collect and analyse the data.
  • Promoting Sustainable Change – A toolkit for integrating gender equality and diversity in research and innovation systems (2016) was designed within the framework of the EU-funded project ‘Transforming organisational culture for gender equality in research and innovation’ (GENOVATE) for experienced and new innovators, as well as for people who want to learn more about how understanding gender and diversity can lead to more innovation in their everyday lives. It covers crucial issues for sustainable change, including the participation of under-represented groups in decision-making.
  • The FESTA project produced a report entitled Methodologies and measures for analysing informal decision-making and communication processes(2015). These methodologies and measures help to look into transparency and inclusivity in the informal decision-making and communication processes, and to draw up suggestions to foster the more active participation of women in all decision-making and communication processes.

Implementing gender quotas

  • The article ‘Implementing gender quotas at university: a practice lens’, published in 2019, explores the practices used when implementing gender quotas in a university, and studies how these practices affect gender equality in academic decision-making bodies. Through a practice theory approach, this paper provides original insights into how universities comply with gender quotas.