Step 1: Getting started

Once you have realised that promoting gender equality is crucial for both your funding activities and your staff, you may be wondering how to get this process started.

As a first step, you need to understand the context of your own organisation (see below for more details), as this will influence the scope and purpose of your gender equality plan (GEP). Therefore, start analysing your funding body’s type (basic/applied), history (long tradition / newly created) and funding scope (regional/national/international). Besides, the organisational context concerning your mandate and mission (area-specific/general), but also the relation to national authorities may differ.

When research funding bodies implement GEPs, they may be active at two distinct, but interrelated, levels.

  • They may approach internal stakeholders employed at the funding body and engaged in internal processes: training, capacity building for staff and management, awareness-raising or allocation of the funding budget.
  • They may approach external stakeholders when developing guidelines for reviewers and/or panel members or when defining eligibility and assessment criteria. Furthermore, in the way applicants (individual researchers, research teams or research organisations/universities) are addressed, gender comes into play in various forms.

If your research funding body is not experienced with implementing gender equality measures and/or you are a beginner regarding the development of a GEP, get started by reviewing all activities related to grant allocation processes and practices, and by reflecting where gender equality could play a role and where gender bias might occur.

Consider what you have discussed with colleagues and other stakeholders; be aware of the fact that the European Commission has emphasised the relevance of gender equality in research funding for decades, and that research has revealed various factors that might cause gender bias in research funding.

Examples of issues discussed regarding potential gender factors

Bias might already occur before applying, referring to dynamics in research teams, for example when women researchers are less often named as first author, or when a research organisation decides who is encouraged and supported to apply. Furthermore, networks are relevant (e.g. for citations): men have stronger networks, which is why men are cited more than women, which consequently generates higher impact points.

The composition of panels and boards, by sex or by country, can impact gender-fair funding outcomes and the gender awareness of a panel.

The meritocratic understanding of research and innovation (R & I) argues that success in research (funding) is based on individual merit and quality only, and that this is not influenced by any other considerations related to gender or other social variables. This is widely accepted in the R & I community, and sometimes makes it difficult to raise awareness of gender or any other form of bias.

The concept of excellence has been discussed as not being gender-neutral (van den Brink and Benschop, 2005):

the ideal excellent scientist shows qualities mainly associated with men – linear career paths, organisational mobility and full temporal availability (working at weekends, a culture of working long hours).

What is perceived as excellence in science is more related to characteristics mainly attributed to men (men are perceived as being more competitive, more confident, more independent). Here, gendermobility stereotypes come into play – even more so when decisions are taken under time pressure – and concern women and men evaluators.

In 1997, Wennerås and Wold showed that women need to be 2.5 times more productive in order to have the same success rate as men.

Double standards in the evaluation process are often applied for women and men applicants, for example when women’s independence is questioned more than men’s.

Panel members or reviewers may lack awareness about gendered behaviour. Men applicants often sell their research idea or their curriculum vitae in a more assertive way, which may be seen as a signal for confidence and competence, while women applicants tend to emphasise their achievements less strongly. It was shown that women are often less confident than men (impostor syndrome) and that they may step back from applying for grants, this is even more likely to happen when women’s success rates are in fact lower than those of men.

Merit/excellence is often measured by productivity, but productivity is linked to effective research time: researchers working part-time due to care obligations, or doing more administrative work or teaching, have less time for research and publishing. Others have career breaks for various reasons (jobs outside academia, illness, etc.), which might all manifest in a lower research performance. Consequently, the assessment of merit and excellence is not based on the same grounds.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges to a gender-fair funding process, as decision-making has mostly taken place in virtual panels. In particular, the crisis has highlighted the relevance of integrating a sex/gender analysis into research methodology and R & I results.

Before you start with your status quo assessment and build your own GEP, consider the following issues.

In order to view videos and webinars or further tools and resources on the topics discussed in step1, switch between the respective tabs. Otherwise, click below to continue to the next step and learn how to analyse and assess the gender equality state of play in your institution.

Understand the relevance of gender in research funding

  • The Horizon 2020 project GENDERACTION produced a video called ‘The role of funding agencies in the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation’, which identifies various fields of intervention within the funding body and when addressing external stakeholders.
  • The Global Research Council shows in one of its videos how increasing the participation of women in science can work.

Understand the context

  • To get an initial idea about how to address gender in research funding, visit the websites of umbrella organisations such as Science Europe or the Global Research Council
  • You may also want to have a look at the guidelines prepared as part of the ‘Evaluation framework for promoting gender equality in research and innovation’ (EFFORTI) project: What to Consider Regarding Context? A guideline. They emphasise the importance of considering the context not just to identify which measures are appropriate for your institution, but also to monitor and evaluate these measures later on.
  • You can also look at the new GEP guideline from the European Commission, Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans.