Step 3: Setting up a Gender Equality Plan
After carrying out an assessment of the gender equality status quo (see step 2) in your organisation, you can start setting up a gender equality plan (GEP).
When developing the GEP, keep in mind that this kind of plan has two functions. Firstly, a GEP is a formal document and you are free to structure and design the GEP according to your own needs and standards; there is no overall template to fill in. Consider that your GEP needs to fulfil the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion (find more information here). Secondly, the GEP reflects a process: developing a GEP means involving people, identifying and discussing challenges and potential measures with them, and thereby raising awareness of gender equality and gaining support for the implementation of the plan. These discussions and negotiations are an important step for awareness-raising, which is the starting point for structural and cultural change in research funding bodies.
The scope of a GEP for research funding bodies stretches from defining research priorities and funding programmes to defining eligibility criteria, application procedures, and evaluation and grant-awarding procedures. It can also include objectives and measures that aim to promote gender equality for employees, ranging from work–life balance to working culture or career progression and leadership.
The findings of the status quo analysis allow you and your team to identify the areas of intervention to be addressed in your GEP. To get from the data analysis to your objectives and the concrete measures you aim to implement, make use of the tools that have been developed so far (you can find them below). Be aware that the targets you are aiming for need to be linked to the overall strategic objectives of your funding body, as well as to national policies that might be relevant for your organisation.
At this stage, it is crucial to actively involve senior management and people in leadership positions to decide on the areas of intervention to be addressed and the measures to be identified in your GEP. Their involvement will ensure a smoother and more effective implementation of the proposed measures (to prepare a line of reasoning, find some arguments here). Consider also including the members of the team who carried out the status quo assessment (see step 2) in the development of the GEP.
However, not all relevant areas of intervention can be tackled at the same time, and some may be more pressing than others. Set the priorities for your organisation considering the status quo assessment of step 2; the available resources; and, of course, the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion. Link these priorities to other strategic targets of your organisation; this will increase their sustainability.
When developing the GEP, keep in mind that it must be holistic and integrated. This means that the identified areas of intervention are interdependent. The GEP will address a variety of issues relevant to the whole community and organisational system. There are a few basic elements to be considered when setting up the GEP: (1) objectives, (2) measures with indicators and targets, (3) timeline and (4) responsibilities.
Below we explain how these elements are realised in the process of setting up a GEP.
You can organise joint or separate dynamic workshops with senior management and those in leadership posts, programme management, human resources and communication staff, among others. It is possible to use participatory methods for involving these stakeholders, as suggested by the ACT co-creation toolkit, ‘Gender equality actions in research institutions to transform gender roles’ (GEARING ROLES) project and ‘Supporting the promotion of equality in research and academia’ (SUPERA) project (you can find more resources on participatory methods in the ‘Tools and resources’ tab of ‘Which stakeholders to involve and how’).
A participatory approach will help you to set out meaningful measures for the people involved, while respecting the organisational culture. This will boost participants’ willingness to implement the measures set out in the GEP. Moreover, it will increase awareness of gender equality among these groups.
Be aware that some formulations may cause discomfort. For instance, ‘rethinking excellence’ may be identified as a priority. However, this approach can instigate resistance. The description of a measure can, in many cases, be adapted in order to address the organisation’s priorities while considering certain sensitivities. For example, using the phrase ‘optimising the evaluation process’ may be more widely accepted by the community. Be aware that the meaning of gender equality needs to be constantly framed strategically throughout the implementation of the GEP for various internal and external stakeholders.
Think about different levels of stakeholder involvement: you could consider a step-by-step approach to participation, as already implemented in some GEP projects. Get inspiration from CALIPER’s Internal Engagement and Change Management Strategy Guideline. In addition to a core team, you might set up a gender equality board or a hub as support structure and also use gender labs as time-limited, thematic and solution-oriented participation structures.
Embedding your GEP in a logic model can help you to plan objectives, interventions, desired outcomes and resources in more detail, covering internal (staff) and external (funding activities) spheres. It allows you to understand better how your different strategies and interventions will work towards the same goals, interact and reinforce each other. Based on the logic model you can also plan your monitoring and evaluation activities (see step 5). The ‘Evaluation framework for promoting gender equality in research and innovation’ (EFFORTI) toolbox allows you to plan your GEP or interventions in the framework of a logic model.
Achieving structural and cultural change requires selecting interventions that foster change at different levels of your research funding body and at each step of the funding cycle (see here). Therefore, your GEP should make use of multiple strategies and interventions to put a change process into motion. These different strategies and interventions should be coordinated and reinforce each other so that, for instance, changes at the structural level are supported by activities at the cultural level.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel: there are some successful examples of measures implemented by other research funding bodies. However, a complete replication of such measures can be ineffective in your organisation. It is important to assess the context in which these were carried out. Make sure to adapt the measures considering the specificities of your own context (see step 1) and your own status quo assessment (see step 2). Look at the gender equality in academia and research (GEAR) action toolbox (section on gender-sensitive research funding) to get some inspiration on the areas that can be covered in a GEP, and browse through examples from other organisations here.
Now it is time to describe your selected measures in more detail, as basis for discussion and in order to fine-tune them within your organisation and ensure commitment. Another option is to discuss them first and then lay the outcomes of these negotiations down in the GEP document.
The objectives, targets and measures of your GEP are more likely to be successfully achieved and implemented if they are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related (SMART).
- Specific. The objectives and measures should answer the following basic questions: what, why, how, who, when and where.
- Measurable. Establish quantitative and/or qualitative indicators and respective targets.
- Attainable. Make sure the objectives and measures are not out of reach and that they can actually be achieved (even if requiring more effort).
- Realistic. Ensure that the objectives and measures are relevant to the organisation and that they are feasible within a certain time frame and within the available resources.
- Time-related. Indicate when the objectives and measures can be achieved.
Remember that the Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans defines a GEP as ‘a set of commitments and actions that aim to promote gender equality in an organisation through institutional and cultural change’. When defining the targets and measures of your GEP, keep your funding cycle in mind and consider the recommended content-related (thematic) GEP building blocks for internal and external stakeholders:
- work–life balance and organisational culture;
- gender balance in leadership and decision-making;
- gender equality in recruitment and career progression;
- integration of the sex/gender dimension into research and teaching content;
- measures against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.
Find inspiration on how to establish SMART objectives under the tab ‘Tools and resources’. Note that there will be more information on how to identify useful indicators in step 5 on monitoring and evaluation.
The financial and human resources available for gender equality work are usually scarce. Working in such conditions can be very challenging. Identify existing resources that can serve the measures you are setting up. Sometimes, small changes in existing procedures or services will help to attain the objectives set out without additional costs or much effort. Building (parts of) your GEP on existing resources also has the advantage of promoting the institutionalisation of gender-sensitive and/or gender-specific procedures or activities.
Some examples are as follows.
- 'On-the-job training’ programmes are usually offered by organisations. An initial mandatory gender training could be offered within this programme to build capacities of (newly appointed) staff or to improve the knowledge and/or competences of other staff members.
- The drafting of new (or renewing) organisational strategic documents is an excellent opportunity for integrating gender-sensitive or gender-specific measures into those documents, for example when defining research funding priorities or adopting the evaluation framework (e.g. by reflecting on joining the Declaration on Research Assessment initiative).
- When planning the peer-review panels make sure to aim for a balanced representation of women and men in the panels.
Overall, however, the implementation of the GEP will not work without additional resources. Start defining and negotiating these resources during the phase of GEP development. Use the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion and any applicable national regulations as arguments. Moreover, consider possible external resources as well (e.g. local or national partnerships), as suggested in step 1 (‘Find support’). Find inspiration on identifying and utilising resources under the tab ‘Tools and resources’.
The overall duration of the GEP needs to be established (e.g. 4 years). Consider that a short time span means frequent negotiations for the next GEP, perhaps using up a lot of resources. A longer time span, on the other hand, may not allow flexible responses to current needs. It may also be strategically wise to coordinate the time frame of the GEP with that of the organisation’s strategy development.
Considering the proposed measures and available resources, establish the timeline for executing each of them. When planning the time frame, take into account that not all measures can be implemented at the same time, and that some measures are mutually dependent. For example, it is necessary to establish a gender equality officer first, before that officer can set up gender equality monitoring and submit annual reports.
The ‘Promoting gender balance and inclusion in research, innovation and training’ (PLOTINA) project provides an Excel document for designing your own GEP, creating annual work plans, following up on the implementation and gathering qualitative results for the measures implemented. You may need to adapt the document to your specific requirements and needs.
Do not forget to establish specific monitoring periods for reporting on the progress achieved (see step 5 to learn more). Progress reports should be discussed in decision-making bodies in your organisation and the top management should be held accountable for the results.
Keep in mind that a GEP is not static, but evolves continuously. The organisation, the people and the priorities can change drastically from one moment to the next, so be flexible. The negotiation of the relevance of gender equality in relation to the different measures and stakeholders involved is a constant process.
An agreement needs to be made on the team that will be involved in the implementation of the GEP. After having decided on the staff members who will collaborate on this assignment and who will have the decision-making powers necessary for implementation, clear responsibilities need to be set out for implementing measures. The GEP should clearly indicate ‘who is responsible for what and when’. Here are recommendations on who to involve in the GEP and what the role of each person can be.
The GEP may include innovative and effective measures, but these will work only if the GEP is supported by internal stakeholders at all levels and when external stakeholders are committed as well. Engaging stakeholders is indispensable during the set-up phase. The GEP needs to be understood as something more than a piece of paper. Invest time in explaining the benefits of gender equality in research funding organisations. Adapt your argumentation to the addressee. Take the time to explain what is in the GEP for targeted stakeholders: top down, bottom up and from the outside. Involve other funding bodies, external organisations and experts in order to increase the visibility of the GEP within and outside the institution so that the engagement of leaders is enhanced. Note that these efforts need to be continued throughout the implementation of the GEP (see step 4).
Keep in mind that engaging stakeholders is a continuous activity: it starts with convincing senior management and those in leadership posts to have a GEP for the organisation, but it does not end there. Keep on engaging stakeholders in order to build stronger alliances. Have in mind that other research funding bodies also work on optimising their assessment procedures, and the people reviewing for you might be doing a similar job in another funding organisation or talking to colleagues engaged there. This might lead to some exchange of experiences and fruitful discussions, which also helps to increase awareness of gender issues.
Find inspiration on building alliances under the tab ‘Tools and resources’.
Potential preparatory activities at the level of the whole research funding body, including relevant external stakeholders
Before you start digging into specific activities related to grant allocation processes, consider some preparatory activities at the level of the whole research funding body. These might help you to raise awareness and understanding regarding gender equality issues, and facilitate the work on making the grant allocation process fairer later on.
- Awareness raising. If your funding body has not been active in gender equality work so far, it is helpful to raise awareness about the topic by inviting experts from other funding bodies or from national authorities to share their experiences and learnings. Having sex-disaggregated data (on applicants, grantees, panel members) available often helps to understand the problem.
- Capacity building. Training for top management, programme management, scientific officers, gender equality officers and other staff is relevant in order to be able to perform gender equality work. To promote the importance of gender equality, specific training courses and workshops should be run. Training can cover issues such as unconscious bias, how to develop a GEP or gender-sensitive language. In addition, reviewers need to be trained regarding gender-neutral assessment practices and how to assess the integration of the sex/gender dimension in research and innovation projects. Support materials, such as videos and online tutorials, can be used. Building specific internal capacities is indispensable for carrying out gender equality work internally, as well as externally (e.g. for applicants, panel members and reviewers).
- Support. Support from top management needs to be demonstrated by publishing a strategic commitment on gender inclusiveness on the organisation’s website and by integrating gender equality targets into all strategic documents.
- Budget is crucial. Check how much funding budget is allocated to which disciplines (see step 2). It could be relevant to increase the budget for disciplines with a greater share of women or to create specific calls for fields in which women are the majority.
- Last but not least, research funding bodies are also employers. Providing flexible work schedules or developing parent-friendly workplace options is crucial for internal career development. Have a look at the other parts of the GEAR tool to get inspiration for such activities.
The resources for promoting structural change towards gender equality are limited and neither is the duration of your GEP. Most of the changes to be implemented are expected to have a long-term impact. To ensure the sustainability of gender equality measures, it is important to embed practices in the normal routines and procedures of the organisation and to anchor them structurally. This can be done by introducing new functions, such as a gender equality officer, and changing existing routines and procedures in the organisation, or by structurally complementing them with new ones.
Keep in mind that your first GEP will not be your last one. Institutional change towards gender equality in an organisation is a long-term endeavour.
If you are interested in general tools and resources that can support you in developing your GEP, click on the tab ‘Tools and resources’. Moreover, the SPEAR video on step 3 tells you all you need to know about developing a GEP.
SPEAR Gender equality in academia. EIGE’s GEAR tool step 3
You can find webinars about developing a GEP in the tab ‘Videos and webinars’. Otherwise, click below to continue to the next step and learn how to implement your GEP. You can also go back to the previous step.
- Science Europe’s Practical guide to improving gender equality in research organisations provides guidance on how to avoid unconscious bias in the peer-review process, how to monitor gender equality and how to improve grant management practices.
- The Royal Society has produced a video that introduces the key concepts of unconscious bias (gender and other intersecting dimensions) for panel members. This video on unconscious bias for panel members is used by the European Research Council; it is shown before remote assessments and before panel meetings.
- An Irish research body has produced two videos on assessment practices: ‘What happens before a panel meeting?’ and ‘What happens in a panel meeting?’
- The Dutch Research Council (NWO) set up an e-learning module for reviewers including a video on Interaction and group dynamics in evaluation committees , that creates awareness of implicit gender biases and allows reviewers to correct these biases.
The webinar 'Introduction to gender equality plans' (2020), developed by the Gender Equality Academy, aims to explore the concept of institutional change for gender equality in research-performing and research funding organisations, and how GEPs can be used for implementing it in view of achieving the three main European research area objectives.
- In the ‘Gender equality in the European research area community to innovate policy implementation’ (GENDERACTION) project webinar 'Gender equality plans in Horizon Europe' you can learn about the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion, how to design a GEP, how to set up an implementation process, and about areas of change and requirements.
- In the ‘Systemic action for gender equality’ (SAGE) project online course 'Change management in gender equality' you can examine the experiences of institutions in putting the SAGE model for institutional change into action and explore the process of developing and implementing GEPs. The webinar also looks at how other research institutions can adapt the model to identify the measures required to create their GEP.
Helpful tools and resources in general
- Take a look at the infographic developed in the EU-funded 'Gender equality in engineering through communication and commitment' (GEECCO) project before starting the process of GEP design to get an idea of different gender equality approaches.
- To get inspiration, have a look at the SAGE wheel, but keep in mind that it was developed before the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion was established.
- The SPEAR creative, open, mitigating, processual, accountable, SMART, sustainable (COMPASS) methodology, developed in 2021 by the EU-funded project SPEAR, is a holistic and practical approach that can help you draft an effective and sustainable GEP and implement gender equality change measures in your organisation. The COMPASS methodology draws on seven carefully selected principles (creative, open, mitigating, processual, accountable, SMART, sustainable) and provides hands-on planning tools.
- The CO-design guidelines for the development and reporting of scenarios, developed in the CALIPER project, aim to help research-performing organisations and research funding organisations develop a tailored co-design strategy and build tailored strategic change scenarios for developing customised GEPs. The purpose of the methodology guidelines is twofold: (1) design a co-design process and (2) design strategic change scenarios that will be the basis of the GEP design. The document presents theoretical insights on co-design and practical steps to follow. It also provides a toolkit with practical activities. These guidelines will allow the formation of tailored strategies to develop strategic change scenarios and organise multistakeholder dialogues.
- Users can choose their own measures from a complete list of measures that partners in the PLOTINA project prepared to support research-performing organisations in their choice, divided into five key areas (1) governance bodies, key actors and decision-makers; (2) recruitment, career progression and retention; (3) work and personal life integration; (4) researchers and research: gender equality, and the sex and gender perspective; and (5) integration of the sex/gender dimension into teaching curricula. These are subdivided according to specific objectives to be achieved within each key area. The list presents the many strategies/measures that can be adopted in order to reach gender equality.
- The Guidelines to Design a Customised Gender Equality Plan (GEP), developed in the ‘Taking a reflexive approach to gender equality for institutional transformation’ (TARGET) project, provide concrete guidance for research-performing and research funding organisations on developing a GEP based on a gender equality audit. This general guidance document tries to help implementing institutions identify initial priorities of the GEP on the basis of the audits performed. Specifically, it walks them through how to use the results (of the audit) to design the GEP in a reflexive and participative way, thereby further embedding the GEP process within the institution.
- The ‘Equality network in the European research area’ (GENERA) project planning–action–monitoring (PAM) tool can help you plan measures and monitor their implementation. The PAM tool illustrates how you can identify targets and appropriate indicators to measure them, and how targets and concrete measures are linked. This is demonstrated by using the example of the field of physics.
Resources to establish specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related objectives
- Take a look at the GEECCO infographic on how to develop SMART gender equality objectives before you start your GEP design process.
- The EFFORTI toolbox designed in 2019 by the EU-funded EFFORTI project, provides suggestions for measures for specific objectives in the impact story knowledge base. For each suggested measure, the user receives a description for how this measure is supposed to work, what effects it should deliver and how these effects can be measured.
Resources for identifying and utilising existing resources
- More examples of awareness-raising and capacity-building activities for research funding bodies can be found in the action toolbox, in the section on gender-sensitive research funding.
- The EU-funded project ‘Structural transformation to achieve gender equality in science’ (STAGES) shared its experiences regarding the integration and institutionalisation of gender equality in organisations’ strategic documents, provisions and procedures. Structural Transformation to Achieve Gender Equality in Science - Guidelines (pp. 42–45) provides several relevant insights. Consider especially ‘II. Engaging leaderships’ and ‘III. Policy-making and institutionalisation’.