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). The findings of the initial analysis allow you to identify the areas of intervention to be addressed in your GEP. Keep in mind that your GEP needs to fulfil the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion, and therefore should address these specific areas of intervention. Find more information here.
At this stage, it is crucial to actively involve people in senior management and leadership positions in deciding 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. Consider also including the members of the team that carried out the initial 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 initial assessment of step 2, the available resources and, of course, the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion.
When developing the GEP, keep in mind that it needs to be holistic and integrated. This means that the identified areas of intervention are interdependent. Consider also the five levels (structure, personnel, power, culture and context) that you should involve in the development of your GEP, as outlined in section 2.1 ‘What is a gender equality plan’. The GEP will address issues that are relevant to the whole community and organisational system. There are several basic elements to be taken into account when setting up the GEP:
During the development process, consider how to connect the GEP to other important strategy documents and processes of your organisation to foster the sustainable institutionalisation of gender equality. Below we explain how these elements are taken into consideration in the process of setting up a GEP.
You can organise joint or separate dynamic workshops with those in senior management and leadership posts, human resources and communication staff, teaching and/or research staff, and students, among others. You can use participatory methods for involving these stakeholders, as suggested by the ACT co-creation toolkit, the ‘Gender equality actions in research institutions to transform gender roles’ (GEARING ROLES) project and the ‘Supporting the promotion of equality in research and academia’ (SUPERA) project (you can find more resources about participatory methods in the ‘Tools and resources’ tab of ‘Which stakeholders to involve and how’).
A participatory approach will help you to establish meaningful objectives and 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 help you to understand the meaning of gender equality for these groups.
Be aware that some formulations may cause discomfort. For instance, ‘attracting more women researchers’ for a certain discipline may be identified as a priority. However, this formulation can instigate resistance. The text of a measure can, in many cases, be adapted in order to address the organisation’s priorities while considering certain susceptibilities. For example, using the expression ‘attracting talent’ may be more widely accepted by the organisation’s community. Be aware that the meaning of gender equality needs to be constantly framed strategically throughout the implementation of the plan to create consent and support.
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 laboratories as time-limited, thematic and solution-oriented participation structures.
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 qualitative indicators and respective targets to be able to check the achievement of objectives (for specific information on indicators, see steps 2 and 5).
- 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, consider the recommended content-related (thematic) GEP building blocks:
- 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.
Find inspiration on how to establish SMART objectives under the tab ‘Tools and resources’. Note that there is more information on how to identify useful indicators in step 5 on monitoring and evaluation.
Embedding your GEP in a logic model can help you to plan objectives, interventions, desired outcomes and resources in more detail. It allows you to better understand 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 with the ‘programme theory generator’.
Achieving structural and cultural change requires selecting interventions that foster change at different levels of your organisation, such as structural, personnel, power-related and cultural levels. 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 numerous sound and successful examples of measures implemented by other organisations. 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 to get some inspiration on the areas that can be covered in a GEP, and browse through examples from other organisations.
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 on existing resources also has the advantage of promoting the institutionalisation of gender-sensitive and/or gender-specific procedures or activities.
Some examples are the following.
- ‘On-the-job training’ programmes are usually offered by organisations. An initial mandatory gender training could be offered within this programme at the beginning of each (academic) year in order 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.
- When planning the conferences to be held by the organisation, make sure to include a provision requiring 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 GEP development phase. Use the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion and any applicable national regulations as arguments. Moreover, consider possible external resources as well (e.g. funding, local 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 then 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 implementation and gathering qualitative results for the measures implemented.
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 – it 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. You need to identify those bodies and functions in your organisation that need to be assigned overarching responsibilities for the GEP in order to achieve greater sustainability and accountability (e.g. human resources department, top and/or middle management, communications department, financial department). Representatives of these bodies and functions should be involved in the development of the GEP as much as possible to ensure a high level of identification. After having decided on the staff members who will collaborate in this assignment and who will have the decision-making powers necessary for implementation, clear responsibilities need to be established. The GEP should clearly indicate ‘who is responsible for what and when’. Here are recommendations on which stakeholders you need to engage in a GEP and what the role of these stakeholders can be.
The GEP may include innovative and effective measures, but these will not work if the GEP is not supported by stakeholders at all levels. 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 organisations. Adapt your language to the profile you are addressing. Take the time to explain what is in the GEP for targeted stakeholders – top down, bottom up and from the outside. Involve external organisations, stakeholders and experts in order to build supportive alliances and increase the visibility of the plan 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 plan (see step 4).
Keep in mind that engaging stakeholders is a continuous activity. It starts with convincing those in senior management and 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.
Find inspiration on building alliances under the tab ‘Tools and resources’.
The resources for promoting structural change towards gender equality are not unlimited and neither is the duration of your GEP. 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 structurally complementing them with new ones. In addition, creating links with other strategic planning processes and/or embedding the GEP mandate in other, broader strategic documents will contribute to sustainability.
If you are interested in general tools and resources to support you in developing your GEP, click on the tab ‘Tools and resources’. In addition, 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.
- 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 GENDERACTION 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 measures required to create their GEP.
Generally supportive tools and resources
- Take a look at this infographic, developed as part of the EU-funded project ‘Gender equality in engineering through communication and commitment’ (GEECCO), 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 upon 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 EU-funded CALIPER project, aim to help organisations develop a tailored co-design strategy and build tailored strategic change scenarios for developing 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 also provides a toolkit with practical activities.
- The ‘Gender equality in information science and technology’ (EQUAL-IST) project toolkit provides examples of good practice, concrete initiatives, tools and guidelines that were identified as being suitable for computer sciences and information systems departments/faculties to promote and make structural changes for gender equality at the level of universities or research organisations.
- 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. The list is 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 sex and gender perspective and (5) integration of the sex/gender dimension in teaching curricula – and subdivided according to specific objectives to be achieved within each key area. It presents the manifold 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 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.
- To get inspiration for the design of your measures, the GEARING ROLES project provides a table of relevant resources structured along different action fields in its report Recommendations for GEP Report (p. 10).
Resources for establishing 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 of how this measure is supposed to work, what effects it should have and how these effects can be measured.
Resources for identifying and utilising existing resources
- 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’.
- More examples of awareness-raising and capacity-building activities can be found in the action toolbox.
Resources for building alliances
- The EU-funded SAGE project developed short guidelines for the implementation of GEPs to help organisations in planning and managing the GEP process and to lower organisational resistance to change.
The EU-funded project STAGES shared its experiences regarding the engagement of leadership. Structural Transformation to Achieve Gender Equality in Science – Guidelines (pp. 35–39) provides some relevant insights.