Ana Rotter: “Soft grips and involvement of all employees are key to a successful action plan to promote gender equality in science”

Ana Rotter, a researcher at the National Institute of Biology at the Piran Marine Biological Station, shared with us her experiences in the work of promoting gender equality and implementing gender equality action plans. “It is somewhat unusual for the microbiologist and statistician,” she said, “to have an intense commitment to gender equality, traditionally dominated by humanists and humanists.” But that is why her experience is all the more valuable. We hosted Ana Rotter as an invited lecturer as part of an international meeting of R&I PEERS partners – Pilot Experience to Improve Gender Equality in Research Organizations .

Ana Rotter started addressing gender issues in 2011 when she received the L’Oreal and UNESCO National Program for Women in Science. It was then that she first became exposed to the media and began to notice differences between the treatment of women scientists, not only by gender, but also by geographical origin or whether they came from the so-called Eastern or Western Europe. On several occasions, she publicly spoke with her opinion and in response received that this kind of activity does not come from a scientist and is not compatible with scientific excellence. This has not stopped her, she has been involved in several different projects dealing with finding solutions to social inequalities. Rotter pointed out that the European Commission is currently supporting a number of related projects seeking a solution to gender inequality, such as Plotina, Change, Libra, Integer and Gender time. She emphasized the need for mutual cooperation and knowledge sharing between projects, and shared her experience with the fundamental difficulties in implementing action plans and trying to solve them.

“The first problem may lie in the very design of the goals of the plan,” said Ana Rotter. If, on the one hand, we can have associates who want to finish the project as soon as possible in order to get back to the “right” scientific work, on the other, they are those who have too high and unrealistic goals. The solution is found in “soft”, smaller, even more easily practicable measures, which are therefore long-term measures and remain valid after the end of the project. It is also important to establish direct accountability for the implementation of the measures, and it is not irrelevant who cares about what. If tasks are assigned to the youngest in the group, the chances of derivation are less. Institutional change requires the search for people who have a high level of authority in the institution, but one should not forget the so-called “middle management”, which is often overlooked,

However, even if the design of the project is good, it can stop at implementation. First of all, due to lack of knowledge, which is present mainly in STEM, which traditionally does not address topics such as social equality. Knowledge is gained through continuous participation in workshops, networking and exchange, as well as through the diverse composition of research teams where one person can influence others. One-off measures that are not implemented after the formal expiry of the project should also be avoided. According to Ana Rotter, the action plan needs to be constantly adjusted and new measures added.

The third challenge lies in the so-called human factor, that is, the possible resistance of employees and management, to whom gender equality projects may seem insignificant, unrelated to their work, or conditioned by current “popularity”. Believing that they have not experienced something themselves, many women and men believe that there is no inequality in the scientific sphere. Such responses are important, Rotter points out, and especially communication with those who are most skeptical. According to Ana Rotter, the solution is not to pressure colleagues or big gripes, such as gender quotas, as they automatically provoke resistance. In her view, the conversation and emphasis is much more on the point that action plans are not about the formal introduction of new rules but only about guidelines and proposals, which will have a positive impact on the work atmosphere and relationships between the employees of the institution. Even small approaches such as flexible working hours or promoting achievements on a website can help you feel better. Again, it is important to include colleagues at all levels, both women and men, researchers and administration workers, techniques and PhDs that are often overlooked. The best motivation to talk, however, was the all-human common thing: food and drink. Rotter organized an informal meeting with beer and burgers at her institution, to which most technical, male staff came. The conversation began with an invitation to the participants to present their work and why they were indispensable at their institution; only after such an introduction, in which she emphasized the importance of each member for the institution,

The final challenge is the monitoring and evaluation of action plans – in the absence of these, there are no sustainable approaches. Given the time constraints of the projects, measuring the grip should start in the middle of the project and establish an opportunity for future continuation. Data is crucial as it can prove that the institution has inequality problems. For example, if within a project we can arrange for the annual report to collect data suggesting a link between pay, employment practices, promotion and gender, then data collection may continue beyond the end of the project, says Ana Rotter. International projects also need to pay attention to cross-cultural differences. For example, there are not many housewives in Eastern Europe, mainly because of the legacy of employment policies of the socialist regimes, paid maternity leave, and an extensive childcare network. That’s why with us, Unlike Portugal, Austria or Cyprus, there is no need to promote women’s employment and there are different approaches. In doing so, Ana Rotter reiterates the importance of soft approaches, as they affect not only those currently occupying leadership positions, but future leaders who, as she hopes, will have a different consciousness.

From Spolinznanost

Diversities make the company grow

Friday 20 September, Confindustria Salerno hosted the event “Doppia Coppia, research and innovation + gender and generation. The complementary talents that make the company grow “.

 

The initiative, commissioned by the Confindustria Women’s Committee of Salerno, and in collaboration with the Politecnico di Milano, is part of the Horizon 2020 project: “R&I Peers: Pilot Experiences For Improving Gender Equality In Research Organizations (Pilot experiences to improve the equality of genre in research organizations), of which the University of Salerno is leader with the support of the Observatory for Gender Studies and Equal Opportunities (OGEPO).

 

Among the other interventions, were present the testimonies of Gerardo and Susy Gambardella of Bioplast; by Antonello and Valentina Sada of Sada Packaging and Fausta Colosimo and Antonia Trucillo from Caffè Trucillo on how different but complementary genders and generational alliances, can prove to be decisive variables in determining the business success and growth.

Professor Loredana Incarnato presenting GEP as the heart of structural change

Professor Loredana Incarnato, Full Professor of Material Science and Technology at the University of Salerno, took part to the final event of the SAGE Project (Systemic Action for Gender Equality), held in Brussels on 10th July 2019. The Conference included the presentation of the final results and experiences of the SAGE Project, and a panel discussion involving representatives of the next generation of EU gender equality projects. Professor Loredana Incarnato, leader of the WP 4 “GEPs set-up, running and improvement” of the R&I PEERS Project presented the project as well as the results reached so far.

Professor Incarnato gave particular attention to the seven Gender Equality Plans approved in the framework of R&I PEERS, and the importance of the monitoring indicators as part of the process of change.

Women and academia: what are the prospects?

The first Doctoral seminar dedicated to the presentation of the European project R&I PEERS – Piloting Experiences for Improving Gender Equality in Research Organisations  will take place at the University of Salerno, on Friday 28 June 2019 at 10,30 am. The event, focused on gender issue in research, is organised by OGEPO-UniSa (Interdepartmental Observatory for the Gender studies and Equal Opportunities). It represents one of the activities envisaged within the Gender Equality Plan of the UniSa, approved in the framework of the R&I PEERS. At the heart of the debate there will be some key current issues concerning “Women and Science” such as university career paths, the European research area and equal opportunities policies. The seminar will include speeches of Maria Rosaria Pelizzari, Director of the OGEPO and Coordinator of the R&I PEERS project; Loredana Incarnato, Responsible for the STEM area of ​​the R&I PEERS project;  Federica Di Sarcina, R&I PEERS research fellow and expert on European gender equality policy and Annalisa Apicella, Vice-Coordinator of ADI Salerno.The event is supported by ADI Salerno, the Italian Association of PhD candidates and PhDs.

»ZRC: we are women too«: round table on the promotion of science from a gender perspective

On May, 20 ZRC SAZU organized a discussion »ZRC: we are women too« on the promotion of science from a gender perspective. This is the first from the series of activities titled ŽRC SAZU, which will actively promote academic excellence of female researchers. Four distinguished researchers were invited, employed by ZRC SAZU, to speak about their work. Archeologist Lucija Grahek discovered a rare gold coin from the Iron Age, ethnomusicologist Ana Hofman received the Austrian award for science Danubius, historian Petra Svoljšak is known for extensive promotion of the First World War in the Slovenian public, while philosopher Alenka Zupančič recently published “What is Sex?”, her third book at MIT Press, one of the leading international academic publishers.

Scholars discussed the role of gender in academic work from different perspectives. They underlined the complexity of this issue, which cannot be divorced from other social factors and power relations. Together with gender there is a need to consider statuses and hierarchies between academic fields, as some fields are more established then others. There is also a difference between researchers that work in their mother tongue and those who adopted new languages and left their home countries. Additional issue that defines career and life choices of successful researchers is also class and family background. But, one of the biggest challenges of the academic work seems to be, according to researchers, the administrative burden, bureaucracy, and project-oriented nature of their work that lead to unstable, short term employment and precarity.

 

Invited speakers opened the question of the promotion of the academic results through the perspective of generational differences. They noted that older colleagues are less focused on the promotion, as they do not share the mind-set that everything that is »produced«, including academic results, needs to be sold on the market. This is why, they thought, younger generations and those on the lower stages of their academic careers are more involved in promotional activities. However, results of the quantitative analysis of ZRC SAZU’s social media posts showed different picture: 70% of scientists, who are promoted, are male and in the higher stage of their academic career. This is one of the reasons why a specific set of activities for promotion of female researchers were organised, and included it in the Action plan for promoting gender equality.

Gender Equality Plan Case Study: University of Salerno

The Gender Equality Plan (GEP) of the University of Salerno–elaborated in the framework of R&I PEERS project, and approved by the Academic Senate and Board of Directors–is a comprehensive document offering a clear and focused strategy on gender equality for a university made up of more than 40.000 people.  It is organised around six target areas whose achievement will be monitored through selected indicators:

  • Gender Perspective in Research and Curricula;
  • Improving use of gender-sensitive language;
  • Work-life balance;
  • Raising awareness of gender equality in UNISA;
  • Mentoring;
  • Reducing gender gap in decision-making bodies.

The GEP intends to carry on the legacy of OGEPO (Interdepartmental Observatory for the Gender studies and Equal Opportunities) and the CUG (Unique guarantee committee for well-being in the workplace) that since 2011 are committed to the achievement of equality between women and men and well-being for all.  Indeed, some of the GEP’s activities aim at reinforcing the already existing actions such as:

  • Courses on gender studies/gender equality;
  • Training on gender equality and diversity management for University administrative staff;
  • Initiatives on gender-based violence phenomenon;
  • Gender budgeting;
  • Nursery and summer camp for students and workers’ children.

The GEP’s activities aim at going one step further in order to define a broader strategy including a special attention to the STEM field. Among the envisaged actions, we can mentioned

  • Introduction of an interdisciplinary teaching on gender equality and diversity management in all PhD courses;
  • Mentoring sessions for female PhD students, research fellows and researchers;
  • Supporting activities for financing fellowships on gender equality.

In addition, a reach programme of international conferences and workshops has been included in the GEP in order to develop a lively debate among experts around some key issues concerning women and men in research (i.e. women in STEM; gender bias in decision-making bodies; feminine leadership; gender-sensitive language), and establish scientific partnerships between the University of Salerno and European research organisations on the matter.

Integrating the Gender Dimension in Research

At the second progress meeting for the R&I PEERS project, held in Athens on 4 April 2019, consortium members organised a workshop on “how to integrate the gender dimension into research content.”  The aim of this training was to provide consortium partners with knowledge on how to integrate the gender perspective in research in a way that does not deal with the topic of “gender” as a specific research objective.

The workshop was built around the Toolkit for Integrating Gender-Sensitive Approach into Research and Teaching developed as part of the GARCIA project, and was convened by Dr. Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc, one of the Toolkit authors hailing from R&I PEERS project partner ZRC SAZU.

The aim of the Toolkit itself is to help researchers and teaching staff understand the relevance of gender to scientific inquiry by addressing questions to their past and future research/teaching trajectories.  Using the Toolkit, then, the focus of the workshop was to:

  • Raise awareness about the value of integrating the gender dimension in research;
  • Examine how the gender perspective could lead open new opportunities research inquiry; and
  • Promote more socially responsible and sensitive scientific inquiry.

Starting from the premise that there are no ready-made solutions, the workshop participants were asked to describe a project that does not have gender component so the group could practice gender-sensitive approach from scratch.  In this way, the workshop was structured as a thought exercise in which the convenor facilitated discussions on how a gender-sensitive approach could be applied on concrete project questions, methodologies, and results.

Workshop participants were evenly divided between those familiar with gender studies concepts and those from disciplines where exposure to such concepts is rare.  This encouraged lively debate where, through exchange of knowledge between the groups, a notable achievement was an increase in understanding around the concepts of ‘gender’ and ‘intersectionality’.

Wrap-up: R-I PEERS First Multisectoral Conference

The First Multisectoral Conference of the R&I PEERS project took place in Athens on 3 April 2019, and was attended by approximately sixty participants, including Ms Maria Theleriti, Member of Greek Parliament, who also represented Mr Nikos Voutsis, President of the Greek Parliament.  The Conference was opened by Ms Marina Chrysoveloni, Greek Deputy Minister of the Interior in charge of Gender Equality and representative of Mr Alexis Charitsis, Greek Minister of the Interior, followed by introductory remarks from Ms Maria Rosaria Pelizzari of UNISA, R&I PEERS Project Coordinator.

Two project partner organizations, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality (Greece), and Agence Nationale de la Promotion de la Recherche scientifique (Tunisia), then presented their Gender Equality Plans, followed by  a speech from CIC nanoGune (Spain) on the subject of “gender equality in research and innovation in Spain,” and the situation at CIC nanoGune specifically.

A representative of Consiglio Nazionale delle Richerche (Italy) then discussed the importance of using correct indicators for Gender Equality Plans and the methodology employed for identifying these indicators.  Ms Marta Artilles Viera, EC representative,  then made a remote presentation outlining ERA guidelines and Project Objectives for the R&I PEERS project.

The conference also showcased two ongoing “sister” Gender Equality projects in Research and Innovation, also funded by Horizon 2020, that promote Gender Equality Plan implementation.  Greek representatives of these projects, the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and the National Documentation Center (Greece), presented the project objectives and results achieved so far within the two discussed projects, noted below:

  1. TARGET Project:   SUPPORTING Gender Equality Innovating Institutions in the Mediterranean;  and
  2. The GenderAction Project:   Gender equality in the ERA Community

Ensuing debate highlighted the need for networking among partners at national level and incentives to strengthen the diffusion of gender in research, including toward operation of research organizations.

Representatives of Galilee Research Institute (Israel) and Digital Leadership Institute (Belgium) subsequently spoke about the importance of an online platform for maximizing the impact of the project.  And finally, a representative of the Neuroscience and Technology Institute (Cyprus) presented the Structured Democratic Dialogue methodology and explained its importance for participatory decision-making.

 

International Day of Women and Girls in Science with ZRC SAZU

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science will be marked by the traditional roundtable on 7 March, taking place at the premises of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport . The roundtable will be divided in two parts: first, the participants will try to elaborate the strategies and measures to ensure the translation of one-time measures for increasing equal opportunities in the academic sphere into longer-term changes. Second, Gender Equality Plans developed by various research institutions will be presented, with specific focus on ZRC SAZU’s Gender Equality Plan. It will be presented by Dr. Oto Luthar, the Director of ZRC SAZU, and Dr. Tanja Petrović, the coordinator of the R&I PEERS project at ZRC SAZU

An important meeting

In the framework of the R&I PEERS project, a workshop for early career researchers was organized on 22 February hosting Dr. Dean Vuletic from Vienna University. Dr. Vuletic discussed the various strategies for successful applications for international scholarships as well as the opportunities for young scholars’ career advancement.

 

Photo by: Marko Zaplatil