Gender Balance in Research and Innovation

Gender Equality is a core theme discussed in international frameworks. In fact, the European Union has deemed it a political priority. This provides guidance in addressing multiple strategies to ensure equality for all genders in all professional fields. A significant disparity was then noticed within the field of Academia, and how gender plays an important role in various positions of such institutions.

As an attempt to pilot experiences for improving gender equality in research organizations, a project named R&I Peers was started. This is a European Union-funded project, and it seeks to create and validate specific actions and strategies to improve gender equality. It was necessary to identify the lack of women in research and innovation spaces especially when it came to higher position jobs. There was also a need to address practices founded in collaborative efforts to incentivize gender balance within academia and research posts. In order to accomplish such, this project was able to implement seven Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) in different research and innovation organisations.

The GEPs are as follows:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Mentoring
  3. Gender-sensitive language
  4. Raising Awareness about Gender Equality within the organisation
  5. Integrating Gender in research and Curricula
  6. Reducing the Gender-Gap in Decision-Making bodies
  7. Supporting career and excellence of female researchers

These plans carried many strategies by several partners involved in the project. On one hand, the road was not easy as many partners did face a number of challenges but on the other hand, they were able to claim for victories at their levels of success of what was indeed achieved. Not only that but also, they were able to make predictions of future priorities that would not allow efforts made so far to disappear in time.

Multiple organizations also faced many barriers to implementing their GEPs limited due to factors beyond their own control. For instance, organizations such as Change promoted activities such as training for gender workshops for novice teachers. Unfortunately, there were barriers faced with national political instability, work overload, and the issue of job insecurity. In the same vein, some organizations have highlighted the need for further involvement of institutions and government actions to promote gender equality.

A testimony from experts based in Solvenia were shared on the final conference of this project. The issue of how gender equality efforts are mainly done by women in these institutions but there are no additional payments for any form of consultancy. In fact, there is an assumption that extra work done by women in gender equality efforts is done out of free will. Also, there is a lack of connection of experts and people in a position of power who are able to bring forward such plans and implement them effectively.

An effort from Slovenian partners on #ACTonGender had the goal to share mechanisms by gathering people who wanted to foster change within institutions. however, the major issues are on national legislation, as national regulations is intertwined with practices that are not seen as gender discriminatory. Most women researchers in Slovenia are researchers, but they end up staying in the same positions which can hold mostly “symbolic” and not “actual” power. In other terms, there is a convenient staging of professors and the field of research starts being seen as “feminised”.

One other aspect of importance that should be taken into account is inclusion of gender diversity in multiple fields such as the economy. It is necessary for policies and affirmative activities to be approached with care, as is hard for elite and protected groups to feel threatened by such GEPs as they do not want to leave positions of power.

Moreover, the importance of this project is not only involving a European scope but also reaching beyond. For instance, a South African organization which has identified also the disparity of gender equality in the area of innovation and research. Furthermore, the implemented efforts such as gender equality recruitment, unconscious bias training, and the application of longer shortlist to hire more women in positions of power, emphasize that this is not a battle Europe fights alone.

After a long 4 years in progress, the project is sadly over and what is left is to reap from the results gained after this time. R&I Peers will leave a mark on everyone involved but more importantly, it has been able to set a base for other projects to build from it and GEPs can be further developed in order to bring down the existing disparity.

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.

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’.