New gender equality rules in research and innovation, will it change the tide?

New gender equality rules in research and innovation, will it change the tide?

As part of their Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, the European Commission has put in place new gender equality rules in order to achieve gender equality and inclusiveness in research and innovation. What will change?

In recent years, the European Commission has been elaborating a Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025 in an attempt to achieve gender equality within the European Union. The strategy includes policy objectives and specific actions to accomplish considerable progress by 2025 towards their goal of a “gender-equal Europe”. The EU has established a regulatory framework on gender equality which has been widely applied across the labour market including the research sector in order to overcome existing gender gaps. Despite significant progress over the past decades, many structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation still persist.

Over the last few years, the European Commission has made gender equality and inclusiveness in research and innovation a priority and as a result, has established new gender equality rules to take effect soon. From now on, all higher education and research organisations will be required to put a gender equality plan in place if they wish to receive research funding from the European Commission. The Commission hopes to thus make working environments in higher education, research and innovation not only more gender equal, but also more inclusive and safer for everybody. Other kinds of inequalities and discrimination, such as those based on race, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation should not be excluded.

How will it work?

There are no strict requirements regarding the specific issues an organisation chooses to address, although they are advised to consider five areas: organizational culture and support for work-life balance; gender balance in decision-making; the inclusion of gender as a variable in research and component in teaching content; supporting gender equality throughout all career stages, especially in recruitment and promotion; and, finally, addressing gender-based violence, including sexual harassment. Moreover, institutions are encouraged to consult and involve all levels of staff and students in the formulation and implementation of their gender equality plan. Once a grant proposal has been selected for funding, the organisation has to have a plan in place, otherwise it will not be allowed to sign the grant agreement.

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This graph from the She Figures of the European Commission shows how gender equality varies between different career stages.

Such a gender equality plan should entail a strategic gender equality document available online and signed by the highest level of the institution, allocated dedicated financial as well as human resources for implementation, collected gender-disaggregated data on staff and students which should be reported regularly, and finally, training on gender equality and unconscious biases for staff.

A collective effort

The European Commission really hopes to change the old system and reduce structural barriers for women in science by tying funding to gender equality plans. It recognises that there is still a lot of work ahead, and that it also has to be a collective effort with everyone – women, men, gender-diverse individuals – being committed to improving working conditions for all.

The She Figures, the publication that the European Commission releases every three years on the state of women’s representation in research and innovation, show that changes have been taking place. However, these have been fragmented and relatively slow at the EU level. For example, at the doctoral level, European countries are approximately at gender parity, but women only represent about a quarter of full professors. Furthermore, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women’s careers during the lockdowns as the majority of caring duties are still shouldered by women.

Whether these new rules will help create a considerable shift towards gender equality and overall inclusiveness within the scientific community is an interesting question that will be discussed between different university members. The resulting discussion will be reported in a next article.


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