The promotion of gender equality in research and innovation (R&I) is a main European Commission commitment. This commitment is part of its Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, which fosters gender equality across all EU policies.
(Please note that, in this article, the word “gender” refers exclusively to male and female.)
In addition, the EU has a well-established regulatory framework on gender equality, including binding directives. This framework is widely applied across the labour market, including the research sector.
Unfortunately, various structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation persist. Given the peculiarities of the research sector, overcoming the enduring gender gaps required specific actions.
The European Commission addresses these barriers through:
- the main funding instruments Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe (next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, 2021-2027)
- within the European Research Area, in collaboration with Member States and research organisations.
With Horizon Europe, the Commission reaffirms its commitment to gender equality in research and innovation. The legal base sets gender equality as a crosscutting priority and introduces strengthened provisions, regarding 3 levels:
- having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place becomes an eligibility criterion for certain categories of legal entities from EU countries and associated countries;
- the integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation content is a requirement by default, an award criterion evaluated under the excellence criterion, unless the topic description explicitly specifies otherwise; and
- increasing gender balance throughout the Programme is another objective, with a target of 50% women in Horizon Europe related boards, expert groups and evaluation committees, and gender balance among research teams set as a ranking criterion for proposals with the same score.
Furthermore, specific funding will be dedicated to:
- gender and intersectional research, in particular under Cluster 2 of the Programme Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society;
- developing inclusive gender equality policies in support of the new European Research Area, through the Widening Participation and Strengthening the European Research Area Programme part, Reforming and enhancing the European Research and Innovation System; and
- empowering women innovators, in particular through Pillar III of the Programme, Innovative Europe, and the European Innovation Council (EIC).
(For specific objectives and improvement of gender balance and promotion of women innovators, please check the 2021 EIC Work Programme).
The goal is to improve the European research and innovation system, creating gender-equal working environments where all talents can thrive. This, in turn, involves the better integration of the gender dimension in projects to improve research quality as well as the relevance to society of the knowledge, technologies and innovations produced.
The Factsheet on Gender Equality: a strengthened commitment in Horizon Europe summarises the key new provisions and requirements, focusing on the new Gender Equality Plan (GEP) eligibility criterion.
For calls with deadlines in 2022 and onwards, having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) will be an eligibility criterion. This applies to public bodies, higher education institutions and research organisations from EU Member States and associated countries.
Moreover, to comply with the eligibility criterion, a GEP must meet 4 mandatory process-related requirements or ‘building blocks’.
Mandatory requirements for a GEP
- Be a public document: The GEP should be a formal document signed by top management, and disseminated within the institution. It should demonstrate a commitment to gender equality, set clear goals and detailed actions and measures to achieve them;
- Have dedicated resources: Resources for the design, implementation, and monitoring of GEPs may include funding for specific positions such as Equality Officers or Gender Equality Teams as well as earmarked working time for academic, management and administrative staff;
- Include arrangements for data collection and monitoring: GEPs must be evidence-based and founded on sex or gender-disaggregated baseline data collected across all staff categories. This data should inform the GEP’s objectives and targets, indicators, and ongoing evaluation of progress;
- Be supported by training and capacity-building: Actions may include developing gender competence and tackling unconscious gender bias among staff, leaders and decision-makers, establishing working groups dedicated to specific topics, and raising awareness through workshops and communication activities.
In addition to these mandatory process-related requirements, the following 5 thematic areas are recommended for content:
- 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
An organisation may not yet have a GEP at proposal submission stage. However, it must have a GEP in place at the time of the Grant Agreement signature.
The Model Grant Agreement commits beneficiaries to taking all measures to promote equal opportunities between men and women in the implementation of the action and, where applicable, in line with their GEP.
In this regard, a detailed Guidance Document support organisations to meet Horizon Europe’s GEP eligibility criterion.
Gender equality in the ERA
The European Research Area (ERA) is the ambition to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across the EU.
Under the ERA Communication 2012 framework, the European Commission set 3 objectives to work with EU countries and foster an institutional change:
- gender equality in scientific careers
- gender balance in decision making
- integration of the gender dimension into the content of research and innovation
Implementation and progress report
Conclusions on advancing Gender Equality in the European Research Area called for cultural and institutional changes to address gender imbalances in research institutions and decision-making bodies.
EU countries were asked to develop national action plans for gender equality. This had very positive impacts in many research organisations, being a catalyst for transformation.
Research performing and funding organisations were encouraged to implement institutional changes through gender equality plans (GEP). Also, the Commission provided funds for GEPs implementation in research organisations via Horizon 2020.
Yet, both ERA and She Figures Progress Reports highlight that implementation across the EU is uneven. Overall, structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation organisations persist, as:
- women occupy only 24% of top academic positions
- women are still under-represented in the STEM fields
- women represent less than 10% of patent holders
Moreover, there is a need to address gender-based violence, inclusiveness issues with intersecting social categories (e.g., ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability), perform intersectional research, and establish a link with the entrepreneurship and innovation sectors.
In 2020, through ERA, the EU highlighted the need for EU countries to develop concrete plans to promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in science, research, and innovation.
In concert with the Skills Agenda, the Communication on the European Education Area and the new Digital Education Action Plan, the ERA will strengthen the focus on increasing participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Gender mainstreaming through integration of the gender dimension in research and innovation content
Horizon 2020 was the first framework programme to set gender as a cross-cutting issue. One of its underpinning objectives is the integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation content.
The policy report produced by the EU funded H2020 expert group on Gendered Innovations provides researchers and innovators with methodological tools for sex, gender and intersectional analysis/evaluation. In addition, it presents case studies, showcasing projects funded under Horizon 2020 and addressing key R&I areas for Horizon Europe.
These areas include Health, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, Energy, Transport, Marine Science and Climate Change, Urban Planning, Agriculture, fair Taxation and Venture Funding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “She Figures” report
This 6-chapter report follows the chronological journey of women. From obtaining a doctoral degree to participating in the labour market and acquiring decision-making roles, while exploring differences in women and men’s working conditions and research and innovation output.
She Figures 2021 data show that at Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, women outnumber men as students (54%) and graduates (59%). Moreover, there is almost gender balance at Doctoral level (48%).
However, disparities between fields of study persist. For example, women represent less than a quarter of Doctoral graduates in the ICT field (22%). In the Health & Welfare and Education fields they represent more than 50% of graduates (60% and 67%, respectively). Nevertheless, the data show a positive trend. In particular: the proportion of women holding the highest academic positions (26.2%) is larger than in the last edition (24.1%).
Novelties of the 2021 edition:
- Seven policy briefs are produced for themes in which progress towards gender equality is needed (e.g., tackling gender imbalance in research leadership, or for which comparable data is lacking, such as the impact of COVID-19 on researchers), alongside 27 country that are examining the progress of each country through presenting data for key indicators, comparing their performance to the average EU value, and summarising their performance in thematic areas.
- Moreover, the report extends its data collection to G-20 countries where data are available. therefore, it goes beyond the EU-27 Member States, the UK and Associated Countries. Also, it includes several new indicators.
- The updated ‘She Figures Handbook’ provides the latest methodological guidance on data collection and calculation of indicators.
Released every 3 years since 2003, the report constitutes a key evidence base for policies in this area. It is a highly recommended reading for policy-makers, researchers and anyone with a general interest in these issues. Statistical correspondents from EU-27 Member States and Associated Countries contribute to the data collection.
Pandemic: Gender Equality
- clinical sex and gender differences in responses to the virus
- mortality rates
- clinical trials and side effects to different drugs and vaccines
- impact on domestic and gender-based violence
- impact on reproductive health and rights
- impact on the healthcare and caregiving professions, which are occupied by women at 76%
- work-life balance and economic equality.
Case study on sex and gender impact of the pandemic
Different measures are underway to address these sex and gender aspects of the crisis. Among them, a case study on the sex and gender impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It builds on the latest scientific literature, as well as on Horizon 2020 projects, to document on varied issues. These issues include: sex differences in immune responses, dosage and sex-specific side effects of vaccines and therapeutics, gender-specific risk factors, gender-sensitive prevention campaigns and gender-specific socioeconomic burden of public safety measures.
Networking also plays a key role. Either at trans-national or institutional level, among practitioners, professional associations, platforms of women scientists, etc. In fact, the Commission has funded several important initiatives to support networking.
GENDER-NET Plus is the first European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) Co-fund scheme dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation. It gathers 16 national funding organisations from 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Canada) committed to strengthen transnational collaborations and joint funding towards a common goal: advancing gender equality in research institutions and the integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation contents and programmes.
GENDERACTION is a network of representatives from national authorities and national gender and science centres. It mobilises national expertise across EU countries with the aim to create an innovative policy community to implement the gender equality priority in the European Research Area.
ACT is developing an international network of Communities of Practice (CoPs) to develop gender equality actions in research organisations across Europe. It is being built on the GenPORT internet portal–created through FP7–to transform this resource centre (including online community of practitioners on gender equality and excellence in science, technology or innovation), into a central CoP gender equality knowledge– and a practice-sharing hub (GenPORT+).
Lastly, the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation under the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC SWG GRI) is a policy advisory committee that advises the Council of the EU, the European Commission and EU members on policies and initiatives related to gender equality in R&I. This group is the successor to the Helsinki Group on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation established by the Commission in 1999.
Winners of the EU Prize for Women Innovators 2021
At the European Innovation Council Summit (Brussels), the EC announced the winners of this year’s edition of the EU Prize for Women Innovators. The most talented women entrepreneurs from across the EU and countries associated to Horizon Europe can receive the prize.
The winners, selected by a jury of independent experts, are:
- Merel Boers (the Netherlands): co-founder and CEO of NICO-LAB, a company offering cutting-edge technology to help physicians improve emergency care.
- Mathilde Jakobsen (Denmark): co-founder and CEO of Fresh.Land, a digital platform that shortens and digitises the food supply chain, providing easy access to good-quality food.
- Daphne Haim Langford (Israel): founder and CEO of Tarsier Pharma, a company developing disruptive medical solutions for the treatment and cure of autoimmune and inflammatory ocular diseases.
- Andriotto Financial Services’ team is an official advisor of the European Commission for Horizon Europe.
- AFS has a Centre of Excellence in Switzerland with some of the most skilled EU grant specialists, writing successful proposals and supporting clients during different implementation phases of projects.
- AFS evaluates and selects the best projects and enterprises around Europe to receive public funding.
- Our client portfolio includes some of the most important public institutions in Italy and in Europe.
- Participating in Horizon Europe is an ambitious challenge. AFS, however, has one of the highest success rates between our European competitors.