Horizon Europe: Women Equality 
Research & Innovation

PLEASE NOTE that, in this article, the word “gender” refers exclusively to male and female.

From the official Website 

The European Commission is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation. It is part of the European Commission Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, which sets out the Commission’s broader commitment to equality across all EU policies. 

In addition, the EU has a well-established regulatory framework on gender equality, including binding directives, which apply widely across the labor market including the research sector. 

Because of the peculiarities of the research sector, specific action is needed to overcome persisting gender gaps. Many structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation persist. 

The European Commission addresses these barriers through 

Horizon Europe 

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.  

There are 3 main levels at which gender equality is considered: 

  1. having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place becomes an eligibility criterion for certain categories of legal entities from EU countries and associated countries;
  2. 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;
  3. 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  

  1. gender and intersectional research, in particular under Cluster 2 of the Programme Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society;
  2. 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 
  3. empowering women innovators, in particular through Pillar III of the Pprogramme, Innovative Europe, and the European Innovation Council (EIC) (See: statement on gender and diversity of the EIC Pilot Board). For the specific objectives and the improvement of gender balance and promoting women innovators, you can read the 2021 EIC Work Programme.

The goal is to improve the European research and innovation system, create gender-equal working environments where all talents can thrive and better integrate 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 summarizes the key new provisions and requirements, with a particular focus on the new Gender Equality Plan (GEP) eligibility criterion. 

Eligibility Criteria 

As detailed in the last part of the factsheet Gender Equality: a strengthened commitment in Horizon Europe, for calls with deadlines in 2022 and onwards, having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) will be an eligibility criterion for all public bodies, higher education institutions and research organizations from EU Member States and associated countries wishing to participate in Horizon Europe.  

Also, as recalled in the General Annexes to Horizon Europe 2021-2022 work programme, to comply with the eligibility criterion, a GEP must meet 4 mandatory process-related requirements or ‘building blocks’. 

Mandatory requirements for a GEP 

  1. Be a public document: The GEP should be a formal document signed by the 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;
  2. 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; 
  3. 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; 
  4. 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 organizational 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 

The GEP is required at the first proposal submission stage, a self-declaration is requested through a dedicated questionnaire. 

An organization may not yet have a GEP at proposal submission stage, but 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 has been developed to support organisationsorganizations to meet the Horizon Europe 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.

Already under the ERA Communication 2012 framework, the European Commission has 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 in decision-making bodies. 

EU countries were asked to develop national action plans for gender equality, which had very positive impacts in many research rganizations and were catalyst for transformation. 

Research performing and funding organizations were encouraged to implement institutional changes, through gender equality plans (GEP). 

The Commission provided funds for GEPs implementation in research organizations via Horizon 2020. 

Yet, the ERA Progress report and She Figures highlight that implementation across the EU is uneven, and structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation organizations persist. 

  • 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 

There is also 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. 

The recent communication on the European Research Area includes a common action between the EU, EU countries and countries associated with Horizon 2020, to strengthen gender equality provisions. Action 12 asks the EU and 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, with one of the underpinning objectives being to integrate 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. 

It also presents concrete case studies, showcasing projects funded under Horizon 2020 and addressing key research and innovation areas for Horizon Europe clusters, missions and partnerships. 

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 

The report, divided in 6 chapters, follows the chronological journey of women, from obtaining a doctoral degree to participating in the labor market and acquiring decision-making roles, while exploring differences in women and men’s working conditions and research and innovation output. 

Watch the video of Commissioner Gabriel summarising the main outcomes 

She Figures 2021 data show that, on average, at Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, women outnumber men as students (54%) and graduates (59%), and there is almost gender balance at Doctoral level (48%). However, disparities between study fields persist. For example, women still represent less than a quarter of Doctoral graduates in the ICT field (22%), while they represent more than 50% in Health & Welfare and Education fields (60% and 67%, respectively). Nevertheless, some positive trend can be observed, such as an increase in the proportion of women holding the highest academic positions (26.2%) compared to 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 summarizing their performance in thematic areas. 
  • Moreover, the report extends its data collection to G-20 countries where data is available, going beyond the EU-27 Member States, the UK and Associated Countries and 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. 

You can also see: 

Pandemic: Gender Equality 

There has been increasing scientific attention dedicated to the different impacts on women and men due to the COVID-19, highlighted in this article in The Lancetand alsoand documented by the European Institute for Gender Equality 

Issues include: 

  • 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. 

Initiatives and projects related to gender equality and coronavirus 

Case study on sex and gender impact of the pandemic  

Different measures are underway to address these sex and gender aspects of the crisis, including a case study on the sex and gender impact of the COVID-19 pandemic developed by the European Commission’s Expert Group on Gendered Innovations 

It builds on the latest scientific literature, as well as on Horizon 2020 projects, to document issues such as sex differences in immune responses, dosage dosing 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. 

Factsheet based on this case study 


Networking – at trans-national level, and at institutional level among practitioners, with professional associations, platforms of women scientists, and other networks – also plays a key role. The Commission has funded several important initiatives to support networking. 

GENDER-NET Plus is the first European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) Cofund scheme dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation. It gathers 16 national funding organizations 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 centers which mobilizes 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 organizations across Europe. It is being built on the GenPORT internet portal – created through FP7 – to transform this resource center (including online community of practitioners on gender equality and excellence in science, technology or innovation), into a central CoP gender equality knowledge and practice-sharing hub (GenPORT+). 

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 research and innovation. This group is the successor to the Helsinki Group on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation established by the Commission in 1999. 

Additional publications can be found on the website. 

Winners of the EU Prize for Women Innovators

At the European Innovation Council Summit that took taking place in Brussels (date?), the European Commission announced the winners of this year’s edition of the EU Prize for Women Innovators. The prize is awarded to the most talented women entrepreneurs from across the EU and countries associated to Horizon Europe, who have founded a successful company and brought innovation to the market. It is funded under Horizon Europe and managed by the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA). 

The winners, selected by a jury of independent experts, are: 

  • Merel Boers from the Netherlands: co-founder and CEO of NICO-LAB, a company offering cutting-edge technology to help physicians improve emergency care. 


  • Mathilde Jakobsen from Denmark: co-founder and CEO of Fresh.Land, a digital platform that shortens and digitizes the food supply chain, providing easy access to good quality food. 


  • Daphne Haim Langford from Israel: founder and CEO of Tarsier Pharma, a company developing disruptive medical solutions for the treatment and cure of autoimmune and inflammatory ocular diseases. 


About AFS:

  • Andriotto Financial Services team is an official advisors of the European Commission for Horizon 2020
  • AFS has a Centre of Excellence in Switzerland with some of the most skilled EU grant specialists, writing a successful proposal and supporting clients during the different implementation phases
  • AFS evaluate and select 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 2020 is an ambitious challenge; however, we have one of the highest success rates between our European competitors.

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