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Gender Equality: to ensure ERA’s success we need to involve all our talented researchers

This edition of the ERA newsletter focuses on gender in research, a timely topic coming in the wake of the 2014 ERA Progress Report. This report provides an overall picture of progress made on the ERA priorities, including gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research. It underlines that gender issues in research and innovation have gained increased recognition in policy agendas at national, European and international level, as well as within research organisations. However, the pace of change is too slow and there are still many disparities among countries. The persistence of gender bias in careers, of gender imbalance in decision-making roles, and the lack of a gender dimension in research programmes remain.

The ERA Progress Report 2014 was complemented by a more detailed report on Gender Equality Policies in Public Research, based on a survey of the Helsinki Group on Gender in Research and Innovation. It offers an invaluable insight into the significant progress made in a relatively short time and how much more needs to be done. For instance, while 8 Member States were implementing quotas or targets for the under-represented sex in decision-making in 2008, this figure had risen to 18 by 2013.

For its part, the Commission has actively fostered gender equality in research since 1999 and support measures for women's careers have been a feature of European policy in this area for just over a decade. This was followed by a shift towards more sustainable institutional change in research performing and research funding organisations through the Seventh Framework Programme and Horizon 2020. More recently gender equality and the gender dimension in research content were strengthened in Horizon 2020. Moreover, for the advisory groups assisting the Commission in preparing the Horizon 2020 work programmes, the gender balance target was increased from 40 % to 50 %.

Achieving gender equality in the research sector is not easy but we now have a better idea of what works well. There are several examples outlined in this newsletter which show what can be achieved through the right combination of legislative and policy measures.

Female researchers can be a remarkable source of innovation, bringing benefits to research and society as a whole. The new Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, reiterated the Commission's commitment to gender equality in research and innovation in his hearing before the European Parliament in September: ‘I will also be particularly vigilant on the gender dimension – not just because this is a question of fairness, but because we cannot afford to waste any talent.’ We need to harness the talent and ideas of all our researchers - male and female - if the ERA is to fulfil its true potential.

Robert-Jan Smits


European Commission, Directorate-General for Research & Innovation