Gender equality in research aims to boost EU competitiveness
An EU-funded project is developing tools to improve gender balance in research institutions and higher education, helping to sustain female talent in research-based careers over the long term.
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Women represent just under half of all PhD graduates in Europe. However, according to EU figures, they gradually disappear from academic and research-based careers in much greater numbers than men. This phenomenon is so well established that it has even acquired its own name the leaky pipeline.
In the face of global competition and the imperative to prioritise excellence and innovation in research, Europe cannot afford to ignore or lose the talent and human capital of the female research-orientated workforce, says Professor Eileen Drew, Director, Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership, in Dublin, Ireland and coordinator of the EU-funded SAGE project.
SAGE is working to tackle gender imbalances in research by creating mechanisms that can be applied across research institutions and higher education establishments in Europe to help achieve gender equality.
Universities have a fundamental role in addressing gender imbalances and growing equality by ensuring that the recruitment of talent and achievement of research excellence coexists with social awareness and responsibility, Drew explains.
Barriers to balance
Women in academia and research face the same gender barriers that are common to many professions. These include unequal pay, lack of a work-life balance, gender-based harassment and discrimination, and the under-representation of women in decision-making.
Men are three times more likely to reach top-level positions in research organisations than women, while the latter occupy only 20 % of the positions among heads of institutions. Moreover, women represent 40 % of the researchers in higher education but only account for 31 % of corresponding authors in scientific publications.
Gender equality, and its incorporation into research design, contributes to excellence in innovation and stimulates new knowledge and technologies. We must make sure that these barriers are addressed and removed, says Drew.
SAGE is working with seven universities across Europe in Ireland, Italy, Turkey, Portugal, France and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The project team has drawn up gender equality plans, and has developed, tested and refined a replicable model for gender equality which can now be extended across the European Research Area in higher education and research institutions.
The project developed a Charter of Principles for Gender Equality and a gender balance toolkit. By using the kit, administrative staff in higher education can assess the current gender balance or imbalance in their institution, including undertaking actions such as gender pay audits. They can also analyse their institutions policies on equality, work-to-life balance, and factors like paternity leave for fathers, core hours for meetings, rooms for new mothers to feed their babies on campus, and professional development support for postdoctoral students.
SAGE encourages universities to create courses dedicated to gender balance and gender equality issues, gender balance committees, appointing a vice rector for gender equality, and to consider the gender dimension in research proposals.
The project has also developed unconscious bias awareness workshops for senior management and staff involved in recruitment.
SAGE tools are freely available and have been widely disseminated. During the summer of 2019, the project plans to hold a capacity-building workshop in Brussels to work on disseminating the projects results and tools as widely as possibly. Meanwhile, it also plans to launch a SAGE Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) comprising three modules: unconscious bias; change management for gender equality; and gender in the research process.