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Gender issues in transport: work in progress

The third seminar on ‘Gender Equality and Scientific Excellence’ took place in Brussels in September 2007. Over 70 participants attended, including members of FP6 Advisory Groups and Program Committees, representatives of Member States, experts on women and science issues, and a dozen EU Research Project Officers.

Gender seminar
Women weigh in at the Gender

The seminar was the last of a series aimed at disseminating the results of the ‘Monitoring gender equality in the Sixth Framework Programme’ study, carried out by Spain’s Fondacio CIREM and Fondacion Labein and commissioned by DG RTD under the ’Women and science’ action plan.

The study focused in particular on research activities under the FP6 themes ‘Nanotechnologies, materials and production processes’, ‘Aeronautics and space’, ‘Sustainable energy systems’, ‘Sustainable surface transport’ and the Euratom Programme.

In monitoring progress towards gender equality in these areas, two dimensions were analysed:

  • Progress towards the equal participation of women in FP6 research, both consultation and implementation stages
  • Progress towards the integration of gender dimension in the research agenda, i.e. including sex and gender sensitive issues in the definition of research objectives and methodologies

The results of the study show that women remain under-represented in the research areas considered, and that the gender dimension, even when intrinsically present in research topics, is too often not fully developed in actual projects. The level of gender awareness of project proponents, on the one hand, and of EC Project Officers, on the other, remains a critical factor.

The ‘Transport’ theme, ranked one of the poorest at adopting mainstreaming measures in FP6, has shown significant progress under FP7 implementation. Gender relevance of transport research content has been embedded in the Work Programme wherever applicable and suitable. This has allowed expert evaluators to properly assess such issues and the number of female evaluators on the SST panel has reached an unprecedented level of 30% in the first call evaluation. Gender composition of consortia has also been taken into consideration as an evaluation criterion.

The study is now at the conclusion stage and results will be published by the end of the year. Five ‘executive summaries’ referring to each analysed priority will also be published and distributed.

General conclusions

How far away is the 40% female participation target?

The study shows the 40% target for participation of women is still far from being achieved and that little progress was made in the transition from FP5 to FP6. The analysis also confirms vertical segregation with regard to the participation of women as scientific contact persons. Controlling for other factors, analyses show that the more ambitious the instrument (IP or NoE), the lower the percentage of women involved.

Are the FP Work Programmes ‘engendered’?

The content analysis of FP6 documents shows that the gender dimension is addressed only at the most generic level. Neither the Work Programmes nor the Calls for Proposals make any explicit reference to gender issues that could be relevant for any of the thematic priorities analysed.

Analysis of the abstracts of submitted proposals shows that gender issues are only taken into account in 4% of proposals. Interviews with members of Advisory Groups and Programme Committees also revealed little awareness of the goal of ‘engendering’ Work Programmes. A survey of scientific contact persons shows a similar result.

Is there a gender mainstreaming approach in evaluation?

The study also analysed to what extent gender mainstreaming is implemented during evaluation – in other words, to what extent are the gender composition of a project team and the gender sensitiveness of research content taken into account in the evaluation process.

The results show that gender composition has a significant effect on evaluation results. First, the higher the percentage of women in a project team the lower the probability of the proposal being retained. However, and surprisingly, completely male-dominated proposals also have a similar low rate of success.

Interviews with evaluators showed that gender equality is usually understood only in terms of women’s presence and is not considered a relevant dimension for evaluating scientific excellence. Meanwhile, a minority of evaluators are aware of the relevance of both women’s presence and gender in research content.

To what extent is FP management changing the way scientific research is conceived and organised?

Case studies confirm that researchers’ careers, their personal strategies and their professional success, both objective and subjective, tend to follow the prevailing model of scientific excellence, i.e. uninterrupted career, priority of work over any other activity, long working days, and participation in complementary activities. This model is particularly ill-suited to many women but also to men trying to achieve a reasonable work-life balance.

The study also shows that FP6 management is not helping to modify the prevailing model. It seems there is little capacity to promote a greater presence of women in research or to influence aspects of the organisation of scientific work affecting work-life balance. The Gender Action Plan (GAP) could be a useful instrument for reorienting scientific practice, but in many cases it becomes a simple administrative procedure, not reinforced through negotiations and follow-up.


Study recommendations call for a combination of ‘soft’ gender-awareness and women-friendly initiatives, and new ‘hard’ measures at both content and organisational levels:

  • Making explicit the relevance of gender in the Work Programme wherever suitable
  • Evaluating gender at content level
  • Evaluating gender at organisational level
  • New rules and additional efforts for achieving an overall 40-60% balance between the sexes in FP-relevant bodies
  • Enhancing gender expertise in FP-relevant bodies
  • Adopting a more proactive approach
  • Making specific recommendations on research content