The Commission's gender equality strategy

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 labour 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

Infographic: closing gender gaps in research and innovation

Gender equality in the European Research Area (ERA)

Gender equality in research and innovation is a priority of the European Research Area (ERA).

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 organisations and was a catalyst for transformation.

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

The Commission, through Horizon 2020, provided funds to research organisations for the implementation of GEPs.

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 organisations 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

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.

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 include areas such as health, artificial intelligence and robotics, energy, transport, marine science and climate change, urban planning, agriculture, fair taxation and venture funding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gender equality and coronavirus

There has been increasing scientific attention dedicated to the different impacts on women and men due to the pandemic, highlighted in this article in The Lancet, and also documented by the European Insititute 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, 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

She Figures monitoring report

The She Figures publication is the main source of pan European, comparable statistics on the state of gender equality in research and innovation.

It covers a wide range of themes, including the proportions of women and men among top level graduates, academic staff and research boards, working conditions for women and men researchers, the integration of the gender dimension in the content of peer reviewed scientific articles, and various indicators measuring gender gaps in scientific and innovation outputs.

Released every 3 years since 2003, the report constitutes a key evidence base for policies in this area. It is recommended reading for policy makers, researchers and anyone with a general interest in these issues.

She Figures 2018 highlights that on average, women outnumber men at student and graduate levels and there is broad gender balance at PhD level. However, their distribution in the different scientific fields of study is uneven, which shows the persistence of gender stereotypes.

The presence of stereotypes is especially strong in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), where women remain underrepresented at all levels starting as students (32% at Bachelor, Master or equivalent level) up to top academic positions (15%). Furthermore, women still make up the minority of top academic positions.

Download the She Figures 2018 report

Networks

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 been funding several important initiatives which aim to support networking.

GENDER-NET Plus is the first European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) Cofund scheme to be dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation. It  gathers 16 national funding organisations coming from 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Canada) committed to strengthening 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 which 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) as agents to develop gender equality actions in research organisations across Europe. It is building on the GenPORT internet portal – created through FP7 – to transform this resource centre and 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.

Publications