The aim of the Gender Equality network is to advance and promote work on equality, sharing knowledge and experience in supporting gender issues. In trying to mainstream equality beyond women’s empowerment, the gap between men and women will be lessened.

The main question being, what can the philanthropic sector do to address the challenges?

Hosted by the King Baudouin Foundation, a meeting at the end of November saw the EFC’s Gender Equality and Research Forum networks organise a joint meeting, bringing together representatives from across Europe to discuss specific gender related issues.

One such specific issue is that of gender balance in the research community. Data shows that only 33% of EU researchers are women according to the European Commission 2015 She Figures’ report. High numbers of women enter into education, and in terms of career advancement and participation in decision making, women account for 21% of top level researchers but this figure drops to 13% in the field of science and research.

How can this be addressed and what actions can be taken? It was highlighted that a higher number of women enter into university but when taking the next academic step these numbers drop. This is the start of the gap in careers between men and women. The EU have been implementing policy in an attempt to address this, focusing on empowerment through education, equal opportunities in the labour market, gender mainstreaming, through adapting institutions and the practices, and institutional and structural changes.

While each is important a focus, one is not enough and policy must incorporate a number of courses of action to make a difference.

Research and innovation is recognised as an area where more gender equality is needed and this has become a priority of the Research Agenda. This came to the fore when in 2015 the EU’s Council and its ministers concluded that something needed to be done. Since then, the momentum has grown and objectives have been highlighted aiming for:

  • Equal opportunities in careers
  • Equal power in decision making
  • Integration of gender dimensions in the context of research and innovation study

Following the bigger focus, there have been improvements and growth in female participation and recognition. For example, in 2010 15.5% of Head of Institutions were female and in 2015 this grew to 20.1%. To keep this progression going, research and science needs to be re-promoted in a new, less male-dominated way.

Another issue raised is that of woman and grants. There are a lower number of women applying for grants in research and science schemes and there is also a lower success rate for those women that do apply. Should gender and diversity be a condition of funding? Should this be a standard for all those that apply for support? This is another topic that should be addressed by foundations.

So why are success rates lower for women? Through one particular study, the European Research Council highlighted some factors that should be considered:

  • Composition of the panel
  • Criteria
  • How the process is organised?
  • Is criteria applied differently to males and females?

This highlights some issues when it comes to panels and peer-to-peer reviewing. A lack of possible knowledge or practice in how to address gender issues in the peer review process and a lack of guidelines was identified. How can those in a position of power identify bias of others, or perhaps their own?

Excellence is socially constructed and therefore gender is an aspect, but despite this, there is a lack of knowledge regarding how excellence is gendered.

In recognising that it is not gender neutral how can this gender-bias be addressed in such a situation like that of a peer review? Introducing more females in to panels did not increase success rates for women meaning that women also retain gender stereotypes and bias. It can also highlight a reluctance on the half of females in addressing the issue. This reveals a paradox in that bias does not necessarily come from the opposite gender. As such, whatever measures are to be taken need to be applied to both sides.

So where to go from here?

An established process and set of criteria needs to be put in place and must be applied to all applicants. Due to a lack of formal criteria, those in positions of power are free to establish their own standards allowing for bias. Stereotyping is also an issue in that sometimes it is not obvious. Possible stereotyping needs to be made clear so that it can be avoided.

On a positive note, since 2015 there has been progress. 2017 was the first year that there were more female applicants than male in research grants.

The key is education, training and stable criteria. In continuous review of the grant-making process and the role of the reviewer a focus on these areas can help mainstream the issue of gender and put it higher on the agenda.