21 september 2021

‘Cautious optimism’ for the gender dimension in European Research, Development and Innovation

Just van den Hoek

Just van den Hoek


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Political commitment and continued attention to the implementation of relevant policy is key in ensuring gender is consistently mainstreamed across different levels. The strengthened gender provisions in Horizon Europe must be closely monitored to determine their overall impact. Swift action is needed in institutional strategies to improve gender balance and every research domain should thoroughly consider its relation to gender. These were some of the key points raised during the webinar on the gender dimension in European Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I), jointly organized by Neth-ER and TNO on September 2nd, 2021.

‘Cautious optimism’ for the gender dimension in European Research, Development and Innovation

Looking at gender from multiple perspectives  

What constitutes the gender dimension in European RD&I? The webinar aimed to discuss gender with experts from the field from multiple perspectives: gender and policy, gender in Horizon Europe, gender in knowledge institutions and gendered innovations. Sergej Možina, Coordinator for Research and Space at the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU kicked off the webinar with a keynote speech on mainstreaming gender equality in policy(-making). Jeanne Lenders, policy officer for Gender Equality at the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, presented the strengthened provisions for gender equality in Horizon Europe. Christine Balch, Head of EU Affairs at TNO, hosted the webinar and moderated a panel discussion on the multifaceted aspects of gender in European RD&I, with Marcela Linkova, Chair of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC) Working Group on Gender in R&I, Oana van der Togt, member of the Diversity and Inclusion Board at TNO, and Ineke Klinge, Rapporteur for the Gendered Innovations 2 EU Policy Review.  

Gender and policy: the Slovenian Presidency 

Sergej Možina showed how gender is an important priority for the Slovenian Presidency at three levels. First, it is a guiding principle which translates into all policy-related and legislative work that is being done under the helm of the Presidency. Second, it is about maintaining political commitment. The Ljubljana Declaration, presented this summer, is a practical example of how the Presidency intends to keep the commitment for gender equality in research at the highest level of the political agenda. Therefore, all member states are strongly encouraged to sign it. Third, it is about setting concrete gender-related future objectives, which also relates to the implementation of policy. Examples of such objectives are expected to become manifest in the work on the specific priority actions of the European Research Area, which are due to be presented later this year. Možina pointed out that the biggest challenge today is to devote substantial attention to gender in the implementation phase of policies.

Gender and Horizon Europe 

Jeanne Lenders explained in detail how gender equality is a cross-cutting priority in the new framework programme for research, Horizon Europe, through a set of strengthened provisions compared to its predecessor Horizon 2020 (slides). First of all, the obligation to have a Gender Equality Plan in place for all public bodies that apply for Horizon funding is a newly created eligibility criterion. This criterion will become effective for the first time for calls with deadlines in 2022 and includes mandatory process requirements. In addition, all research carried out through Horizon Europe should by default integrate the gender dimension in RD&I content, being part of the excellence criteria. Lastly, in case of ex aequo proposals applying for funding, the gender balance in the research team will be one of the ranking criteria influencing the final priority order. Lenders said that monitoring the outcomes of these provisions will be key in determining the overall contribution of Horizon Europe to achieving gender equality in European RD&I.

Lessons from the panellists

Christine Balch led the panel discussion on how the gender dimension in European RD&I is addressed from multiple perspectives: from a policy angle, from an organizational perspective, and from insights ‘from the ground’; how gender can best be integrated in RD&I content.

  • Gender and policy: ERAC
    Marcela Linkova reflected on the past 20 years and noted that the current attention for gender at the political level is to be acknowledged. Notwithstanding, she pointed to some key aspects in moving forward, such as the need for national research policies to incorporate provisions for gender equality, as there are stark differences among member states. Moreover, the scope of what can be understood under gender equality should be broadened, including at the European level. Intersectionality, for example, is an aspect of gender equality that should be addressed. In the end, more political will and resources, especially from member states, are needed to advance, according to Linkova. She assured that the ERAC Working Group on Gender in R&I stands ready to assist in the coming years for an overarching policy framework on gender equality in RD&I.
  • Gender and knowledge institutions
    Oana van der Togt partly echoed Linkova’s words, saying that discussions on diversity and inclusion, including in terms of gender, currently have got momentum. Knowledge institutions have a task to develop targeted strategies to work towards achieving gender equality, towards diversity. At TNO, such a strategy has been in place for quite some time now, and van der Togt highlighted some lessons learned. As a basic condition for success, the openness to discuss potential measures is needed. Having a long-term horizon is also key, as institutional change requires time. Adjustments to initial measures may also be needed over time that accurately reflect institutional evolutions that have taken shape. Finally, monitoring is important to measure progress. A simple first step van der Togt shared is to monitor the number of female employees in different function levels over time.
  • Gendered innovations
    Ineke Klinge pointed out that insights into integrating the gender dimension in RD&I content become increasingly relevant, as more and more funding bodies worldwide (rightfully) impose corresponding criteria. Therefore, adequate methods are needed that cover the entire RD&I cycle. Such methods, including concrete tools for researchers and reviewers, are described in the policy report Gendered Innovations 2. The report also sheds light on how to integrate the gender dimension in a variety of research domains, such as health, robotics and urban planning, through dedicated case studies. According to Klinge, there are numerous examples where gender bias in the research process obscures research outcomes, with undesirable societal impacts. This is true not only for the more ‘obvious’ research fields where this may be the case, such as health, but also for other domains. Any research should therefore consider its relation to gender.

Cautious optimism, no time for complacency

Reflecting on the trajectory so far of the gender dimension in European RD&I and its future outlook, all speakers agreed that there is reason to be cautiously optimistic, given the achievements realized thus far. Yet, there is no time for complacency, so was the verdict. True success is only reached when no discussions on the value of the gender dimension are still necessary, when there is greater gender balance in research teams and in knowledge institutions, and when gender has a greater impact in research and innovation content. Therefore, future work should build on the foundation that has been laid in recent years and monitoring is only successful if data are used for further improvement. Last but not least, all speakers pointed to the need to continue to set more ambitious goals over time as implementation is just as important as creating policy for the gender agenda. As such, continued attention is needed to gain more momentum, to improve monitoring and to broaden the discussion to diversity and inclusion in the coming years.

The recording of the webinar is available here.