Half of all European university doctoral graduates are women, but this drops to 30% of those working as researchers. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to suffer from job insecurity early on in their research careers, and the gap becomes significantly magnified further up the academic ladder. In 2019 only one in four heads of institutions in the Higher Education Sector and just over 3 out of 10 board members were women at the European level.
The data, from the European Commission's She Figures 2021 report, leaves little room for doubt: although progress has been made, there is still a very clear gender gap in research careers. INSPIRE, a new European project with almost €5 million in funding, coordinated by the Gender and ICT (GenTIC) research group at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), aims to close this gap and promote gender equality in research and innovation. It also aims to build on knowledge of gender equality interventions to make the research system more inclusive to under-represented groups.
Equality in research careers
"There are various approaches for addressing gender equality in research. The underrepresentation of women in research careers at every level, from those in the earliest stages to full professors, is a real issue. We also need more women in decision-making positions, and much of the research carried out lacks a gender perspective," explained Rachel Palmén, a researcher in the GenTIC group and coordinator of the new INSPIRE project. "When we talk about gender equality in research, we analyse the situation based on the following three approaches: research careers, decision-making, and the content of research."
In Palmén's opinion, although progress has been made at the European level, there is still a lot more that could be done to close the gender gap in the world of research and to make research more inclusive. Each organization, for example, can assess its own recruitment and internal promotion processes to ensure there is no gender (or other) biases in evaluation processes and place greater emphasis on transparency and clarity in its requirements for hiring or promoting staff. Furthermore, funding organizations can require researchers to include a gender perspective in their project proposals and assess the results. One of the main strands in this field of research has been to recognise how institutions and structures need to be transformed for a greater inclusivity.
14 organizations coordinated by the UOC
The INSPIRE: European Centre of Excellence for Inclusive Gender Equality in Research & Innovation: Creating Knowledge & Engaging in Collaborative Action project has started in October and run for 48 months. The project, which has been awarded €5 million of funding from the EU's Horizon Europe programme, will create a sustainable centre of excellence which aims to set the worldwide standard for the quality of its research and analysis on inclusive gender equality in research and innovation.
INSPIRE will combine cutting-edge knowledge, ambitious political approaches and innovative practices to enable academics, equality experts and practitioners to connect, so they can share and create resources and embark on strategic partnerships with public and private institutions to benefit the European Research Area. "The aim is not just to conduct research on equality, but also to provide more practical support for those institutions that are implementing gender equality plans and actions," said Palmén.
The project, which will be coordinated by the UOC, will involve a total of 14 research centres and universities. Their work will be based on four thematic areas known as Knowledge & Support Hubs (KSHs):
- Intersectionality. The aim of this hub will be to bring together knowledge of how discriminations on gender, intersect with other axes of discrimination, such as race or disability. It will be led by Belgium's Hasselt University and Spain's Notus applied social research centre.
- Fostering change in the private sector. This hub will work on finding formulas to apply equality knowledge to the private sector with a particular focus on innovation. It will be coordinated by Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft research organization and Austria's Joanneum Research.
- Widening participation. The aim of this hub will be to share real experiences of putting equality plans in place in institutions that have little experience in this area. It will be led by Poland's Jagiellonian University along with Slovenia’s Znanstveno Raziskovalni Centre and Argentina’s branch of Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO).
- Maintaining sustainable change. This KSH aims to create lasting change beyond one-off equality actions. It will be coordinated by the University of Southern Denmark and Netherland's Radboud University.
In addition to the above institutions and the UOC, the following are also involved in INSPIRE: Hungary's Európa Média Szolgáltató Nonprofit, Germany's GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Portia, and Greece's Innosystems Symvouleutikes Ypiresies Kai Efarmoges Pliroforikis Ypsilis Technologias Monoprosopi Idiotiki Kefalaiouchiki Etaireia.
Furthermore, the four KSHs will also provide support to 12 communities of practice (which will be made up of over 95 institutions) to help implement equality plans and promote mutual support for the joint development of innovative practices, tailored capacity building and the collection of pan-European data. INSPIRE will aim to reduce differences between member states and will strengthen European equality laws by means of a distributed approach that focuses on the dissemination of knowledge and experience, and the creation of new opportunities for more open and inclusive research and innovation.
The research group
All this work will be organized by the UOC's GenTIC, a research group with extensive experience in gender equality in research and innovation. The group has previously coordinated, among other recent international projects, the international ACT project to develop communities of practice to promote gender equality and institutional change in European research and innovation. The main findings and lessons learnt from the ACT project can be read in this recently published open access book. The ACT project built on GenPORT -another European project coordinated by GENTIC which created a European portal with good practices, tools and resources to foster gender equality and excellence in the fields of science, innovation and technology.
The INSPIRE project supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, Gender Equality.
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
The UOC's research is conducted by over 500 researchers and 51 research groups distributed between the university's seven faculties, the E-learning Research programme, and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu #UOC25years