European Commission: Current Policy Regarding Gender in Science

presented by Gilles Laroche, Head of Unit Gender and Ethics, Directorate General Research and Innovation, at the EPWS Debate in the European Parliament

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be with you today in the European Parliament for this lunch time debate.

I would like to thank the European Parliament for hosting this lunch time debate and the European Platform of Women Scientists for organising it and giving me the opportunity to say a few words about our current activities. I would also like to thank you for your work in representing the needs and aspirations of women scientists. Your role is essential in the research policy debate in Europe.

In the European Union, gender equality is a fundamental right.
Member States agreed already in the treaty of Rome on the principle “that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work”. And the Lisbon Treaty states that “the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities and to promote equality between men and women” in all its activities.
The European Institutions will continue to put gender issues on the agenda, in particular for research and innovation policy.

The feminisation of the student population is one of the most striking aspects of the last 30 years. But women are still struggling to progress in their scientific careers.
45% of PhD graduates are women, but we have only 30% female researchers in Europe and just 19% in the top grade in academic careers. The number is even smaller at leadership level: 13% of heads of institutions in the higher education sector.

This waste of talent is unacceptable in particular when we know that if we want Europe to remain competitive, we will need at least one million more researchers by 2020.

In 2010, Máire Geoghegan Quinn commissioner for Research and Innovation made a clear commitment in front of the European Parliament regarding gender equality in research. Based on this commitment, 3 action lines have been decided: 1) the Commission should lead by example; 2) to push for the modernization of scientific institutions in Europe and 3) to raise the public’s awareness about gender equality in research and innovation.

The current situation of these three action lines is as follows:

1. The Commission should lead by example 

Firstly, we are ensuring that the European Commission leads by example in promoting gender equality by reaching the 40% target of the underrepresented sex in the evaluation panels, expert groups and advisory groups linked to the 7th Framework Programme.

In addition, Horizon 2020 will ensure the promotion of gender equality and the gender dimension in research and innovation content as a cross-cutting issue. A dedicated article has been introduced in the text (art 15). But, this will also need to be translated concretely at the project level.

2. Push for the modernization of scientific institutions in Europe 

As regards the modernisation of scientific institutions, the focus has shifted from “fixing the women” to “fixing the institutions”. This implies supporting an institutional culture change for a greater inclusiveness of women scientists. It also means adapting practices in the recruitment and promotion of women.

The FP7 Science in Society programme supports research institutions to adapt their practices and structures.
But the main action on which we are currently working is of legislative nature (soft law).
We are exploring the possibility of a Recommendation to the Council on how to achieve structural change within universities and research institutions. The recommendation would address the way scientific institutions are organised. It would also ensure a gender perspective in research and innovation content as well as gender equality in research careers and practices.
This recommendation should complement the forthcoming communication on the European Research Area, planned for this year and which should also support the modernisation of research institutions.

To help us in this work, we have set up an expert group which recently published its report on “structural changes in research institutions”. This report analyses the barriers to gender equality and puts forward concrete recommendations to advance gender equality within research institutions. They are addressed to all relevant actors: the European Commission, Member States and Associated Countries, research organisations, funders, and gatekeepers of scientific excellence.

3. Awareness raising on gender 

Thirdly, raising the general public’s awareness of these issues is crucial. A major communication campaign to be launched in June will target teenagers and women who are at a moment of choice in their studies or their careers.
The campaign will combat stereotypes relating to gender, encourage women to choose scientific studies and to pursue a career in research. It will also show that science benefits from a higher participation of women.

Training remains a key element. The European Commission has funded a Gender Toolkit and training packages to give the research community practical tools to integrate gender aspects into their practices.

Last but not least, the “She Figures” are also an important element to raise awareness about the still existing gaps. The “She Figures” will also be crucial for the follow-up of the recommendation to the Council on the structural changes in research institutions.

This is in a nutshell the content of our current activities.

But before concluding, I would like to say that out of the 6 projects which will be presented and discussed here today 5 were funded by the FP7 Science in Society programme.
They addressed a number of the challenges mentioned before: gender equality policies, study choices, the implementation of structural changes, the career progression of women researchers but also research cooperation on gender and science between the European Union and the Mediterranean countries. I would like to restate our appreciation for the work done in these projects, which helps to move gender equality forward.

I am convinced that women can benefit from science and science from women. As stressed by our commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn, there is no trade-off between promoting gender equality, excellence and efficiency in research and innovation. These goals are mutually supportive and they will allow us to achieve a win-win situation for researchers, institutions and for Europe.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you a fruitful debate.”

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