EPWS interviews a high-level EU research policy-maker in 5 questions.
In this new section EPWS is interviewing European research policy-makers concerned by gender equality goals. In this series of interviews we wish to offer women scientists the state of the art about the EU policy agenda on gender equality in research and the gender dimension in science content. On the EPWS website portraits of research policy-makers will now alternate every month with those of distinguished women scientists.
We have the great honour to begin this series of interviews by that of Mr. Jean-Eric Paquet, Director General – Directorate General (DG) for Research and Innovation (R&I) of the European Commission.
Jean-Eric’s career at the European Commission started in 1993. Since then he contributed in shaping EU policy in various fields and achieved major breakthroughs, notably in DG Transport, where he led the development of the Trans-European Transport Network Policy and was responsible for Europe’s transport infrastructure policy and investment strategies, the single European rail area, inland waterways and port policy.
He also gained considerable experience at international level: in DG Enlargement, his portfolio covered Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. He was also EU Ambassador in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania from 2004 to 2007.
In 2015, he was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the European Commission, in charge of Better Regulation and Policy Coordination.
In all his endeavours, he puts co-creation and systemic change at the heart of the decision-making process, and strongly believes that citizens should be more involved in shaping public policy agendas.
What role does your institution play in shaping the European Union’s (EU) gender equality policy in research and innovation?
DG Research and Innovation (R&I) is at the forefront in shaping the European Commission’s gender equality policy in research and innovation. It is indeed under our responsibility and a primary objective for me. There is a dedicated Gender sector which is coordinating our policy action on this matter.
But co-design and co-creation are very much at the heart of our policy, in the area of gender equality like in all policy areas that we cover. In order to best integrate our gender equality objectives across our programmes and everyday activities, I have set up an internal structure, the Matrix on Gender Equality in R&I, which is coordinated by the Gender sector and gathers appointed representatives from across our DG as well as from sister DGs EAC (Education and Culture) and JRC (Joint Research Centre) and also from the Commission’s Secretariat General and DG JUST (Justice).
Indeed, the gender equality in R&I policy that we develop and implement is part of the European Commission’s overall gender equality strategy, which is spearheaded by DG JUST. The new gender equality strategy, which was released within the first 100 days of President Ursula von der Leyen’s mandate, clearly reflects how high gender equality is placed in her political agenda. This strategy covers research and innovation and pays a particular attention to our new framework programme, Horizon Europe.
Promoting women’s full participation to science education, research and innovation, and integrating and mainstreaming a gender equality perspective in all related policies, is also a longstanding and strong personal commitment of our Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, whose portfolio covers innovation and research, as well as culture, education and youth – thus our sister DGs !
At Commission level, I should also mention a new internal structure which is now starting to play a core role in translating our President’s commitment to foster a “Union of Equality” through our policies and programmes: the new Task Force on Equality, managed at the level of the Secretariat General and placed under the leadership of Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. Equality coordinators have been nominated in each DG, and the Head of the Gender sector is DG R&I’s representative. This Task Force on Equality addresses gender equality but also intersecting inequalities, such as racism, LGBTIQ issues, and disability. Specific strategies have been recently adopted by the Commission and more are to come on different equality aspects.
And of course, no EU policy would be possible without a close cooperation with EU Member States and R&I stakeholders. And for this, our common framework is the European Research Area (ERA), and we cooperate closely with ERA-related groups, such as the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation.
Gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research have been set as one of the key priorities of the 2012 ERA Communication, with three underpinning objectives: gender equality in careers at all levels, gender balance in decision-making, and the integration of the gender dimension into research content.
The ERA policy objectives have been translated into the Horizon 2020 framework programme as a cross-cutting priority and through dedicated actions supporting gender equality in R&I organisations, and gender equality objectives will be further strengthened under our next Framework programme, Horizon Europe.
The Commission’s new Communication, “A new ERA for Research and Innovation”, adopted last 30 September, places gender equality among the priority areas for deepening the ERA and strengthening the European R&I potential. Building on the strengthened provisions for gender equality set for Horizon Europe, we are proposing to go even further and, as of 2021, work on the development of inclusive gender equality plans with Member States and stakeholders in order to promote EU gender equality in R&I.
EPWS: Which are the most important gender equality policy decisions in research and innovation that have already been implemented a) by your institution, b) in the science system?
a) At Commission and DG R&I level, I would say that setting gender equality as a priority objective and cross-cutting issue in our Framework programme, for the first time in the Horizon 2020 legal basis, was a major policy decision and key achievement.
But we need to go even beyond, and I have pushed for an upgrade of our policies in Horizon Europe, with the full support of Commissioner Gabriel. Gender equality is being further strengthened as a priority, and the integration of the gender dimension across the Programme is becoming an operational objective.
Furthermore, in order to foster a real step change in the EU R&I system, and create a multiplier effect in addressing the structural barriers to gender equality that persists in R&I organisations, we are introducing a new eligibility criterion for Horizon Europe: applicants will need to have in place a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) to be eligible for EU funding.
This new requirement will be put in place gradually, addressing first public bodies, research organisations and higher education institutions from EU Member States and associated countries, and with a transition period, possibly of one year, before it is fully enforced. It will also be accompanied by coherent set of actions to support structural reforms and action plans by national authorities and individual R&I organisations, especially from the less-advanced countries.
Another important policy shift that I consider very important, and have pushed forward, is our recent opening to increased co-creation and co-design, internally through the Matrix for Gender Equality in R&I, but also in relation with our external stakeholders, with Member States, and with citizens across Europe.
b) With respect to the European science system, again I would highlight the European Research Area. Setting gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research as one of the ERA priorities and as horizontal issue as well, in 2012, has allowed to significantly advance gender equality in research organisations in many Member States and Associated Countries, although progress remains uneven across the different European countries.
The ERA Roadmap National Actions Plans and Strategies have acted as catalysers for action in a large number of EU Member States. Member States which have also adopted specific Council Conclusions on the advancement of gender equality in the ERA in 2015.
The new, revitalised, ERA framework should enable even further progress and joint commitment towards inclusive gender equality. We need everybody on board, Member States, Associated Countries, R&I stakeholders, organisations like yours, and citizens, and I believe the new ERA is the right policy framework to enable real progress to be achieved.
EPWS: What new challenges for achieving and ensuring gender equality and the gender dimension in research and innovation will arise given the current rapid changes in society?
Opening up our gender equality policies to make them more inclusive is a major challenge, and one that is at the core of the new ERA Communication.
And this inclusiveness for us should address three different levels:
- inclusive in terms of intersectionality: we need to open our gender equality policies to intersections with other factors of discrimination – such as those based on ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation – in order to better address the multiple axes of inequality that researchers can experience;
- inclusive in terms of geography: we want to make sure that all Member States are on board and well supported in their efforts to implement GEPs;
- and inclusive at the sectorial level: we need to better address the innovation and private sector, where women still remain largely under-represented, and the EIC (European Innovation Council) will be a key player in this endeavour.
Another challenge that remains for me is the better integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation. This integration has improved over the course of Horizon 2020 but remains unsatisfactory.
It is not enough to increase the number of women and improve career progression, access to decision-making, as well as working environments and conditions. We also need to change the knowledge, whom and what it takes into consideration, and whom it benefits to.
Taking into account the “gender dimension” – that is, ensuring that the biological characteristics, as well as the social and cultural features, behaviours and needs, of both women and men are taken into consideration – is vital for the societal relevance as well as for the quality and reproducibility of research, and thereby crucial to secure Europe’s leadership in science and technology, support its inclusive growth and respond to global challenges and sustainable development goals.
To further strengthen the integration of this gender dimension in R&I, we have convened an Expert Group which has developed methodologies for sex, gender, as well as intersectional analysis. They have also produced fifteen interdisciplinary case studies displaying how to integrate the gender dimension into key areas of R&I, including 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. Their report, which will be released by the Commission in the coming days, also offers specific policy recommendations for effective implementation Horizon Europe, in its different Clusters and Missions.
The unprecedented situation with COVID-19 indeed shows us that taking into account the different characteristics and situations of women and men in the face of the pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it is a necessity.
And the COVID-19 crisis also affected the R&I community itself. The impact on women’s work and scientific production is significant. Research shows a decline in women’s publications since the crisis began, with women spending disproportionately more time on childcare, home-schooling, housework or eldercare.
We need to better take into account the impact of the pandemic on gender equality though our recovery and preparedness strategies, and the EU R&I system, research funders as well as research performing organisations, and their gender equality plans, will need to address this changing landscape as well.
One final challenge, which is at the core of the co-design and co-creation approach that I promote, is how we can better communicate with citizens, especially young ones, and better foster their engagement towards gender equality in science, research and innovation. And for this, I believe women scientists’ associations can play a key role.
Which of the latest EU research and innovation policy guidelines address the mentioned challenges? How does your institution react to these challenges? How does your institution ensure that Europe’s answers to the grand societal challenges will be gender equitable and sensitive to the gender dimension?
Opening gender equality policies to inclusiveness – addressing the three levels I mentioned earlier, and better integrating sex, gender and intersectional analysis into research and innovation content – across projects and missions funded under Horizon Europe in particular – these are all challenges which we are taking into consideration for the development of Horizon Europe work programmes and implementation modalities, building on the new provisions for gender equality that we have introduced, and which are supported by Member States.
Again, the new ERA Communication is also a strong political guideline which will frame our action and cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, and explicitly address these challenges.
With respect to COVID-19, the European Commission has been at the forefront of supporting R&I and coordinating European and global research efforts to tackle the pandemic and preparedness for other outbreaks. This has also included an emphasis on addressing the gender equality impacts of the pandemic. In the framework of the ERAvsCORONA action plan for short-term coordinated R&I actions agreed upon by the Commission and national ministries, a dedicated website for Coronavirus-related EU supported initiatives has been established. It includes a specific section on gender equality, featuring in particular the case study on the impact of sex and gender in the COVID-19 pandemic developed by the EC Expert Group on ‘Gendered Innovations’.
The special calls for expression of interest launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also included gender as a crosscutting issue, and the recovery package is calling for an inclusive strategy also addressing gender equality. Yet, more needs to be done on this front, and with respect to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women’s careers in R&I, and we are reflecting on the best ways to address this.
What role do women scientists’ associations play in the creation of gender equality policy in research and innovation at European level? What measures does you institution take to actively involve women scientists‘ organisations in its policy-making processes? With what formats do you think your institution‘s dialogue with women scientists associations could be enhanced/ rendered more effective?
Women scientists’ associations play, have played, and I hope, will continue to play a crucial role in advancing gender equality policy in Europe, be it at national and Europe levels, in specific disciplines, within professional societies, or more broadly covering all research and innovation fields, representing women in academic leadership positions, or else acting as an umbrella organisation, like EPWS.
Women scientists’ associations represent the voice of the female scientific community, act as Ambassadors for change, in the policy arena, but also very concretely in interaction with research organisations, and with schools and youth.
The fact that a European-level voice for women scientists was lacking was recognised by the European Commission fifteen years ago, when it supported the creation of EPWS, building on the leadership of the German Centre of Excellence Women in Science (CEWS) and of other key national level associations, such as “Femmes & Sciences” in France.
Both CEWS and Femmes & Sciences have just celebrated their 20 years of existence, and I commend them for their key and pioneering contributions to raising the awareness on gender inequalities in science, and for continuing to be such active voices in the policy debate for advancing gender equality in education and research.
In our latest calls for the implementation of gender equality plans in research organisations under Horizon 2020, we have explicitly recommended that professional associations, including women scientists associations, be involved in activities.
Our will to open our policies, and the preparation of Horizon Europe, to co-creation and co-design – through online consultations, through the European R&I Days, through a supported Finnish Presidency conference a year ago, to name a few – extends of course to women scientists associations. And I believe EPWS has been very active in this respect.
We will fund the creation of new structures to further support the development of knowledge and practice on inclusive gender equality in the EU R&I system, and women scientists’ associations will surely have a role to play in these.
Furthermore, Commissioner Gabriel and I are really committed to making women scientists more visible and better recognised for their contributions, and who will be best to help us in this objective than women scientists’ organisations, and especially EPWS? I have seen some of the portraits and interview podcasts that you have produced and made public on your website. They are great and I believe we could work closer on this front as well.
I look forward to future dialogues and collaborations, and I am honoured to be the first research policy maker to be interviewed in your new series!
Gender equality in R&I policy page:
Gender equality in R&I Coronavirus page:
‘Gendered Innovations 2: How inclusive analysis contributes to research and innovation” EC policy report
R&I Days co-design session “Get ready: A new ERA for Equality is calling!”