The ACT Matching Events Month in October 2020 was a compilation of seven virtual events, with around 200 participants and 26 speakers in total starting on October 12th with the last event on October 30th. The first event addressed GEPs as an eligibility criterion followed by two events each, focused on the ERA priorities Decision-making, Gender Dimension and Careers.
The three main aims of these events were (1) to provide a platform for exchange across the ACT Communities of Practice (CoPs) and other stakeholders (ERA level players) on the three ERA priorities, (2) to promote and scale up the network of CoPs on national and international levels and (3) to expand inclusivity by inviting people that expressed interest in ACT and its CoPs.
We started the ACT Matching Events Month on October 12th with a Plenary Session addressing the newly implemented eligibility criterion to have a Gender Equality Plan for Horizon Europe funding.
Dr. Anne Pépin, Senior Policy Officer of the European Commission, presented the EU Policy on Gender Equality in Research & Innovation with an emphasis on the new eligibility criterion. The interest in this topic was very high and led to a fruitful and interesting discussion. The most prominent discussion points were:
• How this eligibility criterion will be implemented in regard to assessing the organisation’s GEP.
• How organisations will be supported prior as well as in the one-year transition period.
• How will it be ensured that the criterion will not just become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, how will the EC evaluate the GEPs and will there be a follow-up?
Overall, this initiative by the EC has met with much approval. Nevertheless, there were also some critical opinions with regard to the requirement becoming a ‘box-ticking’ exercise and the question whether this is sufficient to change the system. In relation to this, Dr. Jörg Müller, Open University of Catalunya, presented some results of an online survey organised by the EC and ACT on potential support measures. It showed that there is a special interest in advancing knowledge, policy and practice on gender equality and intersectionality but also support in form of mentoring and, training and policy advice among others.
The CASPER project is currently working on EU wide Award/Certification Systems to Promote Gender Equality in Research. Dr. Anne Laure Humbert and Dr. Charoula Tzanakou from the Oxford Brookes University presented first insights gained from the study they conducted. The study shows that an EU- wide certification system is a complex undertaking but that there is an interest in such a scheme. Of great interest was the opinion of the EC on such a scheme and how it could be linked with the GEP criterion.
The session so far showed that people are very interested in how organisations will be supported in the light of the new requirement. The most important points related to this are:
• There is a need for infrastructure that supports the local actors and people working in research organisations and HE organisations. Such an infrastructure also needs to respond to different national and policy contexts.
• It has been suggested to have a contact at the institutional level, which is more useful than to have a national contact point (institutions apply for funding, so they need to know what to do), which will be supported by the EC through a support facility to help prepare for the implementation of the GEP requirement.
• With the help of the results from the CASPER project, existing certification schemes might be recognised as an equivalent to the GEP requirement.
The plenary session was followed by the Matching Events on Decision-making on October 14th & 16th 2020. The first day (October 14th) was dedicated to Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Collaborative Action: Gender Equality in Decision-Making in R&I. We learned about the objectives, approaches and progress of three ACT CoPs (GenBUDGET, FORGEN and the Latin American CoP) in actions taken to counteract gender bias in decision-making. It was great to learn more about their work and to see how they work on promoting gender equality in decision-making about budgets (GenBUDGET) as well as in mitigating gender bias in decision-making in evaluation of research projects (FORGEN) and more generally in institutional change (Latin American CoP). Participants were very interested in the work of the CoPs, with some participants wishing to join.
One of the aims of the ACT project and its CoPs is to promote institutional change. A possible step toward this aim is not only to increase the number of women leaders but ensure leaders are gender competent, which is the aim of AKKA – a gender-integrated leadership program in Lund University, which was presented by Tomas Brage. By changing structures and cultures, the AKKA program increased the proportion of women in leading positions as well as the visibility of women as potential leaders and gender awareness among leaders has been raised.
Talking about best practices, the session closed with a discussion about the experiences of the ACT CoPs and other collaborations. It was pointed out that:
• Leverage to be had from support provided by CoPs from outside the institution – important tool for providing internal support and arguments
• CoP members benefit from the network, to learn from others
• Including executive boards and deans to have their support and to introduce the work of the CoPs but also the other way around, that CoPs provide support and inspiration
• It is important to include actors from different levels (e.g. students) to put pressure on decision-makers on the higher levels
• Collaboration beyond the institution is one of the key aspects for CoP progress
• One worry is what happens if project/ support is discontinued
The discussion was very vivid and fruitful. There was a strong consensus regarding the importance of collaboration, networking and the examples provided by the CoPs showed the importance and the impact of CoPs and their work.
On the second day Marcela Linková, who is chair of the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation as well as co-author of the Report on the Implementation of Targets: Follow-Up on the 2018 Guidance Recommendations provided insights on the results of the report, that assessed whether and to what extent the Member States and Associated Countries have adopted the recommendations made in the ‘Guidance to Facilitate the Implementation of Targets to Promote Gender Equality in Research and Innovation’ launched in 2018. The results show that some recommendations have been implemented by almost every country, whereas other recommendations have been implemented only by a few. The recommendation to collect and publish sex-disaggregated data on the composition of professorship and management/leadership positions for example has been implemented by 92% of the countries. In contrast, the recommendation to institutionalise the proportion of women in grade A/professor positions as an assessment criterion on institutional evaluations has only been implemented by 16%. It was also very interesting to see the differences between the Member States: The Nordic countries as well as Spain, France, Germany, Austria and Ireland have implemented 5-6 recommendations whereas the Eastern European countries have mostly implemented 1-2 recommendations. Participants were very interested in the debate regarding the number of women in Grade A being a useful indicator for GE. Although this figure is often an indicator of gender equality, it should not be seen as the main indicator, as the number of women in Grade A can have more to do with context (i.e. the relative size of the business enterprise sector and the share of women among holders of tertiary education) than gender equality in R&I.
Participants have also asked for the main factors that impact implementations of measures. This depends mostly on the different approaches Member States are taking, which in turn is determined by how centralised/ decentralised the countries are. An example for such an approach was shared by Ross Woods, who presented the Irish case which promotes Gender Balance in Decision-Making as part of a Comprehensive National Gender Equality Policy in HE. Participants had a great interest in the comprehensive approach that Ireland has been taken especially in the factors that facilitated this comprehensive approach. Ross Woods explained that one of the main factors was the political backing they had when proposing this approach. Another approach taken by Ghent University is to change the election procedure for the board of governors (2014) to ensure a 40/60 gender balance of its members, which was presented by Tine Brouckaert. Similar to the factor that has been mentioned in regard to the Irish approach, the change of the election procedure at Ghent University was triggered and supported by political measures: (1) a governmental decree that stipulated that a gender balance from 1/3 to 2/3 had to be ensured in decision-making and all advisory bodies of the university and (2) EU directives to have a 40/60 gender balance for boards of directors. In addition to those political supporting factors, Ghent University had a female rector at that time that supported this initiative.
Working towards equal representation and participation in leadership is the GEARING ROLES project, presented by María Lopez Belloso and Leire Gartzia. The project’s approach to gender sensitive decision-making and leadership is to (1) provide inspiration, (2) to promote knowledge as well as the exchange and sharing of experiences among GEP implementers and (3) to develop a training programme for gender sensitive decision-making and leadership. One central aspect of the project is that different institutions are working together to tackle objectives regarding decision-making and leadership. Although this has been impacted by Covid-19, it is still important and new alliances emerged as well as new collaboration networks, which underlines the importance of the work of the ACT CoPs.
The session closed with discussion in small breakout sessions addressing how a GEP can encourage gender sensitive Decision-making and leadership and how collaboration between institutions can impact gender sensitive Decision-making and leadership. The discussion went very well and some of the main points were:
• Changing the numbers of women in Decision-making is not enough, but a good first step, which then should be followed by culture change.
• Stepping away from the one size fits all idea regarding leadership.
• Changing the definition of leadership by broadening the understanding of it.
On October 20th & 22nd 2020 the Matching Events addressing the ERA priority Gender Dimension took place in conjunction with other research educational activities at the Karolinska Institutet. This event was organised by Associated Professor Karolina Kublickiene and presented as a capacity building event for the implementation of gender dimension in research, and an educational event primarily targeting the ACT community, a collaborating consortium called Going FWD4health (supported by GENDER-NET plus) and early stage researchers at Karolinska Institutet and other European universities as well as researchers from Canada. This was a specifically targeted type of event primarily linking different competences and needs to boost understanding and implementation of gender dimension in the STEM field by exchanging experiences and knowledge, as well as identifying concrete steps how to succeed by using the concept of CoPs.
The main outcomes for this event were related to the following issues:
• Why gender dimension adds value to research and education in the field of STEM;
• Meet an expert get inspired: from one size fits all to individualised approach.
• When and how: hands on with practical work. Becoming a gender champion to boost your science and education towards innovation.
On the first day of the Gender Dimension Matching Event, Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, Radboud UMC, gave insights in the Gender Dimension from a European perspective, explaining why it matters, how it is defined, what it entails and why there is a need for the integration of a Gender Dimension in general, as well as in healthcare specifically. There is a need to integrate a Gender Dimension to ensure reproducibility, excellence and societal value but also to research what it means when sex differences are being ignored (e.g. unexpected side effects of drugs), which relates to a question that has been raised, why agencies like the U:S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not make it a requirement that drugs are tested on both sexes. It needs more collaboration between scientists and pharma companies, to then have leverage toward those agencies. Sabine Oertelt-Prigione also shared how change processes can work: It is important to work on different levels at the same time which includes building knowledge, making sure to have a critical mass, working at the structural level, engaging leadership and putting pressure on the organisation from outside. A great way to do this is to build networks and to bring different people together (researchers, students, co-workers etc.) that can build pressure, which closely relates to the CoP approach of the ACT project.
After the break Valeria Raparelli, Associate Professor at Sapienza University, Italy, talked about ‘Reflections on sex and gender in clinical practice and research: towards precision medicine’. Besides sharing her own experiences as a physician and clinical scientist, Sex- and Gender-Informed Medicine (Precision Medicine), how to deal with the integration of sex and gender in clinical studies (including lessons learned) and how to get inspired by sex and gender experts were also addressed. One important aspect was emphasised that in order to implement sex and gender in precision medicine, it is important to not only include researchers but to engage the higher level players like funding agencies, universities leaders and peer-reviewed journals. So, to make a difference it is important to bring together scientists with policy makers.
Four aspects that have been addressed in the different presentations were: (1) the importance of knowledge and idea generation, (2) the benefits of using an interdisciplinary approach and (3) the discussion on how we can be successful in promoting change (4) the value of networks and collaborative actions.
In the following discussion, drivers, barriers as well as action-points for research fields and/or institutions were discussed. Besides boosting education as a driver and looking at the ‘standard way’ as a barrier, three action-points were identified: The use of a bottom-up approach (to start with the students with the support of higher levels and let them act as activists), to get the funding agencies on board to make sex/gender as well as diversity a requirement. Because it was held in conjunction with other research educational activities, the discussion was especially interesting with reflections from both perspectives; a bottom-up approach including early-stage researchers and top-down representatives like the head of the doctoral educational program for example, with the potential for decision making about strategical implementation of education programs in doctoral education or other types of education at the university. Finally, when reflecting on the first day’s achievements, a common consensus was also achieved about the necessity of a tool box or a knowledge data base that could be extensively used by several universities at the EU level and worldwide. An example for such a knowledge hub is Karolinska’s Gendered Innovation Alliance or Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment, supported by the EC. The examples were highly appreciated and discussed due to their feasibility to include several disciplines related to STEM.
The second day of the Matching Event on Gender Dimension started with a presentation by Ivan Nalvarte, Associate Professor at Karolinska Institutet, on ‘Sex Differences in Alzheimer’s Disease: what we know and what we do, where research findings in regard to this topic have been presented. The choice of his presentation was also related to the fact, that he was presented as a role model due to successfully implementing the gender dimension in his research content and recently granted by the NIH 1.5 M. US Dollars. The presentation closed with a discussion looking at the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and if there are different strategies for men and women. Because most animal experiments are performed on male mice and species differences, there is no difference in treatments, preventative recommendations and the diagnostic process between men and women, which clearly shows that more integrative research is needed!
The next part of the session was devoted to ‘Our roles to help boost the Gender Dimension in HE and R&I’. Before the group work in breakout sessions, a talk by Natalia Criado Pacheco, King’s College London on ‘Responsible AI: Free from (human) bias, unfairness and discrimination’, with a focus on gender. Research showed for example that when searching for a certain profession online, women are most likely depicted in a more negative, unprofessional way (e.g. doctor). This topic is especially important because Algorithms have a great influence on decisions people make as well as on a person’s mindset and socially widespread stereotypes and prejudices. Questions have been raised regarding how to add gender sensitive variables to the technology to make precise assessments.
The different groups discussed (1) which gender dimension topics should be prioritised and which methods would be best to promote their understandings (e.g. sex and gender per se), (2) how gender bias free data generation and knowledge dissemination can be ensured and (3) from the perspective of using the CoP approach what the most important action-points to boost the implementation of the gender dimension when applying a top-down approach. Several recommendations and action-points have been identified in the discussion, for example:
• To develop/ have guidelines on how to use existing data and how to identify potential bias/ weaknesses.
• To make proposals which are sex and gender sensitive
• Promoting the idea of including gender dimension in education
• Getting the leadership on board by raising awareness for the gender dimension
The last week of October (October 27th & 29th 2020) was dedicated to the Careers ERA priority. The session on the first day focused on Covid-19 and gendered career consequences, which is a highly up-to-date topic that affects us all. Aspects that are important when looking at gendered career consequences because of Covid-19 are: (1) What exactly are career consequences resulting from Covid-19, (2) how can these consequences be measured, (3) compensating measures for researchers and (4) looking at the state of the art work-family measures.
The first aspect was addressed by Meytal Eran Jona, Weizmann Institute of Science and GENERA CoP member, giving an overview over possible career consequences of Covid-19. It was shown that there is a lot of evidence which indicates that the pandemic has already created cumulative disadvantages for women academics and organisations for which we now need to find creative solutions. Covid-19 has impacts different levels: Mental distress, delays in research, difficulties regarding multiple responsibilities of parents as well as work insecurity on an individual level. On an organisational level, the impact of Covid-19 is evident for example in having trouble managing a team during a global crisis or delays in providing equipment as well as keeping up international collaborations. Research has shown that gender imbalances at home intensify the difficulties for women resulting for example in less academic activity.
Closely related to that is the question of how to measure those consequences. Ewa Krzaklewska and Marta Warat, from Jagiellonian University, therefore shared their insights on that. They presented first results of a research they conducted on Covid-19 consequences. When conducting the research, four dimensions have been taken into account: Academic work impact, psychological strain, work-life balance and a support dimension. The questionnaire addressed work and life during the Covid-19 pandemic regarding concentration, academic activity, support by friends, family and the institution or the impact of household conditions on working. The preliminary results show – among other things – that women declared more often that Covid-19 has a negative impact on their research, academic activities and promotion.
After we have seen not only the possible gendered career consequences but also how to measure them, the question ‘what to do now?’ comes to mind. This question was addressed by Claartje Vinkenburg, Portia LTD and leader of the ERA priority group ‘Careers’, talking about how to compensate researchers when they apply for research funding/ have research funding for their time spent on care. The overview given presented three common compensation measures: ‘Extension’, a fairly common instrument, with the risk however, of a backlog of activities; ‘Supplementation’ refers to (mostly) monetary support, e.g. for childcare and ‘Adaptation of criteria’ which is rather rare and controversial. The assumption here is that there are certain expectations toward researchers (e.g. number of publications), which will be lowered because of care responsibilities. Australian universities have an approach called ‘Achievement Relative to Opportunity (AR20)’ taking only productive months into account.
Posing the question what the cause for the leaky pipeline is, Adrienne Hopkins, Oxford University and author of the recent LERU report on work-family measures, addressed the state of the art work-family measures, as maternity leave is the main reason for the this phenomenon. Why is family leave so problematic? The answer to this question comes down to four points: (1) Different attitudes toward women and men as carers, (2) Management handling family leave, (3) Impact on research and (4) Impact on individual careers, which are all interlinked. These issues can be addressed for example by avoiding stereotypes about women as carers or by providing training for managers and to make sure that everyone has access to guidance and support. If a replacement for a researcher is hired, the absence of a researcher can be absorbed and the impact on research mitigated. More important than practical support is the signal that the institution is giving the researchers, which applies to all four aspects.
How can that be now linked to the Covid-19 situation? Although there are no clear answers yet, this situation bears tremendous opportunities because men experience the double burden now more than ever, which might bring change. The hope is to capitalise the experience we’re making now to shift the dialogue.
The input provided by the presenters were then taken into small breakout sessions to discuss the different topics further. One group brainstormed on how to compensate for Covid-19 in contract, tenure and promotion decisions. Aspects that emerged from that discussion are how to account for the loss of productivity during the pandemic in the assessment process or applying DORA type CVs. The support for academics with care responsibilities in working from home has been discussed by a second group, which resulted in a fruitful discussion on practices to drop and keep. They would for example drop the rhetoric to use the pandemic to finish the papers you always wanted by senior management which doesn’t resemble with reality. The significant IT support by institutions on the other hand was an action that should be continued. The third group talked about surveying researchers on Covid-19’s career and work/family consequences, which e.g. resulted in recommendations to also include questions regarding the virtual meeting culture or physical health when conducting research on Covid-19.
The second day was dedicated to the DORA declaration and evaluating researchers/ academics.
What is the DORA declaration? Stephen Curry and Anna Hatch explained, that beyond being critical of the widespread misuse of the general impact factor, DORA also provides 17 recommendations for different stakeholders (e.g. funders and institutions). For institutions that means for example to be explicit about the used criteria and to put emphasis on the scientific content of a paper rather than on metrics (thinking rather qualitative than quantitative). Beyond those recommendations, DORA is building a community thinking about the issue and then to help the community to develop and promote best practices. Evaluating researchers goes beyond looking at the number of publications and focusing on content as well as to include other aspects such as contribution to society.
Another example of a different way to evaluate researchers is using narrative CVs like in the Dutch Research Council, which were further explained by Kasper Gossink-Melenhorst. A narrative CV focuses on content and consists of only two sections – one on the academic profile, a comprehensive narrative of academic achievements, research focus, motivation etc.) and key outputs (limited to 10 and a motivation for why exactly those stated outputs have been chosen). Similar to the DORA approach, narrative CVs as well show a clear shift toward focusing on content rather than on metrics.
The ‘Evaluation and career progression model for professorial staff’ at the Ghent University, presented by Nele Bracke and Jasmin Van Daele also follows a qualitative approach. What are the features of this model? It is a qualitative model, that focuses on conversations with the researchers. The evaluation cycle takes five years and starts with a written text about the vision and ambition of the applicant for the upcoming period as an academic. In the evaluation after a couple of years, they will be asked what they achieved and what they’re proud of.
All three approaches/ models make it clear that ‘classic’ evaluation of researchers needs to be reformed, how that could be done and what this means for researchers and institutions.
The group work toward the end of the session gave participants the possibility to discuss how to start difficult conversations on (1) sexual harassment and bullying, (2) data collection and monitoring and (3) Intersectionality. The first group identified a couple of clusters regarding how to bring topics of sexual harassment and bullying to an institutional agenda, such as finding alliances, using drama and storytelling to raise awareness for these issues, conducting surveys and collect data as well as involving senior leadership management as change is not going to happen without them on board. The group talking about data collection and monitoring contemplated how to decide which categories to use when collecting data, what are the differences across the different regions in Europe and that it is important to build relationships with people who have the data based on trust and to show them that you understand their concerns for privacy but that you need their help to convince senior leadership based on their data. Regarding Intersectionality, there have been reflections on how to define it and how to adapt the theoretical implications into practice. Similar to the data collection group, they also discussed how to decide which categories will be included if you have to make a policy. Participants highly appreciated the discussion on those topics and stated that they could have continued the discussion forever.
All of the seven events have been really interesting, fruitful and informative – with great speakers, engaged participants and a fantastic atmosphere. It was a great opportunity to come together (even if only virtual), exchange knowledge and experiences, to get to know other views, perspectives and to see how and on what others are working on. The participants of the events came from many different countries, institutions, research fields and disciplines, which made the discussion and exchange especially fruitful.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the events, especially the speakers who enriched the different sessions!
For more information on these Matching Events, please contact: Kathrin Rabsch, Kathrin.Rabsch@tu-berlin.de