„Gender balance in research is improving, but pace is too slow“ the European Commission announced on International Women’s Day in 2019. In fact, from a global perspective, the proportion of women researchers in the EU has barely progressed over the past decade. Gender equality in research and innovation is a „wicked problem“ with no easy solutions: greater representation of women in science often fails due to a lack of young talents in the STEM fields. The few women find themselves as a minority in a workplace that is often not sufficiently family-friendly and thus more likely to drop out. With reports of poor working conditions for women in research, the attractiveness of the field to young scientists is diminished….
So it is about time to take a closer look at the working conditions in European research institutions and whether they can meet the standards for men and women that organizations such as the European University Association, Science Europe and Eurodoc have been demanding for many years and which are codified in the European Charter for Researchers.
On April 14, 2021, the Center for Reponsible Research and Innovation CeRRI at Fraunhofer IAO will host a two-part webinar to discuss with European experts the perspectives for developing Europe-wide benchmarks for good and gender-sensitive work conditions in research. The webinar is open to all participants of the 21st European Gender Summit.
Two of these experts are Jörg Müller, coordinator of the H2020 ACT project on Communities of Practice for accelerating gender equality, and Lidia Núñez, who is involved in the MORE projects, also funded by the European Commission. The two projects mark the state of the art in the assessment of work conditions in research.
Lidia, what are the MORE projects and why does it make an important contribution to good working conditions in research?
LN: The MORE projects constitute a large-scale and over time monitoring tool for tracking progress towards an open labour market for researchers (ERA priority). They are survey-based tools led by the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (European Commission) since 2012 – the last project (MORE4) was carried out by a consortium formed by PPMI, IDEA Consult and WIFO.
The MORE projects combine two types of surveys: first, the EU survey gathers representative information at country level of the working conditions, career progression and mobility patterns of researchers working in European Higher Education Institutions. The second type of surveys looks outside Europe and gathers information of researchers working outside Europe along similar dimensions. This combination of EU and non-EU scope offers unique insights on the evolution of the attractiveness of Europe as destination for researchers. This attractiveness encompasses multiple dimensions: it covers the capacity of responding to the scientific needs of researchers (working with leading researchers, access to research infrastructure and training, etc), but also their working conditions and career prospects. Another important aspect of the MORE surveys is the time dimension: the subsequent surveys to date form a time series (2012-2016-2019) that can help to track the evolution over time of key indicators related to researchers.
Jörg, in the ACT project you developed the so-called GEAM tool. What is it about?
GEAM stands for Gender Equality Monitoring and Auditing. It is a framework that has been developed within the ACT project to support the collection of high-quality data for gender equality within research performing organizations and higher education institutions in general. Many times, practitioners working for gender equality within their institution have little experience in designing questionnaires and implementing surveys. A lot of effort and dedication is involved as these questionnaires are developed over and over again by different organizations, while the quality of the resulting data is not optimal. We have developed the GEAM to address this situation and facilitate the collection of valid and reliable data on working conditions, perceptions of gender equality and experiences of bullying or sexual harassment at the institutional level. The GEAM includes a ready to use questionnaire – which has been so far translated into eight languages – which only needs to be adapted to the specific organizational context and needs. In addition, we have also developed a reporting template, which generates the descriptive statistics of the survey automatically. Taken these two components together, saves practitioners a lot of time, which they dedicate to other, more urgent tasks, such as developing and implementing a Gender Equality Plan.
Since it is a standardized questionnaire, we are also looking forward to see more institutions using it and hopefully get some insights regarding organizational but also regional and country-specific differences.
From your perspective, what is a surprising finding about the working conditions of men and women in research that you were able to uncover in your surveys?
LN: One of the findings from MORE that I find more noteworthy is the persistent gender gap among younger researchers. The MORE surveys indicate that while there has been some convergence over time in some aspects, such as the patterns of mobility or at the level of PhD trainings, there are still important differences in terms of satisfaction with their working conditions, recruitment processes and career progression. The fact that these patterns are so prominent among early career researchers is a clear sign for decision makers at all levels to strengthen their commitment for action in this regard, as these patterns are likely to persist over time if nothing changes.
What kind of sustainable impulses do you expect from your projects with regard to the working conditions in the European research area? How can you be supported in this?
LN: The MORE projects constitute a unique monitoring tool to track the evolution of key indicators of researchers´ careers in a comparable way across EU countries. The European Commission is currently developing a new observatory for recurrent monitoring of talent circulation and research careers across the ERA and the MORE projects will contribute to it. The gender dimension would need to be very present in this emphasis on the monitoring of working conditions. At the same time, the monitoring efforts need to be accompanied by in-depth research of the mechanisms behind these gaps to unveil the best responses to address them and reduce them.
JM: I think the most important aspect in terms of support is actually to continue funding for gender equality work, especially in the Eastern European countries. There is a lot of demand in terms of capacity building regarding the design, implementation and evaluation of Gender Equality Plans. It takes many hours, usually done on top of all the other job responsibilities, to achieve institutional change. The possibility to have dedicated staff such as Equality Officers is far from being a reality across Europe. I think the tools are out there, that’s the easy part, the difficult part is the funding for women – mainly! – on the ground that continues to push for a European Research Area that is both excellent and socially just.