Call for Athena SWAN to be rolled out across Europe

Gender action project also calls for increased focus on gender equality in evaluation of Horizon Europe research proposals 

October 23, 2019
Woman holding up 50 50 gender sign
Source: iStock

An Athena SWAN-style initiative should be rolled out across the European Union, while the Horizon Europe funding scheme should prioritise gender balance when evaluating research proposals, a group of policy experts has recommended.

A policy brief published by an EU-funded project called Gender Action says that “an award scheme like Athena SWAN should be introduced in the entire EU” to incentivise universities and research funding agencies to implement, monitor and evaluate actions on gender equality.

It adds that the inclusion of “differentiated stages”, such as the bronze, silver and gold awards used by the Advance HE initiative in the UK, Ireland and Australia, would allow institutions with no actions in place to become involved.

Marcela Linkova, coordinator of Gender Action and one of the authors of the policy brief, said that this was important given the wide variation in gender equality across Europe.

She added that while the Athena SWAN scheme and other similar initiatives can turn into “box-ticking exercises”, they are the best existing instruments to implement structural changes to improve gender equality.

Gender Action is a group of national policy experts appointed by EU member states and associated countries.

The brief also calls for the upcoming Horizon Europe framework to place more emphasis on gender equality.

Horizon 2020 invites researchers to include information on the gender balance of teams and how gender is relevant to their research, but Gender Action calls for the provision of this information to be a requirement for receiving funding.

It also recommends that gender balance is used as the first factor to differentiate ex aequo proposals – applications that receive identical scores after being evaluated based on “excellence” and “impact”. Gender balance is currently the second factor, after the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Other recommendations in the brief, which was presented at a conference on gender equality in research and innovation in Finland on 23 October, include the use of quotas in “managerial and decision-making positions” at universities and research organisations, and the implementation of sanctions for institutions that fail to introduce “disruptive measures” such as reverse mentoring or leadership-focused initiatives for female professors.

Dr Linkova said that sanctions could include a deduction in public funding “depending on how far below the target” an institution falls.

She added that Gender Action has been “very actively” engaged with the European Commission. “We certainly hope that some of our recommendations will be implemented,” she said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Calls for Athena SWAN to fly across Europe

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