"Academic and research organizations are gendered"

"Academic and research organizations are gendered"

Maxime Forest on the European project SUPERA
  • SUPERA launch conference in Madrid ©Ministerio Ciencia, Innovación y UniversidadSUPERA launch conference in Madrid ©Ministerio Ciencia, Innovación y Universidad

Since june 2018, Sciences Po engages in a new european research project Supporting the Promotion of Equality in Research and Academia (SUPERA). Financed by the European Commission, its main goal is to implement six Gender Equality Plans in 6 organizations from Southern and Central Europe. These plans will help to articulate a deeper understanding of gender inequalities, stereotypes and biases in research and support the inclusion of a gender perspective in research and academia.

Maxime Forest (FR), researcher and teacher at Sciences Po and member of PRESAGE, monitors the scientific assessment of the project.

The European Commission identified three main objectives : gender balance in career progression, gender balance in decision‐making and gender dimension in research content. To what extent are these objectives complementary ?

The “gender equality in research” policy of the European Commission will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019. As of 1999 the Commission was alarmed at the glass-ceiling and the leaky pipeline (metaphor describing how women drop out of STEM fields at all stages of their careers).

Originally, focus was on the individual level: mentoring, training programmes and recruiting processes directed at women. The underlying idea was that it was women, and not the academic institutions, that had a problem. Since then, in the face of the acute failure of such strategies, the Commission’s strategy changed: the emphasis is now on the structural causes of the gender-based horizontal and vertical segregation (the segregation by fields and positions, and the segregation in terms of responsibilities and decision-making capacities).

With this in mind, we cannot address the issues of recruiting processes and career progression in the academic and scientific fields without addressing also the decision making processes and more generally the working environment of the people, men and women, committed to these careers.

Yet, the academia and research community are historically structured on a hierarchy of knowledge and a rigid organizational model. The analysis of academic and research organizations reveals that that these structures are gendered, in particular as typically “male careers”, with no extra-professional constraints, are valued. Gender studies are thus essential to understand the professional segregation phenomenons.

In addition, the gender dimension in research became a fully-fledged evaluation criterion: taking into account the biological sex differences, but also the distinct social roles of women and men due to gender norms and gender inequalities now seems to be likely to improve quality and applicability of researches and innovations.
This show how the three goals pursued by the European Commission are indeed complementary.

What role will Sciences Po play in this project ?

Sciences Po is the evaluator partner in the project. It will lead an impartial monitoring and the Gender Equality Plans progress evaluation, thanks to a methodology drawn upon its experience acquired through the completion of the Effective Gender Equality in Research and the Academia EGERA programme (2014-2017). It means mobilizing both the knowledge of PRESAGE and the policy evaluation skills of the French Economic Observatory (OFCE) and Sciences Po.

Our goal is not to simply evaluate ex-post if the project partners achieve their goals, but rather to put in place conditions conducive to implement effective, adapted and measurable actions, in the form of Gender Equality Plans.

The six partner institutions come from very different backgrounds. Will you take those differences into account when evaluating their Gender Equality Plans ?

Of course ! This is one of the key-challenges before us.

The consortium is composed of four research performing organizations and two research funding organizations (regional and national) that have a significant agenda-setting power: thanks to them, research funding programmes can adopt a gender perspective and women can have a better access to public fundings.

As of the partner universities, their challenges are different and include recruitment, career progression or sexual harassment issues. However, the experience we had with EGERA and other projects financed by the European Union in this field show that there are common success factors to Gender Equality Plans, regardless of their content: involve the community in the problems identification, make sure decisions are supported and build and strengthen a network of people working on the project in the institution, ...

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