COVID-19 impact on gender equality in academia: on 9/06 an online event to present the surveys’ results

Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle, Unsplash

On June 9, 2021 from 4.00 to 5.30 pm CET, the SUPERA core teams from the University of Coimbra, the University of Cagliari and the Complutense University of Madrid will present the results of the study on the gendered impact of COVID-19 carried out in the three respective European universities.

The presentation will be introduced by Jörg Muller, expert in concepts and methods for researching the impact of gender diversity on research performance (Open University of Catalonia), and Nicole Huyghe, an expert in data analytics from a gender perspective (Boobook) will comment on the results; a final session will be devoted to the Q&A by the participants.

The participation to the event is open to everyone but registration is required through the link available here: a Zoom link to join the meeting will be sent a few hours before the start of the event.

For any question or information, please contact us at


  • Welcome by Lut Mergaert, Yellow Window
  • Introduction by Jörg Muller, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
  • Presentations of Results 
    • CES-UC: Mónica Lopes, researcher at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra 
    • UniCA: Barbara Barbieri, Associate Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari
    • UCM: María Bustelo, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM)
  • Comments on the results by Nicole Huyghe, CEO and founder of Boobook
  • Questions & Answers session by participants
  • Closing

The unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Portuguese women academics

By Filipa Marques, Sofia Miguel (NOVA University Lisbon) Mónica Lopes (University of Coimbra)

The COVID-19 has caused substantial disruptions to academic activities:

  • Working parents have to balance their time between academic responsibilities, childcare and domestic tasks;
  • Professors have to ensure online lectures for their students, sometimes using pre-recorded lessons, in order to mitigate the distance;
  • Researchers have to adapt to a new reality, which constrains the lab work to a minimum.

The general impact of confinement measures in the academic performance of professors and researchers has been a subject of interest, mainly because most of working professors and researchers are also parents, some with young children in their care. It is a matter of public discussion that COVID-19 is having an uneven influence with those with child/adult care responsibilities – particularly women. Female professors and researchers have been facing more difficulties to publish their research due to the confinement caused by COVID-19, according to data that show that women’s publishing success dropped after schools closed [1, 2]. A recent study indicates a sharp decrease in original research-papers submissions by female researchers in several international journals, during confinement caused by COVID-19 [3]. As the novel virus reveals an endeavour to researchers in the medical and health sciences disciplines, the proportion of published papers in such fields dramatically increased to promptly allow results dissemination. In this regard, female publication success during this period should have increased, not decreased, since women have been increasing their representativeness in these fields [4, 5]. This fact illustrates the confinement effect on women’s publication records and at the preprint and journal submission stages.

In Portugal, COVID-19 has affected professors and researchers similarly, as in other countries, facing the same challenges. Aware of this, SPEAR partner, NOVA University Lisbon, has been laying foundations towards a more equal-opportunities-academic environment that aims to implement gender-sensitive policies and help reduce the institutional gender gap.

The data on the effects of COVID-19 in female academics are still scarce. However, there are two research projects ongoing, specifically devoted to exploring the effects of the pandemic at the national level. The only empirical research already documenting the impact of COVID-19 in the work conditions and academic performance of women in Portuguese research institutions has been carried out by the University of Coimbra, within the framework of the SUPERA project. Based on a survey questionnaire of teaching and research staff, the findings shed light on gender inequalities that are shaping COVID’s impact on working conditions, work-life balance, and academic time usage and efficacy. It has been particularly more difficult to academic women, especially younger mothers in non-tenure-track positions.

In Portugal, academic women seem to be more exposed to not only the severity of psychological/emotional effects of the COVID-19 crisis but also to the increased burden of domestic and care duties during confinement. Moreover, the pandemic appears to affect disproportionately the housework and care routines of women (especially younger academic mothers), as well as the personal routines of female academics, who reported more often a reduction of leisure time during the lockdown.

The increased household and emotional burdens arising from COVID restrictions also affect the work-family negotiations and conflicts, posing differentiated challenges to reconcile the competing time demands of paid work and family. Substantial differences are observed between men and women perceptions of how the pandemic has affected their work. Female academics and academics with young children in the household most frequently emphasise the influence of COVID-19 on the amount of time dedicated to professional work. Moreover, when analysing the changes on time allocation to the various domains of the academic activity, one can observe that the reinforcement of teaching and administrative tasks during the confinement is specially bound to female dedication. In the case of young mothers, the priority given to teaching occurs at the expense of research activities (e.g., manuscript and grant writing, peer review and serving on funding panels) which are critical to career progression.

The study also gives important insights on the extent to which the distinctive burdens imposed by the lockdown to female scientists and scientists with young children impacted academic productivity. Nevertheless, it is too early to get a complete picture of this impact, as the lockdown period has been relatively short compared to normative research timelines. The outputs considered to explore the effects of the pandemic in academic productivity were mainly of scientific character but also connected to pedagogical activities, knowledge transfer and dissemination. When solely considered, neither gender nor parental status significantly affected the changes in academic output observed during the “stay home order”. Nonetheless, when considered in combination, gender and parental status displayed a significant influence in the differences observed between the pre-pandemic and pandemic period, placing female scientists with children up to 12 in a particular disadvantage.

Moreover, women without children and men with and without children have increased their output submission during the confinement, whereas younger academic mothers faced an inverse trend. This difference may further aggravate the gap between men and women, as said institutions have an increasingly research-oriented strategy. This may translate into a significant disproportion of the performance management policies regarding tenure, recognition and promotion since most academic careers evolve directly from strong publication records and academic performance [6].

Although limited in scale and scope, this study provides sound quantitative evidence highlighting gender disparities in how the pandemic has affected the scientific workforce in Portugal. Academic institutions and funding organisations should consider the inequalities regarding not only academic productivity but also material and non-material working conditions to put in place some measures. The metrics to assess funding and academic position applications rely on bibliometric indicators that tend to be unidimensional. Therefore, a requirement for academic assessment and monitoring should include institutional measures to promote career development and talent retention, a more diverse and inclusive working environment, and family-friendly policies. These would be important to provide resources for early-career academics, particularly women with young children, to attenuate the negative effects of academic productivity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article is the result of a joint initiative among the H2020 sister projects SPEAR and SUPERA and has been published also on the SPEAR website.

Decentralized pathways for the integration of a gender dimension in R&E at the University of Coimbra

By Francisco Rodrigues, CES-UC

The UC SUPERA team has been in direct connection with the rectorate from the beginning of the project, and more so since the transition from the baseline assessment to GEP design and subsequent implementation strategies.

Although central support and a reliable working relation are fundamental for the success of the project, this is not the most streamlined approach in the initial stages of implementation. The formal approval process is complex, requiring input from a myriad of relevant stakeholders and decision-making bodies.

For that reason, but primarily to create a decentralized platform that enables the development of specific solutions within the diverse contexts in UC, we adopted a sort of centrifugal approach. This means securing institutional backing at the highest level and leveraging it to capitalize on the various levels of autonomy within the University’s structures. The cornerstone of this approach are Focal Points for the main Research and Education Units, as they were nominated by the respective unit Directors following a direct request at a Senate session. Through capacity-building for gender mainstreaming, providing its members with adequate competencies and data on the institution’s state-of-play, such a network enables the detection and maximization of windows of opportunity for institutional change, not only at the Unit level.

As these Units enjoy scientific and pedagogical autonomy, the integration of a gender dimension benefits from this platform. Directly, it has so far led to the proposal of a seminar for final-year medicine students on gender biases in medicine (teaching, research and practice), as the Focal Point for the Faculty of Medicine identified a window of opportunity in the restructuring of that curriculum. Even though the current public health crisis postponed this process for a year, we are confident that the seminar will be integrated and work in tandem with ongoing parallel efforts in other contexts, while inspiring similar initiatives throughout the University.

Although that is encouraging, more tangible achievements have come from a different source within that decentralized approach. Shortly after confinement was imposed, we were contacted by the recently created Strategic Areas Unit, which sought to encourage female academics to apply for ERC grants. This team had come to us through the Focal Point of the larger Unit it is lodged in, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research.

Due to the nature of the Institute and the Strategic Areas Unit, they work directly under the supervision of the Vice-Rector for Research. This allowed for that initial contact to blossom into a fully-fledged for the integration of the gender dimension in the UC’s scientific outputs and subsequent betterment of its scientific production.

This initiative entails a number of activities: a EEA grant application for combatting gender-based discrimination; the gender-sensitive revision of research-funding applications produced in the UC; the construction of a repository of relevant resources and inspiring practices with regards to the integration of a gender dimension in research; a communication campaign for the encouragement of academic excellence of researchers of the underrepresented sex in various fields and the development of a training course on the integration of the gender dimension in research, directed to researchers on all levels and fields, designed to take advantage of existing gender competencies throughout the fields and enlarging the group of gender-sensitive researchers (first edition scheduled for mid-September). This cooperative relation is promising for sustainable gender mainstreaming in the University’s scientific activities, as it is grounded on top-level strategic commitment, as well as the devotion of the supervising research structure’s resources.

The instances described are illustrations on the benefits of a decentralized approach, particularly in topic as varied and difficult to implement as integrating the gender dimension in research. For the UC SUPERA team, the most relevant takeaway from this experience is that investing in the embracement of a large and diverse number of stakeholders is complicated, time-consuming, and therefore often frustrating, but gratifying when it is time for returns, as they signify impactful and structural change.