Gender and Science to tackle the Coronavirus crisis

Zulema Altamirano, Women and Science Unit, MICINN
Lydia González, FECYT

The world health crisis due to the Covid-19 and the consequent confinement in many countries revealed different structural deficiencies and imbalances of the Research & Innovation (R&I) systems. One of the most evident was gender inequality in the current research career model. Since the first weeks of the confinement, different voices from the research community stressed the fact that people with children and dependents at home could not keep pace with pre-pandemic scientific productivity. The situation within this group is not gender neutral, since there is a gender care gap at home, which had been identified by the literature as one of the most important obstacles for women’s careers in the R&I field. This has led to a great concern among the gender community about the consequences, in terms of scientific evaluation and women’s leadership in science and innovation in the coming years.

Less attention has been paid, however, to the different effects of the pandemic in men’s and women’s health as well as to the necessary sex/gender analysis for new medical treatments and potential vaccines. Lessons learned from natural disasters also indicate that sex-disaggregated data are crucial to manage the different impacts of these crises at the short, medium and long term, especially in social and economic areas.

The Women and Science Unit have echoed both the need to have interdisciplinary research on the sex/gender effects of the pandemic and the gender impact on scientific productivity to produce a position paper supported by the Cabinet of the Minister on Science and Innovation.

Why position papers are important?
Through the publication of policy briefs, public organisations highlight a social problem and define strategic lines of action that aim at influencing other institutions and governments. Position papers from very influential organisations have the capacity to legitimate demands, ideas and policy actions. Several international organisations related to gender equality published “policy statements” to remark the negative gender impact of the pandemic in different social domains. The best example for gender equality in the R&I field is the position paper issued by the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation (SWG GRI), which inspires the Spanish one “Gender and science to tackle the coronavirus crisis”.

The Women and Science Unit aims to play an active role in the debates on gender equality policies in the R&I field in Spain and also to listen carefully the problems and obstacles that women researchers and technologists bring up. With this position paper, the Women and Science Unit sends a clear message to the scientific community and research organisations in Spain: we are concerned with the issue, we are willing to read scientific analysis on it, moreover we want to anticipate to the negative gender impact of the confinement in the research career. This is one of the raisons d’être of gender equality structures: being there, ready to interact with the research community in order to learn from their experiences and try to address problems by proposing the best solutions according to the experience in gender equality policies and the literature on gender and science.

What are the recommendations?
The Women and Science Unit, after conducting a literature review on the topic, has made recommendations to different agents of the Spanish system of science, technology and innovation:

  • Research funding organisations should conduct gender impact evaluations of all the research calls and their evaluation criteria. The aim is to identify gender gaps in research productivity due to the confinement and to design mitigation measures. This would require sex-disaggregated data on the different indicators of research productivity.
  • Research performing organisations have a unique opportunity to make changes in the organisational cultures, hierarchical structures and informal power networks in order to eradicate structural inequalities in the science and innovation work. Human resources policies will need to consider the positive and negative impacts of the confinement in the working conditions of women and men and take into account their experiences in order to promote new labour agreements towards co-responsibility, horizontality, collaborative leadership and workers’ autonomy.
  • Both coordinated policies from research performing and funding organisations will be directed to achieve the following objectives in the Spanish R&I system:
    • Balanced representation of women and men as principal investigators of research projects
    • Fair distribution of tasks, roles and benefits within research teams – especially considering the most precarious researchers such as young women – as a criterion of quality in the management of research projects
    • Eradication of the “maternal wall” in the research career through temporary special measures in research calls and human resources calls
    • Promotion of a reasonable and sustainable mobility that can be compatible with care work
    • Tailored gender equality plans, sexual harassment protocols and teleworking agreements in research institutions
  • All research projects funded with public resources must consider sex/gender analysis in their proposals and research funding organisations must develop systematic procedures to evaluate and monitor the gender dimension in research projects granted. To improve the gender performance of research proposals, gender and science needs to be part of the methodological training of PhD students in every field.
  • Research funding organisations should dedicate funds for interdisciplinary research projects on the covid-19 crisis and its diverse and complex consequences from a gender perspective.
  • The gender perspective and gender knowledge need to be mainstreamed in every analysis and policy-design to tackle the coronavirus crisis in order not to produce bias and to have a better knowledge of the phenomenon as well as to guarantee that women’s views and needs are considered in the decision-making process in the R&I field. This is particularly relevant in the health sector where a traditional feminisation of health professions have coexisted with an underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions.
  • Investment in R&I must guarantee that research and innovation serve the needs of a democratic society – that is, integrate the gender dimension – and that research career is stable and attractive for researchers, especially for women young researchers.
  • Gender equality policies in the R&I field should promote participation and coordination with different public institutions, stakeholders and civil society in order to promote the best policies and facilitate accountability.

Finally, one of the most important contributions of all the articles, papers, policy briefs and social media comments on doing research during the confinement has been to place care work at the centre of the debate regarding research career and scientific evaluation. The gender community, along with gender and science structures, must take advantage of this momentum to achieve career models compatible with care work and women’s own time.

Postponement of the XI European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education in Madrid

The XI GEHE Conference: Advancing gender mainstreaming in Academia, Research and Innovation needs to be postponed to September 2021 due to the global health emergency

By the Local Committee of the 11th GEHE Conference

The Spanish Ministries with competences in science, innovation and universities had announced the XI European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education  in Madrid (16-18 September 2020). The Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) would host this Conference, also supported by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). The European Network on Gender Equality in Higher Education has been also assisting in this task. Other national stakeholders have been mobilized for the success of the Conference and its dissemination within the Spanish system of science, technology and innovation. For this purpose, a National Committee devoted to support this Conference has been established at the Spanish Observatory for Women, Science and Innovation.

However, after careful consideration of the situation and the uncertain prospects regarding travelling in the coming months, the Local Committee for this Conference has decided with great regret to postpone the 11th GEHE Conference to 15 – 17 September 2021.

All the organizing institutions are convinced that the 2021 edition of the GEHE Conference will enhance the discussion and exchange among gender experts and practitioners as well as will provide original insights on the topics suggested: sex/gender analysis into the research content, structural change, gender equality plans, scientific-technical vocations, among others, with two cross-cutting areas such as Gender and Intersectionality and Application to Polytechnic Universities, including special focus on STEM fields and Women in STEM, as well as on STEM-SSH interdisciplinarity.

The ultimate goal is to produce valuable knowledge that can help design better and more effective gender equality policies in Research and Innovation (R&I) systems as well as in Higher Education Institutions across Europe and beyond.

This edition has made an effort to include experts on gender, science and innovation from Southern Europe in the International Scientific Committee while maintaining the experience gained in former Conferences. This group of high-level experts is responsible for evaluating more than 200 submitted proposals for communications, posters, symposia and workshops. These numbers speak volumes on the great interest this edition has generated among the gender community from Europe and beyond.

Follow the news on the 11th GEHE Conference on the official website.