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The SUPERA project: background and needs

The way scientific knowledge is designed, developed and transformed into useful results for society continues to be influenced by the gender inequalities that affect our society as a whole. Gender stereotypes may for instance set a wrong context for analysis, and the male/man gender is too often used as a default mode. When research methods don’t take into due consideration the variables connected to gender, scientific results are impoverished, and a lot of opportunities are missed. The research and higher education sector has peculiarities that require specific actions to overcome this situation, which we have called “gender gap”.

The main goal of the SUPERA project is to implement six Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) in 6 organizations from Southern and Central Europe: 4 of them are Research Performing Organizations and 2 are Research Funding Organizations. The scope of a GEP may vary considerably, depending on the type of organization, on the institutional context in which it is implemented, on the main research disciplines addressed and on the type of gender biases and inequalities identified.

In general, all the Gender Equality 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. To do so, a set of measures will be developed, in order to address 3 main objectives that the European Commission’s strategy has set as priorities:

Gender balance in career progression

Several dimensions contribute to the creation of gender inequalities within research groups and among the various scientific disciplines (horizontal segregation) but also in career progression (vertical segregation). Society dictates gender roles that influence everyone’s choices; organizational cultures and procedures can be gender‐biased and constrain women’s career progression. Also, female researchers may lack role models, as well as incentives to achieve their full potential.

Gender balance in decision‐making

Women are largely absent in senior positions in academia. The reasons for the current over‐representation of men in positions of power and decision‐making are not only structural, but also grounded in traditional gender roles. The still very masculine image of science, the way in which formal networks continue to function in selection processes and the fact that the majority of high‐level positions remain occupied by men are just some of the elements that convey the message that there is no place for women at the top.

Gender dimension in research content

Integrating more deeply a gender dimension in research and innovation content helps to improve the quality of scientific knowledge and the relevance of technology and knowledge transfer. In short, it can enhance the positive impact of scientific research for society as a whole. From medicine to economics, engineering to architecture: since all disciplines have an influence on the life of all citizens, each area can be dramatically improved by including a gender perspective.

Core principles

SUPERA is based on four core principles that will help to tackle the barriers of implementing GEPs in research organizations.

SUPERA is cumulative: during the project we will use solutions that have already been developed under previous FP7 and H2020 projects: the GEAR tool to optimise capacity‐building and training efforts; the monitoring and evaluation methodology developed within the EGERA project to monitor the project’s progress towards its set objectives; the knowledge acquired in the GENOVATE project to coordinate and implement the proposal.

SUPERA is innovative: we will adopt a methodology based on transformation design techniques inspired by design thinking and co‐creation: a fast and iterative process able to adapt to changing circumstances aimed at designing user‐centred solutions; gender experts to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to devise experience‐based solutions; a community‐based approach, establishing a functioning community of practitioners, providing effective opportunities for mutual learning; the co‐creation of a gender mainstreaming infrastructure to provide training, capacity building and support throughout the project.

SUPERA is inclusive: the stakeholders of each organisation will be expanded over the course of the project. Gender equality Hubs and Fab Labs will be implemented to mobilize the research and academic community, including faculty, undergraduate, post‐graduate and PhD students, and supporting or administrative staff. As research funding organizations still seem to be in a rather embryonic phase regarding the promotion of gender equality, SUPERA will set up an RFO pilot network in order to bridge the gap. We also intend to commit to the community of practice of Horizon 2020 projects regarding “Science with and for society”, in order to facilitate exchange and mutual learning via a series of practical guidelines to promote gender equality through institutional change.

SUPERA will provide sustainable results by securing endorsement from top management and maximising visibility, accountability and outreach within and outside the participating organizations. Top management support should be made visible and integrated in the strategic planning of the organization. Therefore, SUPERA will ensure that GEPs and training, awareness‐raising and communication actions are given sufficient visibility within each organisation and towards their respective academic and research policy environments.