PRACTISING GENDER EQUALITY IN SCIENCE
The European project Practising Gender Equality in Science (PRAGES), was aimed to address women’s under-representation in high-profile positions in scientific and technological research. The project was funded by the European Commission - DG Research, within the Seventh Framework Programme, and co-financed by IGRUE (the Italian General Inspectorate for Financial Relations with the European Union), Ministry for Economy and Treasury (Italy).
After a decade of efforts by European, national and local agencies – as well as universities and research institutions – and in the context of persistent dynamics of discrimination, the project has taken stock of the situation by highlighting strategies and measures that have proven effective in accelerating the pace of progress, still unexpectedly slow despite women’s growing inclusion in, and contribution to, scientific and technological disciplines and professional areas.
Issues at stake
Issues at stake have from the beginning been identified, not only in women’s indisputable right to fair evaluation and reward of scientific merit, in terms of career advancement and access to decision-making positions, but also – as is increasingly recognised – in the chance for scientific and technological research to become more firmly grounded in society and more relevant to evolving needs and expectations, in a time of profound change. Moreover, adding women’s (and other under-represented groups’) perspectives to the research process cannot but enhance creativity and innovation, while helping science to reconsider its by now questionable claims of neutrality and universality.
From this point of view, the link between diversity and excellence has been clearly pointed out, with all its implications in terms of scientific and technological progress and economic development. The need has also emerged of avoiding simplistic approaches aimed at resolving problems by “fixing the women”, to make them compatible with dominant approaches and cultures. Problems women face and report should, on the contrary, be considered as starting points to “fix” the scientific cultural and organisational environment on the basis of the diversity concept.
The project has been characterised by a set of general approaches. First, a comparative approach among the initiatives promoted in the different European countries and those implemented in Canada, Australia and the Unites States. Second, an analytical approach, highlighting the different sides of the “gender-and-science issue”, in order to identify suitable strategies and tools to deal with them. Third, a benchmarking approach, to single out the most successful solutions and provide suggestions regarding their possible adaptation and transfer to different contexts. Measures collected and analysed, according to the general aim of the project, are those implemented at organisational level (universities, institutes, faculties, departments, but also networks, associations and S&T-related enterprises), that is, concrete initiatives located in specific institutional contexts. National or European policies have not been directly taken into account, even though some initiatives originate in or have links to such policies. This is not obviously implying that it is possible to redress widespread situations of inequality without broad supporting legislative and policy measures. The intention is, instead, to provide indications and examples of what can be accomplished starting from the bottom-up, including both simple one-issue programmes and large mainstreaming efforts grounding general organisational change on the recognition of diversity.
To pursue its goals, the project has been designed as an integrated effort, organised into four main steps.
The first step was an extensive networking activity aimed at mapping the initiatives implemented in Europe, the United States, Australia and Canada to support women’s progression in scientific and technological careers. A mailing list containing more than 1,100 programmes has thus been set up.
The second step entailed directly contacting all those on the mailing list and the administering of semi-structured questionnaires to the promoters of the programmes who have been willing to participate (125). A database was then designed to contain basic descriptive information on the 109 initiatives that – after the analysis of questionnaires and related documentation – were recognised as relevant to the project.
The third step focused on quality evaluation. In this phase, successful solutions were identified among the ones the programmes devised to manage the problems faced during implementation, be they social, cultural, organisational, financial, etc. The perspective here has been that of benchmarking, that is, finding best ideas and isolating enabling factors for other programmes to share. A second version of the database was then issued, containing this additional information.
The fourth step has finally been that of drafting the guidelines, trying to make the most of the experience of the programmes and to organise the knowledge derived from their analysis in an easily usable format.
The guidelines have undergone a broad review process which has involved, beyond the partners of the consortium, the members of the International Board of Advisors of the project, as well as 24 experts from Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. In addition, four national seminars have been organised in the European countries participating in the project (Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Hungary) in order to collect further comments and suggestions.
Supporting the itinerary briefly outlined above, a number of other dissemination and public communication activities were undertaken, equally crucial to the success of the project. Among them, the setting up of a dedicated website, the creation of a web-based Observatory focusing on seminars, conferences, publications and other events relevant to the women in science issue, and the issuing of an electronic newsletter.
Download the flyer of the national seminars: http://www.asdo-info.org/public/seminars.pdf
Download the Italian translation of the Guidelines: http://www.asdo-info.org/public/PRAGESLineeGuida.pdf
Download the Guidelines: http://www.asdo-info.org/public/PRAGESguidelines.pdf
Search the database: http://www.pragesdatabase.eu/