Towards gender equality

Having been invited to author the editorial for BIP’s March edition, the month we celebrate the International Women’s Day – remembering their struggles and achievements towards equal treatment and opportunities -, I decided to take this opportunity to report on the progress made so far towards gender equality at INESC TEC.

As the person responsible for the Diversity and Inclusion area in the current Board of Directors, I have assumed gender equality as top priority. One might say that this is a women’s affair, that only concerns them? Aware that such a reading can be made, I took it upon myself to foster a particular interest in INESC TEC’s progress in this matter, and to give the initial impulse, until gender equality awareness becomes so embedded in the institutional culture and in its processes and policies, that it becomes something natural.

Besides this responsibility, to which I’m fully committed, the fact that the European Commission started to require public entities, higher education, and research institutions to adopt Gender Equality Plans/GEP (among other gender equality measures) as an eligibility criterion for funding programmes – with particular emphasis on Horizon Europe, due to its importance to INESC TEC – came as a great opportunity. It goes without saying that this process led to join efforts to design, discuss, approve, and put in place INESC TEC’s Gender Equality Plan, with a sense of urgency that would not exist otherwise.

In view of this objective, and after presenting the Report by the Working Group on Gender Equality + Diversity and Inclusion (GTIG), INESC TEC appointed the Diversity and Inclusion Commission, which took office on September 24, 2021, chaired by Beatriz Oliveira (researcher at CEGI), and with four more elements: Ana Lopes (HR), Nuno Moniz (LIAAD), Sheila Habib (SRI) and Tiago Silva (CG). This small team has been doing a remarkable job, with the support of two advisory groups (internal and external), bringing together people with knowledge and experience in various areas relevant to Diversity and Inclusion issues. The D&I Commission was assigned the priority task of preparing and proposing a Gender Equality Plan, based on the work developed by GTIG, in addition to the main mission of planning and implementing a Diversity and Inclusion Programme at INESC TEC.

In this task, we also benefited from the liaison with the team of the project “RESET – Redesigning Equality and Scientific Excellence Together”, from the University of Porto (which will lead to the its Gender Equality Plan), which allowed us to follow the progress carried out by other research institutions associated with the University of Porto, as well as to benefit from the discussion of best practices on the plan’s elaboration, while gaining from the documents shared to said purpose.

Since the GEP should be tailored to INESC TEC’s reality, the design process went through a comprehensive diagnosis of the current situation, including the collection and processing of existing data disaggregated by sex, existing formal or informal practices, as well as data from the diversity and inclusion survey launched by the Commission in late 2021 – which focused on several topics crucial to the GEP.

The D&I Commission has already submitted a proposal for the GEP, currently under discussion in the Board of Directors – which will suggest specific changes, but also maintain the proposed core structure and Action Plan.

Following the recommendations of the European Commission, the Action Plan consists of a set of well-reasoned measures, ranked in order of priority, and organised around six key dimensions, namely:

  • Awareness-raising and competence development;
  • Organizational culture and work-life balance;
  • Recruitment, selection and career progressing support;
  • Leadership and decision-making;
  • Preventing and combating sexual and gender-based harassment;
  • Integrating gender in research.

In addition to the various measures, to be carried out in partnership with the different organisational structures and each collaborator, there will be a regular collection of gender indicators relevant to INESC TEC, and a periodic monitoring of the progress achieved with the implementation of the Plan.

Notwithstanding the obligation to adopt a Gender Equality Plan, it’s important to emphasise that this is a concern already assumed by the Board in previous mandates but, above all, that gender equality should be perceived as driver of clear benefits for organisations (and countries). This is true in the business world, which has been confirmed by several studies [1], but also in the world of education, research, and innovation.

Besides being an EU core value, and one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “gender equality in research and learning ensures that R&I systems support democratic and equal societies. Furthermore, a positive correlation between the innovation capacity of a country and the gender equality index in that country has also been observed [2]. While the reasons for this correlation may be multifactorial, gender equality benefits research and innovation in several ways.

Gender Equality:

  • helps to improve the quality and impact of research and innovation by helping to ensure it is reflective of and relevant to the whole of society;
  • creates better working environments that enable good quality research and learning and help maximise the potential and talents of all staff and students;
  • helps to attract and retain talent by ensuring that all staff can be confident that their abilities will be valued and recognised fairly and appropriately.”

(European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans, 2021).

My motivation to keep promoting INESC TEC’s progress in this matter is based on the deep conviction that women at INESC TEC can and deserve greater relevance than they’ve had so far, especially in the areas of research and management, and that this will be a cross-cutting transformational process, to which everyone must contribute daily: in every process, every policy, every message, every choice, every opportunity. The Gender Equality Plan shall guide and serve this purpose.

[1] Economic benefits of gender equality in the EU, European Institute for Gender Equality, EIGE; Delivering through diversity, McKinsey January 18, 2018 | Report

[2] November 2018 report by ERAC Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation on the implementation of Council Conclusions of December 1, 2015, on Advancing Gender Equality in the European Research Area

Maria da Graça Barbosa (Member of the Board of Directors)

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