Author: Maria Cristina Mayordomo Tella

When the ACT on Gender Life Sciences Community of Practice was settle, we defined the main objectives as follows: Increase awareness for unconscious bias, Overcome resistance to Gender Equality and Include gender aspects in evaluation processes.

The hands-on work was coordinated by 4 working groups:
1. Active and diverse institutional committees.
2. Institutional commitment. Include Gender balance.
3. Policy Implementation and follow-up.
4. Gender aspects in research performance evaluation

Institutional Committees as an essential driver for GE:
Working Group 1 was focused on how to build active and diverse institutional committees, as they are essential drivers for the implementation of Gender Equality policies and measures within institutions and to drive changes.
Institutional committees can contribute to raise awareness in each institution on Gender Imbalance and to foster the implementation of corrective measures, such as including Gender aspects in evaluation processes. They are the agents responsible for the assessment of Gender Equality status within the institutions, through surveys, interviews, or other tools and of developing and implementing Gender Equality strategies based on the analysis previously performed. They are also responsible to follow up the implementation of such institutional measures.
Institutional committees also elaborate information materials and organize trainings targeting researchers in order to raise awareness about unconscious bias and the importance of gender equality in all aspects of life.

Main problems of institutional committees:
However, institutional committees face several problems and challenges that jeopardize their work:
1. One of the main problems is the diversity of their members. IS the committee is not diverse and plural it will not easily achieve their goals. In most cases, institutional GE committees are made up by females working on support tasks, and there is a lack of Principal Investigators that could represent the research community and men that could represent the male community. Also, representatives of other gender options would be very welcome.
2. The second main problem is how to engage their members to join the committee and retain them. Equality is a hard, slow, long-term activity, that faces many resistances: some people is not aware of the problem, others might be aware but don’t want to lose their privileges, others might see GE actions as a personal attack, etc. Besides, Gender Equality is seen by some institutions as a requirement from funding bodies rather than a measure to improve workplace environment and working conditions, and therefore very little support and commitment is provided. Even in those institutions committed to Gender Equality, often this commitment is not linked to resources: all members are volunteers and therefore their dedication to the committee is inequal and sometimes poor, as these tasks are no one’s priority.

This situation drives towards a quite invisible, frustrating and lack of recognition dedication that, together with external problems such as lack of resources and resistance to change in part of the community, brings to the exhaustion of the members of the committee.

Building more active and diverse committees:
Then, how can we foster GE committees’ members engagement? How can we build active and diverse committees?
1. In order to create knowledge on what are the motivations to be part of the committees, and to help institutions to build more diverse teams, a survey was disseminated within members of the Gender Equality Committees of the institution of the CoP. Multiple answers were obtain, and the results are available in the attached document. If performed in an intra-institutional manner, specific motivations may arose, that should help to design specific strategies.
2. One of the actions suggested by the Working Group to tackle the problem of lack of men in the committees is to perform focus groups and meetings addressed specifically to men to openly discuss and share stoppers in their awareness and engagement in Gender Equality. In a masculine environment probably, men would feel more comfortable to express freely. From these meetings, a list of real reasons for men low awareness and engagement in each institution may arise, which would be very useful to define corrective measures.
3. In order to increase researchers participation, time dedication to academic activities such as committees membership, should be somehow regarded or compensated. For instance, participation in the GE committee could be considered in the research evaluation of groups and principal investigators. This way, more researchers might show interest in joining GE committees. Besides, introducing GE management a compulsory part of the job as compulsory training for principal investigators managing a team, might encourage now affiliations.
4. To tackle the lack of resources devoted to Gender Equality management within institutions, the working group suggests the creation of a GE officer. This person would have designated certain dedication to Gender Equality tasks as part of their personal objectives and therefore participation and time dedication would not rely in volunteering of the committee.