The main goal of the LIBRA project (2015-2019) was to increase the representation and participation of women in leadership positions in life sciences. In Europe, approximately half of our PhD students are women. However, the levels of women researchers start to decrease at the postdoctoral level and drop dramatically in leadership positions (with 20% as grade A researchers and 15.5% as Directors). These numbers demonstrate a dramatic waste of talent and resources in research.
LIBRA brought together ten research institutes in life sciences in ten European countries. They are all members of an EU-LIFE alliance which aims to build and promote excellence in life sciences throughout Europe. LIBRA’s commitment to excellence was also a commitment to gender equality. Together with the support of an expert organisation on gender, they assessed their existing policies and procedures to identify gender biases and obstacles. This was a process of mutual learning that will led to the design and implementation of ten harmonised and tailored Gender Equality Plans (GEPs). The GEPs aimed to bring about long-lasting and profound structural changes to remove institutional barriers and empower women to be as equally successful as men in their research careers. Specifically, all GEPs addressed four main areas of interventions: 1) recruitment policies and procedures; 2) career development and training; 3) work-life balance (WLB), and 4) sex and gender dimension of research.
Most importantly, this culminated in the partner research institutes developing sustainable policies that promote the recruitment and retention of women in science, and decision-making processes free from any gender bias, as well as that integrate the consideration of gender and sex in experimental design that contributes to gender-awareness and an unbiased European Research Area.
Video about LIBRA: Unifying innovative efforts of European research centres to achieve gender equality.
Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far
The very first step towards improving the institutional environment to achieve gender equality was to understand what causes the gender bias for academic leadership positions. Therefore, LIBRA started with assessing the situation at each partner institute, and identified procedures and practices that contributed to such biases. Subsequently, the gender expert organisation of the consortium (ASDO) analysed the collected data and provided each institute with a diagnostic report. In parallel, the consortium developed a GEP template, which included 84 actions for improving gender equality in the four areas of intervention mentioned above. Each institute tailored the GEP template according to their needs, by choosing relevant actions. On average, each partner chose 36 actions to be implemented by March 2019. All ten of the GEPs were launched in August 2016, and were implemented until the end of the project. The implementation of the GEPs required cultural and organisational change at each of the partner institutes, especially at the level of the Human Resources and Communications departments, as well as scientists (most importantly, the Principal Investigators (PIs) and Directors). Therefore, the Project Coordinator was in close contact with the institutes’ Directors and the staff community, especially during the first year of LIBRA. Furthermore, LIBRA invited staff from the Human Resources departments to workshops on “Work-Life-Balance in Research” and “Recruitment without Gender Bias.” Following up on those two workshops, the consortium produced (1) the LIBRA recruitment handbook with guidelines for inclusive, transparent, and unbiased recruitment processes that were implemented by the partners in the institutional recruitment policies, and (2) an online tool for self-development, including self-reflection and career stage analysis.
To increase awareness of the importance of a balanced lifestyle, LIBRA coordinated several activities amongst the partners such as: a campaign to encourage institutes’ staff to take the Implicit Association test to learn about their own biases, and a provocative poster campaign encouraging men to share the caretaking responsibilities that are traditionally taken on by women. The campaigns were supported by professional trainings on unconscious bias that were delivered to supervisors, especially to PIs and Department Heads.
LIBRA’s main activity in supporting the career development of women was the Compass programme, which supported 20 women postdocs from the partner institutes in breaking the glass-ceiling effect. The participants were trained on strategic career planning and development, and strengthening self-awareness, self-confidence, and communication skills. Additionally, they had the opportunity to network amongst each other, as well as with other scientists, and received mentorship from the scientists of their choice. Career advancement depends on the evaluation of other scientists, the manager, the director, or advisory board. LIBRA wrote a guide that provides information and considerations for fair and gender-inclusive promotions and evaluations, which gives practical advice on removing gender bias from the process that aims to ultimately raise the number of female scientists in top-level positions.
Besides realising institutional changes that allow women to reach leadership positions in research, LIBRA helped partner institutes to include the sex and gender dimension in their research. The consortium collected best practices and case studies from the partner institutes and external scientists, developed an online training module to train the next generation of scientists, and engaged funding agencies and industry on the topic by organising a stakeholder workshop.
Besides the participation in these described LIBRA coordinated activities, the partner institutions also committed to many more institutional measures in their GEPs. These GEPs were subject to monitoring and evaluation by the gender expert organisation ASDO, and resulted firstly in a mid-term report, and secondly, in a final report, which included a gender mainstreaming progress analysis and an analysis of internal stakeholder mobilisation to support the change process.
Progress beyond the state-of-the-art, expected results until the end of the project and potential impacts (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)
The implementation of the GEPs pushed forward sustainable institutional changes in recruitment, career development, training, and work-life balance. The GEPs also tackled the key aspect of the sex and gender dimension in research, which is especially crucial in the fields of life sciences and medicine.
A detailed evaluation for each of the areas of intervention at each partner institution was performed by ASDO and were documented in the deliverable, D7.4 “Final Report on Monitoring and Assessment.”
One of the very visible, and often recognised, issues of gender imbalance is the low number of women in scientific leadership positions. Before the LIBRA project existed, the average number of women in scientific leadership positions at partner institutions was 26%. At the end of the LIBRA project, the number increased by 3%, to 29% in total. SheFigures2018 reported an increase of only 1.6% for the average of the EU28 countries from 2013-2016. However, the number of women in scientific leadership positions at LIBRA partner institutes increased twice as fast during a similar time period.
The individual partner institutes are all currently above the percentage of the averages for their countries (data from 2016 in She Figures2018).
As a sustainability measure for structural change, the institutions developed new or updated existing institutional policies, processes, and guidelines (e.g., related to recruitment, work-life balance, evaluation of tenure track group leaders, the Sex and Gender dimension in research, pregnancy safeguards, and more general HR protocols and procedures). Furthermore, more than 20 department heads and staff in HR, administration, and research support were trained on unbiased recruitment and the importance of good working conditions, including work-life balance. As one of the most important measures, all partners have established gender disaggregated reporting systems.
In regards to changing the culture of the institutes and increasing the awareness of unconscious bias, 429 PIs, supervisors of scientific staff, and heads of administrative departments were trained by professional trainers. Approximately 3 000 employees responded to the Implicit Association Test campaign and learned about the strength of their association of science and career with a specific gender. The LIBRA poster campaign was very successful and triggered discussions in the corridors about the correlation of equal opportunities and the way in which responsibilities for child care and housework are distributed in a family. It also inspired other institutions to run the same campaign using the LIBRA posters.
The feedback from the 20 postdocs that participated in the career development programme, COMPASS, was positive throughout, and they believed that the programme helped them to manage the most critical step in their academic careers. Until now, out of the 20 participants, eight postdocs succeeded in getting job offers as PIs, and are currently setting up their own groups. The other participants were at an earlier stages in their postdoc careers and are still continuing with their projects.
One additional aspect of gender equality in research and innovation was to include the Sex and Gender dimension explicitly in the research programs. LIBRA increased awareness of this topic by surveying the institutes’ staff, producing case studies, and providing an online tool for training scientists on the topic. This online tool will increase awareness, including the Sex and Gender dimension in research (which is one factor of excellence), and it will help institutions to integrate the training in a more structured way (e.g., in a PhD programme). Some of the LIBRA partner institutions even developed institutional guidelines.
Beyond the institutional context, LIBRA also advocated for the topic amongst the broader research community. In September 2018, LIBRA held a stakeholder workshop and engaged 58 delegates from 13 European countries from research, industry, and publishing and funding agencies into the discussion. 60% of the delegates that provided feedback were inspired to make changes at their organisations, which was the objective of the workshop.
As a sustainability measure, each LIBRA partner has agreed to continue their efforts in Gender Equality in a new working group under the umbrella of EU-LIFE (https://eu-life.eu/) and have designed a 2-year action plan.
Source: CRG, CEITEC MU
LIBRA Website: www.eu-libra.eu
Video about LIBRA: Unifying innovative efforts of European research centres to achieve gender equality.
All LIBRA resources are available on Zenodo: LIBRA Project
Recruitment Handbook: LIBRA Recruitment Handbook
Guide for Faculty Evaluation: LIBRA Guide for Faculty Evaluation
Online Sex and Gender Dimension in Research Training Tool: www.libra-sgr.eu
Online Tool for Self-Development, Hosted by the LIBRA partner, CEITEC MU: libra.ceitec.cz/self-development-tools
Poster Campaign: Poster Campaign
Implicit Association Test (from Project Implicit): implicit.harvard.edu/implicit
CEITEC MU LIBRA RESOURCES
CEITEC MU Gender Equality Plan 2016-2019: is.muni.cz/auth/do/ceitec/strategy/GEP/
CEITEC MU Gender Equality Plan 2019-2020 (Sustainability Plan): is.muni.cz/auth/do/ceitec/strategy/GEP_II/
CEITEC MU Work-Life Balance Portal: libra.ceitec.cz
CEITEC MU Work-Life Balance Policy: libra.ceitec.cz/work-life-balance-policy