Welcome to the discussion - we will start 10:00 CET!

Welcome to this e-discussion on gender equality in decision-making in R&I and HE!

Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have become one of the European Research Area priorities –and gender-balance in decision-making is one of three key objectives. Women’s representation in academia decreases the higher up the academic ladder – culminating in the very small percentage of women in decision-making posts, on boards and in committees and as heads of institutions. In 2017 only 27% of board members (including leaders) and 21.7% of heads of institutions in the higher education sector were women (She Figures, 2018:115).

My name is Rachel Palmén, I am senior researcher at the Open University of Catalonia as well as being affiliated to Notus. I have been involved in various European Commission funded projects looking at gender equality in research and innovation. The first large project I worked on was GenPORT where I wrote various research syntheses and policy briefs. I then worked on the EFFORTI project where we developed an evaluation framework for gender equality interventions in R&I. I am currently working on the TARGET project where we support institutions designing, implementing and evaluating gender equality plans and I am currently involved in the ACT project. In the ACT project from Notus I am currently leading the ERA Group on Gender Equality in Decision-Making – and this e-discussion is the first activity that this group holds.

We have experts joining our discussion who will share their knowledge on the topic based on their research expertise. Invited experts will engage with participants to discuss some of the key debates in this field including quotas and targets, gender knowledge and competences in decision-making bodies and power. This will be followed by a more practical focus on strategies for action.

Key issues to debate:

  • What can we learn from different experiences of applying targets and quotas to create more gender fair decision-making bodies?
  • How do you address the double burden when the same few women have to participate on many different committees/ boards?
  • What are effective ways to build gender competence in decision-making bodies?
  • How can we effectively deal with ‘non-action’ and resistance to institutional change?

Whilst the discussion will start at 10:00 I will now ask our experts to introduce themselves:


Pat's picture

Hello everyone, looking forward to talking to you about creating change in organisations through targets, quotas, gender competent leaders as well about as foot-dragging and resistance. My name is Pat O’Connor and I am Professor of Sociology and Social Policy (Emeritus) at the University of Limerick (UL) and Visiting Professor, Geary Institute, University College Dublin. I was the first woman to be appointed at full professorial level in sociology in Ireland (1997); the first woman at that level in any discipline in the University of Limerick, and was a member of the National Review on Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions (2016). I have been involved in FESTA and WHEM and on the Advisory Boards of TARGET, CHANGE and NORDICORE. I have been a visiting prof at London, Aveiro, Linkoping, Deakin and Melbourne. I have published a lot- roughly 80 peer reviewed articles, seven books  after a slow start. I am currently co-editing Gender and Power in Higher Education: Where to Now? (2021) with Kate White for Palgrave Macmillan.  

My research is largely qualitative and has focused particularly on leadership, excellence, micropolitics, interventions and masculinities/femininities.  Recent relevant publications include: ‘Why is it so difficult to reduce gender inequality in male dominated Higher Education organisations? A Feminist Institutional Perspective’ Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (2020) 10.1080/03080188.2020.1737903; ‘Creating gendered change in Irish higher education:  is managerial leadership up to the task?’, Irish Educational Studies (2019) DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2019.1697951; and with FESTA colleagues (2017) ‘Micro-political practices in higher education: A challenge to excellence as a rationalising myth?’ Critical Studies in Education: doi: 10.1080/17508487.2017.1381629 (Most of my publications are on Researchgate: Pat O’Connor, UL; Twitter handle: Prof PatOConnor) 

As I see it the ‘normal’ structure and culture of organisations, with their practices, criteria and procedures all reflect and reinforce gender inequality. Hence these need to be disrupted. Linking state funding to the achievement of gender targets/quotas is one way of doing this as is selecting line managers on the basis of their gender competence, and in particular evidence of their successful attempts to promote gender equality. If we do not do this, then we have to try and convince those already in power to prioritise gender and this is difficult since they have competing priorities and often very stereotypical views about men/women or taken-for-granted assumptions that gender is irrelevant. Even where men and women in positions of power in HE are aware of gender inequality, only a very small minority actually translate that into action. Hence the importance of creating ‘levers/incentives’ for those at the very top in the sense of linking performance in terms of gender equality to institutional funding.

Although it is important symbolically, it is not enough to change the gender profile of those in senior decision-making positions. It is important to change the micropolitical practices – the informal exercise of power -that facilitates men and undermines women. The former includes sponsorship of men (not the same as mentoring- see O’Connor et al, 2019) and the latter the devaluation of women.

Resistance to gendered change can involve foot-dragging; rhetorical change; exhausting women and wasting their time (getting them to sit on housekeeping boards/those that lack power). It is critically important if you want to change power structures to constantly ask: where is power; who has it- and to ignore attempts to waste your time getting involved in structures/boards that are remote from that power…     

Angela Wroblewski's picture

Dear Pat,

I agree that it is not enough to have gender balance in top positions. It would be necessary to have gender competent people there or – in an ideal world – gender experts. The question is how to bring gender competence in as a compulsory part of the job profile of such a position. And, as a second step, how to deal with this criterion in appointment procedures … A quota is a first step in that direction because it is quite easy to administrate it. However, I agree, it is not enough ...


alhumbert's picture

Hello everybody, and looking forward to this online discussion on quotas and targets to achieve greater gender equality in research organisations, including universities. My name is Anne Laure Humbert, and I am a Reader in Gender and Diversity at Oxford Brookes University. There, I also work as Director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice. The Centre has been or is currently involved in a number of Horizon 2020 projects within the SwafS programme such as GEDII, GEARING-Roles or CASPER. I am also an Advisory Board Member for the SUPERA project, and involved in the ACT CoP on Strategies.


My research is largely quantitative, and my work has focuses on comparative measures of gender equality, largely within a larger policy analysis framework. Some recent publications relevant to today’s topic include: “A rights-based approach to board quotas and how hard sanctions work for gender equality”, European Journal of Women's Studies 2019, with Kelan and Clayton-Hathway; and “The perils of gender beliefs for men leaders as change agents for gender equality” European Management Review 2018, with Kelan and van den Brink.


In this work we conclude that gender change in organisations cannot happen without changing attitudes and mindsets, particularly among leaders. Building gender expertise among leaders, or as a prerequisite for leadership positions in universities, will invariably ensure that the gender beliefs that may hold organisational structural change back are challenged. We also looked at the effects of quotas and targets on corporate boards representation, and found that of course quotas work (by design!) but that they work best when there a more gender equal culture combined with more stringent measures. This is all the more topical given the renewed commitment by the European Commission in its new Strategy for Gender Equality 2020-25 to push for the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards, and more generally to ensure greater equality in decision-making in institutions and politics in the EU and its Member States.

Rachel Palmén's picture

It's now 10:00 and we ask participants to breifly introduce themselves! 

Marta Warat's picture

Hello everybody, I'm Marta Warat from the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University in Kraków. I'm currently involved in several projects related to gender equality, including H2020 ACT and EaSI Men in Care which address different dimensions of gender equality in academia and labour market. I'm also involved in H2020 EU3D where I'm responsible for a component on the feminist vision of Europe.

Looking forwars to our discussion!

Ana Belen Amil's picture

Dear all, my name is Ana Belén Amil, I work as a Gender Equality Officer at Central European University (Budapest-Vienna) and I am currently implementing the EU-funded project SUPERA (supporting the promotion of equality in research and academia)

Nice to meet you all!

Maria Caprile Elola's picture

Hello everybody, I am Maria Caprile from Notus Applied Social Research, a colleague of Rachel Palmén in tow H2020 gender-related projects: ACT and TARGET. Both aim to advance gender equality in higher education, research and innovation - and decision-making is an issue of utmost relevance.

Glad to join this discussion!

rochelle.fritch's picture

Hello, I'm Dr Rochelle Fritch, I work for Science Foundation Ireland on the ACT Project and I facilitate the Funding Organisations for Gender Community of Practice (FORGEN CoP).

gulsunsaglamer's picture

Hello Everyone

joerg's picture

my name is Jörg Müller and I'm currently coordinating the ACT project. Thanks Pat and Anne for being available and setting the stage for this e-discussion! Looking forward especially to the experiences of the ACT Communities of Practice regarding decision making. The CoPs participating in ACT are very diverse geographically speaking but also in terms of themes and topics addressed. It's great to have this forum where we can collect and discuss overarching issues concerning gender equality in decision making across the different CoPs - and of course other projects! Looking forward to all reflections and comments! 

c.j.vinkenburg's picture

Hi everyone this is Claartje from Amsterdam, representing Portia and responsible for the ACT ERA priority groups so mostly passively listening today and learning how to run such a discussion. But as you know very interested in using quota as a strong systemic intervention

mavrikiou's picture

Hello, I am Petroula Mavrikiou and I am an Associate Professor of Statistics. I am a feminist and trying for the last years to get funding to implement GE plans at my University, Frederick University. We have a GE committee at the university but no policies.

aknapinska's picture

Hello, my name is Anna Knapińska and I'm working in the National Information Processing Institute, in the Laboratory of Data Bases and Business Analytics Systems. Our main tasks are connected with collecting data on the system of science and higher education in Poland. In the interdisciplinary teams consisting of data scientists, IT specialists, analysts, researchers we create information systems used to gather information from both sectors, to verify data, to generate advanced reports etc. We also carry out research based on big data and we are experts in the field of science policy.

Perhaps it's worth mentioning I was a statistical correspondent for Poland in the previous two editions of She Figures reports.

RossRinaldi's picture

I am professor at University of Salento. I am local coordinator for my University of EU project on GEP 

Angela Wroblewski's picture

my name is Angela Wroblewski and I'm coordinating the TARGET project. Looking forward to the discussion


gulsunsaglamer's picture

I am Gulsun Saglamer

Here is my short CV



Prof. Gulsun Saglamer (F) Former Rector of Istanbul Technical University (ITU) (1996-2004) is professor of architecture and was a post-doc researcher in Cambridge University (1975-1976), visiting professor in Queen’s University of Belfast in 1993-1996 and also an external examiner at the same university (1999 and 2003). She was a member of the Scientific Committee of TUBITAK-INTAG (The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey) (1990-1996), Board Member of the European University Association (2005-2009), member of the Steering Committee of the EUA’s Institutional Evaluation Programme (IEP) (2009-2013) and member of the Research Policy Working Group of EUA (2005-2015).

She is a member of the Editorial Boards of “Open House International”, “International Journal for Housing Science and Its Applications”. Professor Saglamer was the President of CMU (Community of Mediterranean Universities) (2012- 2018) and President of European Women Rectors Association (EWORA) (2015-). She is a member of the EC’s Advisory Groups of Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and Gender. She chaired the MSCA AG between 2013-2016. Prof. Saglamer has also established a center in Istanbul Technical University titled “Women Studies in Science Engineering and Technology) in 2009 and was the director of the center between 2009-2012. She has been re-elected as the Presdent of EWORA for the period of 2019-20123.

Prof Saglamer received several architectural prizes and was awarded Honoris Causa by Carleton University, Canada (2001), Universitatea de Nord Din Baia Mare University, Romania (2002) and Ovidius University of Constantza in Romania (2009) and also Queens’ University Belfast (2018).

American Institute of Architects (AIA) awarded her “Honorary Fellowship (Hon FAIA) in 2006. She was also awarded “Leonardo da Vinci Medal” by SEFI (Société Européenne Pour la Formation Ingénieurs-European Society for Engineering Education) in 2005-2006. She is a member of European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters since 2011.


Karolina Kublickiene's picture

just want to lift an addtional level, it is not only the female, i experience even being female but not with native background and then your impact as a decission make is decreased! unfortunately

can you both try to list 3 important things that the female per se when entering the board committment should communicate first and concentrate on from the start: ie just trying to make a stage for her further involvement towards gender equality in decission making

Pat's picture

Yes of course there are multiple bases- that is where the concept of intersectionality is useful

On your v practical question: I suggest

1) See where power is- not only official power but where eyes turn to, who is listened to

2) Make eye contact and shake hands with everyone and introduce yourself (assuming Covid 19 gone..)

3) Speak before too long- it gets more difficult the longer you are silent-

Karolina Kublickiene's picture

this is great thanks you!

durannihan's picture

Dear Ms. Karolina,

Thank you vey much for the valuable remark. The intersectional aspect of the gendered and/or racialized disadvantages is also an area that I am concerned with. Similarly for my PhD work, I aim to analyze (1) the changing gender dynamics in the aftermath of forced-migration, which challenge the lack of a gender-sensitive perspective in refugee studies followed by (2) the underrepresentation/unbalanced participation of diversities in decision-making mechanisms (including socio-economic as well as political), and finally (3) “unfavorable inclusion” (Sen 2000) in the labor market which takes a more peculiar form given the case of refugee women, particularly within the German experience.

Karolina Kublickiene's picture

agree thank you, how important this is considering the dramatical chages in demographics!

Rachel Palmén's picture

It's wonderful to have so many different experts here. If you haven't already introduced yoursleves please do so at the beginning of a comment. 

Let's go to the first discussion pont: 

What can we learn from different experiences of applying targets and quotas to create more gender fair decision-making bodies?

Karolina Kublickiene's picture

Education to recognise your own biasses; clear statistics at place to know the state of situation and as a consequence identification fo clear needs for slected tasks/comittments according to the aim of decission body


Rachel Palmén's picture

Yes -Karolina so you emphasise the need for unconscious bais training - how this must be combined with stats to capture numerical representation of both genders.. 

chris h's picture

Unconscious bias training is a very interesting area. I'm wondering two things:

1. How this relates to wider social justice work on questioning privilege? I have limited practical experience in this area, but did get to know a 'co-listening' practice in the context of anti-racism and research which was very interesting: http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/blog/post/racism-and-emotions-in-knowledge-e...

2. Is there any research on the success of unconscious bias training?


alhumbert's picture

Research on the success of unconscious bias shows mixed results. It can sometimes not be effective, or even detrimental, particularly if it is not embedded within wider and sustained stuctural change actions led and implemented by gender experts. 

An interesting read on this is Iris Bonhet's book, What works

c.j.vinkenburg's picture

On the effectiveness of training / interventions to mitigate bias see Vinkenburg (2017) it is listed in the reference list for this discussion. Plus 3 ideas of evidence based interventions that do work

chris h's picture

In these trainings, is it necessary to separate gender bias out from wider intersectional bias training?

Or is it helpful to address gender as integrated part of bigger intersectional spectrum?

Pat's picture

Yes there is evidence and it shows that it produces little long term effects. For an overview and some references

O’Connor, P. (2018) 'Gender imbalance in senior positions: what is the problem? What can be done?' Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 3 (1): 28-50. 

It is again focusing on the individual level rather than on the way that 'normal' organisational processes continue to perpetuate gender inequality (i.e. the organisational level)


chris h's picture

so basically, the unconscious bias training would have to be directed at the structures and the group as a whole (and not just the individual)...?

Veronika's picture

Hi. My name is Veronika Meskova. I am from university of Žilina (Slovakia). Im responsible for the implementation of GEP at our university through the H2020 project CHANGE.

Paulina Sekula's picture

Hello, I am Paulina Sekula, representing Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. I work on the ACT project and facilitate Community of Practice for Gender Equality in Central and Eastern Europe (GEinCEE CoP).

K_Rabsch's picture

Hello everyone,


my name is Kathrin Rabsch and I am a research associate at Technical University Berlin. I am workin in the department of gender and diversity in technology and product development. I am also part of the ACT project.

Karolina Kublickiene's picture

OK, I am Karolina Kublickiene associate porf in medicine and head and founder for genderedinnovation alliance

learning to be a part of such forum exiting! hope you are all well!

chris h's picture

Good morning. I'm Chris Hotz and I'm doing a PhD on Collective Intelligence with main fieldwork in the online-offline participatory democracy project of Barcelona City Council. I am building intersectionality and gender dimension into the research project, starting with acknowledging and addressing gender imbalance in authorship.

Looking forward to learning through this discussion today. Gender dynamics in decision-making will undoubtedly be relevant to my research.



durannihan's picture

Hello eveyone,

I have received my M.A. degree in International Relations both in Istanbul Bilgi University and Sciences Po, Paris, with my thesis, Living in ‘the State of Exception:’ Experiences of Syrian Refugees in Berlin[1] through which I analyze the extent of the complex and mutually-reinforcing challenges for refugees in the labor market, in legal, material and social terms, in order to provide a humble evidence for targeted policymaking. I have pending Ph.D. applications in Berlin concerning the issues with Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming particularly within the forced-migration context.

My research concentrates on the issues with the harmonization of refugee women in the labor market. My research article concerning, “Dual Discrimination of Syrian Refugee Women in the Labour Markets in Europe and Turkey: Identifying the Challenges” [2] wins the prize at the competition organized by the Jean Monnet Chair at the European Institute of Istanbul Bilgi University and is published by the Journal of Social Policy Conferences in December 2018. I have presents her paper, “From Turkey to Germany: the Labour Market Situation of Refugees” at the 8th International Symposium on Law and Contemporary Challenges at Koç University, Istanbul in April 2019 and “Reconsidering the Ethical Principles in Forced Migration Research: Distinguishing the Voice of the Subject from the Voice of the Narrator” at the Center for Migration Research of Istanbul Bilgi University on November 9, 2019, on which I am currently working to turn into a research article with the valuable feedback I have received.

I have also worked for various impactful INGO's and think-tanks, including Türkischer Frauenverein Berlin e.V. (Turkish Women's Association in Berlin, Germany); AmCham Turkey/ABFT (American Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul) and TURKSAM (Turkish Centre for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, Ankara).

I would like to thank you for the valuable discussion opportunity in such challenging times.

alhumbert's picture

I have followed a lot of discussions on whether to apply quotas or not in the last 10+ years on corportate boards, following on their success in politics in several countries. But this is not so much talked about in higher education institutions, as far as I can tell. Does anybody know of institutions or countries where this has been considered? If so, with what outcomes? And what resistances? Can you share with us?

Rachel Palmén's picture

Apparently in Ghent University in Belgium: 

At the institutional level developing election rules to ensure a balanced representation has been an effective institutional strategy developed at Ghent University, Belgium.

“The new election procedure for the Board of Ghent University (Belgium) requires faculties to have at least one male and one female candidate for the elections. If the elections have an unbalanced gender outcome (not respecting the minimum 40/60 gender balance) the candidate with the least votes from the overrepresented sex (compared to other faculties) has to give way to the faculty’s candidate of the other sex with the highest number of votes. Although it triggered some resistances, the new procedures paved the way for substantial changes: as a result of the 2014 election, the Board has now a 50/50 composition. There was no further need to implement positive measures to elect a female representative and the reformed election attracted the most voters ever in the history of the University" (EIGE, 2016:46)

Pat's picture

It is on the agenda in Ireland as regards Full Profs. The HEA (2016) report recommended that by 2024 , 40 per cent of those at (full) prof level be women, and that core state funding be tied in to achieving this. As part of an attempt to ensure that the Min for HE introduced the SALI initiative

c.j.vinkenburg's picture

The NRW region (Land) within Germany is using a cascade model - with a statistical tool to decide on "qualified" quota where the % at the next higher hierarchical level should reflect the % at the level below. Discipline specific and institutionally dependent, but mandatory

c.j.vinkenburg's picture

While I am aware the cascade model does not apply 1-on-1 on decison making boards but rather academic careers, it might be an interesting approach to A) increase representation and thus enlarge the pool, B) change / normalize the conversation on quota itself . Find the tool here (in German): http://www.genderreport-hochschulen.nrw.de/statistikportal

Veronika's picture

Ah, ok. I thought this is also applied for decision making bodies as a sort of recommendations.

Now I can see that its focused on: Zielquote für die Besetzung von Professuren (ration of female professors).

But its still very interesting, anyway. Thank you for the link! 

Veronika's picture

Thank you for sharing. This seems to be very interesting and reasonable. I often listen to arguments: Its not possible to increase the amount of women on higher positions in STEM HEI because the pool from which they could be selected isnt big enough. 

Therefore effoorts to increase the ratio of women in DMB are seen as "unnatural."

I like that the system is based on hard data. i would be really interested in how the male/female ratio in decision making bodies would look like at our university when applying this model...


Pat's picture

This was recommended by HEA (2016) and in HEA (2018) it emerged that HEIs had implemented it EXCEPT at senior lecturer level- a critical gateway... and showing bad faith by the HEIs and resistance

Karolina Kublickiene's picture

I think it was some suggestions at our university but it was vited down at once.

I personally believe that w esuould start with the quatas to reach a levels of gender equility in the boards, this food be a feeding ground for further improvement, i believe we need to boost this, as it is generally going very slowly, irespectively even from the fact that we have more women in academia.

Furthermore, the womrn per se should be more poractive to lift other women's, this is crucial


Karolina Kublickiene's picture

sorry for my typos, will be better :)

Angela Wroblewski's picture

The organisational law for univerisies includes a quote for all decision making bodies (at least 50% of members have to be female). This led to a significant increase in the share of women in decision making within a couple of years. Now almost all rectorates, senates, university councils fulfil the quota. The quota made those who nominate candidates think about women, they looked for them and they found them. However, this does not necessarily mean that decisions are more women friendly or gender fair ... Some of the women refuse to be seen as advocates for women. This has been worsened during our right wing government 2018/19 which nominated very conservative persons for university councils ...

Rachel Palmén's picture

When preapring for this disucussion we wrote the blog looking at gender balance in decision-making bodies and gender competence. Building on Angela's Worblewski's work we thought it was important to keep this distinction. Pat interestingly questioned the notion of 'gender fair' -decision-making bodies.... What does gender fair decision-making bodies actually mean? 

Maria Caprile Elola's picture

I fully agree with the distinction between "numbers" and "competence". A gender-balanced decision-making body does not entail a gender competent body. My point is: gender competent for what? This relates to gender awareness, of course: being aware of existing gender inequalities, and being aware of the impact of any decisions on gender equality. But the stress should be on the final aim - which is my view is being competent for eradicating gender inequality.. this is why I think we must find a word for this. Gender-fair could be an option, but there can be better ones!

aknapinska's picture

Gender e(quality) :-)

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3 years 1 month ago
Posted by: chris h
Introduction On March 19th 2020, people from our Communities of Practice and beyond gathered for an open e-discussion on Gender Equality in Decision-Making in R&I and HE (1) on GenPort, the online portal for gender and science . This was the most active e-discussion yet on GenPort, with 146 comments and 30 participants from 20 countries (2). The e-discussion was convened by Dr Rachel...
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3 years 2 months ago
Posted by: Rachel Palmén
Welcome to this e-discussion on gender equality in decision-making in R&I and HE!Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have become one of the European Research Area priorities –and gender-balance in decision-making is one of three key objectives. Women’s representation in academia decreases the higher up the academic ladder – culminating in the very small percentage of...
Comments: 146

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