A fresh policy on gender balance and gendered research

Curt Rice. (Foto: Tom Benjaminsen)

Curt Rice. (Foto: Tom Benjaminsen)

Av Curt Rice, professor ved UiT og leder av Komité for kjønnsbalanse i forskning 2014-2017

Innovation at universities starts among the grass roots. New teaching programs are most often developed at the initiative of those who teach and new research projects usually are triggered by those who do research. This is how the system is set up; it’s the nature of academic freedom. And there’s no doubt that this leads to creative and important developments.

In my work on gender balance and gender equality, however, I have become convinced that changes in these areas must be supported and perhaps even initiated at the top if they are to have any hope of success. This seems to be true in the private sector, too, as suggested in McKinsey’s Women matter reports.

An inspiring example of top-down leadership on gender balance and gender perspectives in research has just been released in Norway, and it shows what kind of influence policy makers can have. The Research Council of Norway has issued its new policy, Gender balance and gender perspectives in research and innovation.

The Director General, Arvid Hallén, clarifies the Research Council’s goals:
With regard to gender balance, we are especially concerned with accelerating the pace at which change is taking place in senior-level academic positions and research management.

Given the current state of affairs, this means that we should have more women professors and more women running research projects, and we should see that change happen faster.

The Research Council has also added a requirement that all grant applications address the potential relevance of sex and gender for the project:
All of our programmes and initiatives must specifically assess what the gender dimension means for their particular knowledge field. If we are to succeed, we must raise the level of expertise among everyone involved.

Examples of gendered perspectives in research are found in increasing abundance, for example at Gendered Innovations and genderSTE. Some examples are described in Your heart and my back: 2 examples of gender-enhanced science and Seatbelts for pregnant crash test dummies. I also presented a new project with this perspective in Gendered innovations: making research better.

The Norwegian report makes it clear that the Research Council has decided to use its position to influence researchers and research institutions in Norway. It will encourage researchers to make plans for gender balance in their research teams as part of the process of submitting an application. It will require researchers to think about gender perspectives and it will train reviewers to be sensitive to these issues.

Through this policy, Norway continues to show leadership on gender issues and it does so for exactly one reason, according to Hallén:
Our aim is to enhance the overall quality of research.

I look forward to following the developments triggered by this policy. But I wonder what you think? Is this a good way to trigger innovation, even if the tradition in universities is to focus on bottom-up initiatives? If this isn’t the way to go, what is a better strategy? I suspect we agree that research and education are the keys to making a better future for society; where do gender balance and gendered research fit in to that program?

This blog originally appeared at curt-rice.com. Follow Curt Rice on Twitter @curtrice.

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