She Figures 2018: from ‘fixing the women’ to ‘fixing the knowledge’ in numbers

This year marks a special anniversary in the field of gender in research and innovation. The year 2019 is the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Helsinki Group on gender in research and innovation, tasked by the EU institutions to collect national level data and develop indicators throughout Europe. This task culminated in a report – She Figures – first published in 2003 and subsequently every year since then, which summarised these findings. Its latest edition, She Figures 2018 has only just been released and can be downloaded here.

The She Figures reports have been invaluable in providing comparable and harmonized data on gender in research and innovation, particularly when it comes to the progress made over time in this area. So, as we celebrate 20 years of focus on gender in research and innovation, what key insights can we derive from this latest edition?

One key change in 20 years has been women’s and men’s position in educational attainment. Since 2008, woman have overtaken men as third-level graduates. Approaching gender equality all the way up to doctoral level is now a reality: in 2016 women are now 40% to 60% of doctoral graduates in most countries in Europe.

Another clear trend has been the progress of women outdoing the progress among men. This is important in relation to gender, where a two-pronged approach is needed: closing gender gaps, but also ensuring convergence towards higher levels of development, attainment and realisation. Overall, in many areas, the picture is encouraging. For example, more and more people are now graduating (convergence) and with women’s greater pace of progress, this has served to close the gender gap.

Despite undisputed progress, gender equality in research and innovation still faces some enduring challenges. Segregation continues to be a strong feature, although it is slowly eroding. Vertically, despite progress, women also continue to be under-represented in the highest positions in most sectors, including as leaders or in senior management. Horizontally, STEM subjects also continue to de dominated by men while arts and humanities fail to attract them in equal numbers. There is also an important divide between universities and industry, where women are much less represented. In a changing technological context, in which inclusive perspectives are needed, this divide still exemplifies a frontier for women to cross. This is in fact a key area where women and other minoritised groups are needed to ‘fix the knowledge’ by providing a mix of experiences about the world.

It is encouraging to see a generational effect taking place. On the whole, the new She Figures shows that when disaggregating by age, gender inequalities tend to decrease among younger age cohorts. This is the case with the Gender Pay Gap which in 2014 stands at 9% for researchers below 35, rising progressively to 15% (35-44), 20% (45-54) and finally 22% (55+). Similarly, women are better represented among younger, grade A staff, e.g. Professors: 36% and 28% of grade A staff aged below 35 and between 35-44 are women compared with just 23% for staff aged 55 and above. There are, therefore, clear reasons to be optimistic leading us to hope that in time, as more progress is made, at least part of the existing gender inequalities, will disappear.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of this new edition of She Figures, is to address the wider role that gender plays in the sustainability of research and innovation. Women are more likely to be employed on a precarious contract: in 2016, 8% women worked under a precarious research contract compared with 5% of men. In addition, women continued to be less mobile than men, possibly hindering their employment or progression prospects. ‘Fixing the knowledge’ cannot be fully realised unless there is a fair playing field for all researchers. On a more positive note, greater work is being done on closing the gender gap in scientific outputs. Without a doubt, this is a necessary step in the construction of a fair, inclusive and sustainable research and innovation field.

Things are slowly changing for the better. But more progress is needed and in particular, some long-standing structural factors need to be tackled. Data and indicators have played an undeniable role in the progress that has been made so far. The legacy of She Figures in supporting this progress needs to be celebrated. We can only hope that the edition published 20 years from now, will showcase even stronger equality.

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