Towards a European Certification Award Scheme for Gender Equality in Research: Key Findings of the CASPER Project

CASPER project answering to what role can gender equality certification and award schemes play in improving gender equality in academia and research organisations?

May 26, 2022

What role can gender equality certification and award schemes play in improving gender equality in academia and research organisations? What should be the characteristics of an EU-wide certification and award scheme? Those are exactly the types of questions that the CASPER Project seeks to answer.

CASPER (Certification-Award Systems to Promote Gender Equality in Research) is a Horizon 2020 funded project (Grant Agreement 872113) that studied the feasibility of establishing an EU certification or award scheme (CAS) targeting universities and research organisations. The project was kicked off in January 2020 and ran until end-March 2022.

CASPER relies on existing data that certification and award schemes are, together with gender equality policies, effective means of creating and driving structural change in research performing organisations (Equality Challenge Unit, 2015). Based on an extensive assessment of the available Certification and Award Schemes (CAS) and gaps in terms of gender equality policies needs across Europe, CASPER explored and evaluated the feasibility of the implementation of three scenarios (plus a no direct-action scenario) that would have the potential of being implemented as a European-wide scheme.

Defining the state of the art of European Gender Equality certification and award schemes

During the first phase of the project, the state of the art of European Gender Equality policies were mapped together with the existing CAS. The results of mapping have been assembled in the public reports: Deliverable 3.1 “Policy Framing” and Deliverable 3.3 “State of the Art Analysis: mapping the award and certification landscape in Higher Education and Research”.

Deliverable 3.1 has two main objectives. First, to provide an overview of the European policy frameworks regarding quality and excellence in Research and Higher Education and if/how they embed gender equality considerations. Second, to provide a preliminary mapping of the most representative Gender Equality Certification/Award Schemes (GECAS), which inform the identification of good practices as well for the potential of an EU wide GECAS. It provides a mapping of the most representative GECAS in the 27 EU countries, Australia, Iceland, Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States of America. The key GECAS identified at the national and international level were the following: HRS4R, Athena SWAN, Catalyst Award, Disability Standard, GEEIS-Diversity, Juno (2007), Label Egalité professionelle + Diversité, EDGE, Minerva Informatics Equality Award, Race Equality Chart, Stonewall Global EI, Total E-Quality, EX AEQUO.

Building upon the previous report, deliverable 3.3 is the result of the combined efforts of 30 experts with the CASPER consortium that explored the good practices in GECAS. This group focused on the analysis of policies and measures adopted at the national level to integrate gender equality in Research and Higher Education. The outcome was a comprehensive analysis of the landscape in which a Europe-wide GECAS could be developed. As stated by Maria Sangiuliano, the main author of the deliverable, the results show that the European context “is a favourable environment for the development of a CAS, with an overall positive trend in the adoption of CAS for HEIs and Research in the last years. Nonetheless, it also presents an uneven landscape, where countries have different levels of implementation of gender equality policies in research and Higher Education together with different priorities on the matter”. Read more details here.

The current EU research and innovation policy scenario is undoubtedly rich and dynamic, especially since the new incentive introduced by the European Commission in September 2021. This new requirement entails that all research organisations and public bodies applying for Horizon Europe (HE) calls with deadlines in 2022 and beyond, must have a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place that complies with a set of criteria. Read more here.

Therefore, specific work was developed in CASPER with the aim of establishing the alignment and potential synergies between the already existing CAS and GECAS and the HE GEP requirements, and correspondingly, a potential new Europe-wide GECAS. Furthermore, a workshop involving CAS owners took place in February 2022.

Designing the scenarios for an EU-wide gender equality CAS

During the second phase of the project, the prerequisites for a Europe-wide GECAS were defined and the 3+1 scenarios were designed.

Public Deliverable 4.3 “Key prerequisites for a Europe-wide gender equality scheme” is based on empirical and qualitative fieldwork, consisting of interviews with 74 different stakeholders, and an internal consortium workshop. It points out the “must haves” for an effective EU-wide GECAS which include:

  • GECAS embracing a Gender+ approach which recognises that gender inequality and other inequalities are connected
  • Providing support and feedback
  • General GECAS rather than discipline-specific
  • GECAS establishing a link with Gender Equality Plans (GEPs)
  • GECAS focusing on processes to structural change 
  • Focus on quantitative and qualitative indicators
  • The voluntary character of the scheme with mandatory elements
  • Progressive approach with incentives to work towards
  • Time-bound (usually 1 – 5 years)

Building upon the results of the deliverables and embracing the participatory principles of the CASPER project, a series of ten co-creation workshops took place in January and February 2021 with 133 participants (representatives from RPOs, RFOs, policy makers and gender experts). The regional aspect was also contemplated in these workshops, seeking to grasp the particularities and specificities of the various European regions.

As a result of these discussions, a concept board was prepared with the following possible scenarios:

  • Creating a brand-new EU-wide GECAS
  • Creating the GES4R (a sister scheme to the existing HRS4R )
  • Europeanising Athena SWAN
  • No action scenario (stimulation of national developments)

Each of these scenarios was analysed in dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders in different online forums that took place from March-June 2021. Stakeholders were engaged to express the benefits and disadvantages, and the convenience of the different scenarios depending on the type of institution they belonged to. Further details on the scenarios can be found in the CASPER Blog.

Evaluation of the scenarios and drafting of policy recommendations

The evaluation of the scenarios was carried on in two steps. Step one consisted in interviewing all together ninety stakeholders from different regions of Europe (Nordic, Central West, Central East, Mediterranean West, Mediterranean East, Balkans) assuring a balanced coverage of Europe. Step two entailed nine walkthrough exercises in different RPOs. In each walkthrough exercise, one scenario was evaluated, which allowed members of the organisations to imagine and assess in depth how the scheme would fit in their institutional context.

Preliminary results of the validation phases showed that the scenarios were perceived differently depending on the types of institutions and stakeholders, and across the different regions. While there is a general preference for a more ambitious GECAS by most stakeholders, Eastern European and Balkan stakeholders emphasised the need to take political and practical factors into account. Further details can be found in Deliverable 6.1 “Validated version of the 4 scenarios”.

Further details about CASPER results and activities can be found at the CASPER website and following the project on Twitter (@CasperGender).

Check out the Summary of Final Conference and Project Results.

This article was prepared by Agostina Allori and Eugenia Vilarchao from European Science Foundation.