Gender Equality, as defined within the context of the UN SDGs and the priorities of UNESCO, is a core humanitarian and contemporary concern related to individuals’ welfare. Within the final decades, the goal of gender equality has also been receiving increased attention within the European Community, with the European Commission (EC) introducing systematic gender policy interventions, strategies, and declarations in the European Research Area (ERA). The EC interventions mostly address research performing organisations (RPOs) and the development of inclusive Gender Equality Plans within EC-funded projects. In fact, the development of GEPs within funded projects had its starting point during Framework Programme 7 (FP7) and was intensified during Horizon 2020 (H2020). Then, the current funding scheme of Horizon Europe (HE) further made the existence of GEPs a mandatory requirement for the RPOs to be eligible for funding. As for the relevant EU strategies and declarations, they enhance the pursuit of gender equality in the ERA through concrete indications and suggestions. A few indicative strategies and declarations are the following: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025; Ljubljana Declaration for Gender Equality in Research and Innovation; the ERAC position paper on the future gender equality priority in the European Research Area 2020-2030; the broader ERA policy agenda 2022-2024 that includes actions for promoting gender equality and fostering inclusiveness.
Proceeding to the organisational GEPs, they constitute a powerful ‘tool’ for pursuing and achieving organisational change from a gender perspective. They build on gender-related concepts and principles, setting the basis for their integration and consequent institutionalization throughout the organisation. GEPs developed by European organisations in recent years also go a step beyond the binary meaning of gender equality, and build on the concepts of diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, and gender mainstreaming in organisational structures and processes. Relevant awareness is thus raised throughout the organisation, and individuals gradually understand that gender equality is a more multi-layered issue than initially assumed.
The multi-layered nature of gender equality is even more prominent in academic organisations, which are additionally associated with the concept of excellence. The value and recognition of a researcher is traditionally measured using as criteria the following: concrete impact on a scientific progress; citation score; the number of publications; international recognition; the impact of the scientific reviews in which they were published. However, there are social conditions potentially influencing the quality of those criteria (gender, age, social class, race, sexual orientation), indicating that gender-bias and social inequalities may have an impact on the perception of excellence. The RESET project suggests that a reflexive, inclusive, impact-driven and societally relevant definition of scientific excellence needs to be developed through their organisational GEPs, for ensuring fairness and meritocracy in the measurement of excellence.
As for the structure and content of the GEPs, they address specific thematic areas reflecting core gender-related challenges. Each thematic area consists of specific actions to be implemented throughout the organisation. Based on the RESET experience, the implementation of inclusive GEPs in academic organisations can highly contribute to addressing challenges with respect to the following: horizontal and vertical segregation; career progression; leadership issues; integration of the gender dimension in research and teaching; discrimination and inclusive communication. It has been additionally noticed that systematic efforts to address organisational (in)equality can create a positive ‘noise’ in the organisation; this noise can function as a source of information, encouraging individuals to discuss and contemplate on gender (in)equality, ultimately helping them in deconstructing gender stereotypes and gender norms. In other words, it can function as a factor mitigating gender blindness within the organisation.
Finally, the RESET experience suggests that well-planned GEPs constitute a cornerstone in the change process of academic organisations. Nevertheless, complementary activities are needed for ensuring a robust GEP implementation and operationalization, and successful change. Such activities refer to monitoring and evaluation frameworks providing a realistic account of achievements, failures, and emergent organisational needs, as well as to regular and context-based updates of the GEPs. Occasionally, new ‘disruptive’ activities may also be needed in order to reach significant and ‘disruptive’ advances.