A discussion around the consequences of the pandemic on gender equality in academia and research.
On Tuesday July 7th, the fourth Strategies CoP meeting that took place online gathered 9 members of our community (CNRS, SFI, Eurodoc, CPED, Mihajlo Pupin Institute, Universidad de Deusto, Femmes & Mathématiques, Femmes & Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, University of Wuppertal). The session aimed at letting participants reflect on the impacts of the sanitary crisis on gender equality within research and the implications for Gender Equality Plans.
Two keynote speakers addressed the issue presenting a funder’s perspective (Rochelle Fritch, SFI) and young researchers’ experience during the pandemic (Sara Pilia, Eurodoc). They provided thoughtful insights that were followed by an hour Q&A session.
As Rochelle Fritch reminded us, the academic world was not spared from the negative effects of COVID-19 measures. Gender inequalities in research were exacerbated during the pandemic with women bearing a greater burden (more teaching responsibilities, increased care work). Heavier consequences are felt for researchers and employees experiencing intersecting systems of oppression (e.g. ethnicity, age, economic status, ability).
Some journals already observe decreasing journal submissions from women (see Kitchener’s article and Flaherty’s article) and grants applications may decrease as well, Rochelle indicated. To better comprehend the long-term impacts of COVID and to enact solutions, the first move, according to Rochelle Fritch, is to gather appropriate data and ask the right questions within academia (Marlisch et al 2020). For research funders, flexibility with budgets, with programs and project extensions are direct actions that can be taken. As for pre-award management, the move from a quantitative to a qualitative form of evaluation (such as a narrative CV, see the template developed by the Royal Society) is one means of action that can account for women’s loss of productivity during the crisis, explained Rochelle. This qualitative assessment values a more holistic research engagement and has been adopted by some RFOs over the last years, in response to the DORA Declaration.
Sara Pilia’s presentation revolved around Eurodoc’s assessment of the coronavirus’ impact on Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in Europe, made in consultation with 28 national associations of young researchers. They identified 10 major issues faced by ECRs during the pandemic including barriers in doctoral training, lack of supervision or added pressure, increased precariousness, heightened anxiety (see Eurodoc’s article). Young women researchers were found more impacted, creating a strong incentive to develop a specific support scheme for them in gender equality plans, emphasized Sara Pilia.
A discussion followed the two presentations. A roundtable allowed having an overview of national situations. Although all countries and academic institutions have been affected by COVID-19, the situations differ and the existing solutions vary greatly. Participants were particularly interested in SFI’s measures to address gender inequalities (see Fritch et al. 2020). Nevertheless, while a qualitative turn to research assessment is an appealing solution for funding but also hiring, promotion and tenure, some participants raised issues of a potential increased workload with qualitative measurements. Members agreed on the need to reflect on a hybrid form of evaluation (qualitative and quantitative) that values equally publications and research environment’s quality.
Concluding remarks emphasized collecting data as the first step to then work on relevant gender equality plans to tackle COVID-19 consequences. Specific data on early career women researchers is missing yet pressing to collect. For that matter, Eurodoc’s survey could serve as a benchmark for future studies.
Following the strong interest in qualitative research assessment that emerged during the meeting, the next CoP meeting will discuss the DORA Declaration — a 2012 declaration that develops and promotes best practice in the assessment of scholarly research.