Summary of the 6th Strategies CoP Meeting – December 8th 2020 | Gender Equality for Early Career Researchers

A first session about gender inequalities at the early career stage focused on the need for European ECRs' engagement in science policy and Gender Equality Plans, and a French example of a mentoring programme for female PhD researchers.

The gendered inequalities Early Career Researchers encounter in research and the policy solutions were the topic of the 6th Strategies CoP Meeting on December 8th 2020.

Sara Pilia, Secretariat Coordinator and Co-coordinator of the Equality Working Group of Eurodoc (European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers), first guest speaker, emphasized throughout her presentation the crucial importance of fostering ECRs’ involvement in research policies who are, so far, mostly absent of policy-making processes (Cahill and Masia 2020). As the lack of support from their peers is one of the factors preventing ECRs’ engagement, Sara pointed out to the core role of mentors – supervisors but also other people among the research community – in encouraging junior researchers, especially female ECRs, to get involved in ECRs organizations or to run as representatives for instance. By adding their specific perspectives and needs in change process, particularly in the design of gender equality plans, ECRs will have an impact on greater gender balance.

During the discussion, Sara Pilia also drew attention to the relevance of applying an intersectional approach (by taking into account gender disparities but also social class, ethnicity, disability) to the category of ECRs in order to recognize their varying struggles. She further insisted that ECRs who fail to conform to the research “excellence”’s expectations, which often implies overwork, need to have their voices heard and become advocates.

The following guest speakers were May Morris and Julie Batut, from the Femmes & Sciences (Women & Sciences) Association in France, who respectively coordinate a mentoring programme geared toward female PhD researchers in Montpellier and Toulouse. The programme began in 2015 in Montpellier as a means to tackle a lack of guidance, support and networking experienced by junior female researchers, and thus to bring about gender equality within academia. The programme has then been initiated in 2017 in Toulouse, and in Paris in 2018, for a total of more than 100 mentor/mentee pairs. The Femmes & Science mentoring programme combines individual meetings, workshops & testimonies as well as mentoring circles group meetings. Various activities are provided for a programme duration of 12 months.

This support for both career planning and personal development (with activities on lack of self-confidence for example) is free of charge for PhD women researchers, who are paired with mentors outside their disciplinary environment. Following up on the mentees’ careers, programme coordinators observe that the majority of mentees (around 35%) pursue a career path in research (post-doc) and 30% of them go to the private sector.

The Q&A session enabled the last speakers to indicate the best strategies to implement a similar mentoring programme. May and Julie acknowledged that a certain amount of free time is needed to launch such a programme and should be done with a team. Communicating on the programme also requires time but it enables universities to eventually provide (financial) support, especially when mentoring programmes have become options of compulsory training programme of PhD researchers in universities, as it is the case for some French universities.

Mentoring programmes also represent a great opportunity for more collaboration and solidarity within the research system between mentors. Those programmes are also valuable for improving the quality of mentorship. Mentors in the Femmes & Science initiative are trained, they receive specific guidelines, explained May. Moreover, Julie and May insisted on the fact mentors of all age and experiences are welcome and interesting for mentees.

Join our next CoP Meeting on January 12th 2021 to continue the discussion on gender equality for Early Career Researchers! Please find more details here.