Scenario 2 - A Gender Equality Strategy for Researchers (GES4R) - 11:00 - 12:00 CET

Let's start with our second thread and scenario,  a Gender Equality Strategy for Researchers (GES4R). As a reminder of the main features, here is the short summary:


This concept scenario builds on an already well-known European scheme (the HRS4R) and integrates it with a separate but connected GECAS devoted to gender equality. It would still be possible to apply to HRS4R without also applying for the GES4R, as this would represent a complementary scheme. The rationale of this scenario resides in its very practical nature, that acknowledges that many institutions throughout Europe are currently engaged with the HRS4R, and a connected scheme focused on gender-equality would be more attractive for many, in so far as some basic operational mechanisms remain the same. It was the opinion of most participants in interviews and co-creation activities that it would be very difficult to expand the HRS4R to include gender equality to a satisfying extent. Instead, creating a new scheme sharing some basic setup options with the HRS4R, which would make it easy to combine them, was considered a reasonable balance of change-oriented goals and practical ones. It could be an accessible choice for less experienced institutions and countries, and could also help to keep resistances and backlash at a manageable level.

On the other hand, the link with the HRS4R setup, while potentially increasing attractiveness and feasibility, may also limit the scope of change, and special efforts would be needed to avoid “Tick the boxes” exercises (that is, aiming for mostly formal, on-paper achievements).

This concept scenario covers all four mandatory GEP (Gender Equality Plan) building blocks requested to access funding under Horizon Europe, as well as all five recommended content areas, of which at least three need to be addressed for the action plan to be approved (find them here: Gender Equality Plans as an Eligibility Criterion in Horizon Europe). However, its typical focus on Human Resources could make the area of the integration of gender dimension in research more difficult to practically implement.


This concept scenario shares some basic features of the HRS4R scheme, even though, differently from this, it would adopt an intersectional perspective. Besides, it shares with Scenario 3 the choice of an assessment process combining self-assessment and peer review, but other features are exclusive (with respect to the other two concept-scenarios). The following can be set out (for the full list of the features, see the reading materials sent along with the questionnaire):

  • It foresees a simple pass/fail assessment instead of different levels of achievement
  • It is only applicable at the level of the whole institution
  • It focuses on process and policy (not outcome) of GEP implementation
  • Support would be provided, as in the HRS4R, by national authorities through the Euraxess network, envisaging that Euraxess members are linked to gender experts in each country.


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joerg's picture

For our second thread, we have with us Evanthia K. Schmidt from the Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy, Denmark and Elisabeth Anna Guenther, University of Vienna, Austria. Welcome to the discussion and we are looking forward to your initial thoughts and comments.

Elisa Guenther's picture

Hello everyone, I am Elisabeth Guenther, a social scientist working at the University of Vienna’s Computational Empowerment Lab. My research focusses on the nexus of gender/intersectionality, technology/engineering, learning and organisations such as universities. In the GEDII project, I contributed to the development of the Gender Diversity Index, a measure to capture gender-inclusiveness of research teams. Also, I have some experience when it comes to implement equality measures within universities, as this was part of different roles I held in the past.


I structure my comment along two questions (and will post them in two posts):

Question: In your opinion, what role will this particular GECAS play in advancing gender equality in the EU?
In my experience, gender equality measures benefit from accountability. By this I mean that it is easier for equality measures to become lived practices -and not just a policy paper – if there are consequences related to it. Having a certificate or award (CA) connected to gender equality can help to increase their importance. Research Performing Organisations, such as universities, can highlight their achievements with such CA. This can help them in recruiting talent. More importantly, it can also help them to retain talented staff.

The GES4R asks for applicants to cover at least three areas, most of these areas do address practices within the organisations, e.g. the organizational culture, gender-balance in leadership or the inclusion of gender aspects in research content. This way, the GES4R goes beyond the “Fix the women”-approach and aims for organisations to undo gender inequality. Since this is also linked to the dedication of resources, I think there are good chances that the GES4R could help to advance gender equality within European universities and research organisations.

For this to work, however, it is important that the process and policy of the measures which are presented during the certification process do indeed challenge existing inequalities. The synthetic description of the GES4R states that a “renewal is based on the absence of regression” and that the award stands if there is no change. Here I am wondering, what happens to make sure that this does not cement inequalities in. Perhaps you can elaborate on this a bit more?

joerg's picture

Hi Elisabeth, thanks for joining!

Elisa Guenther's picture

Hi Jörg,

thanks for putting this event together! It reads very interesting what you are doing (also the conversations in Scenario 1 was very interesting).

Elisa Guenther's picture

One benefit/potential strength is that this could give more importance to equality policies within an organization. It can help Research Performing Organization in their employer branding and it might help universities also in recruiting students, as it indicates to them this is an inclusive place. Moreover, for publicly funded institutions it may also be a way to meet with societal goals, such as to foster equality. But this is likely true for all forms of GECAs.

A benefit of this specific scenario is that it is linked to an already existing scheme (HSR4R), which might make it easier to implement. Moreover, through the capacity building, which is part of the design, it can furthermore help to establish equality practices throughout the organisations.


A potential pitfall might be the 3 year-frame for renewal and that it is static. Both of these aspects depend on the specific designs and details.

Having to report every three year carries the risk to be overburdening, then again this is in line with other audit systems and – as you also pointed out in CASPER_D4.3_Key prerequisites for a Europe-wide gender equality scheme.pdf having a timebound measures is essential for the success. I am wondering whether 4 or 5 years might be better.


As for the GES4R being static – there is a tension: On the one hand, changes will not show within three years, so here it makes sense to only monitor the implementation of the process and not so much the outcome and to say an organization should not regress. On the other hand, however, what happens after 6 or 9 years? Should it then still be static? At what point in time would it be necessary for GES4R to also show some positive effects, and hence also include some outcomes?

Eugenia Vilarchao's picture

Hello everyone, it's a pleasure to have Elisa and Evanthia reviewing this scenario. I work at the European Science Foundation in France and I am the project manager of CASPER.

I agree with you Elisa about this tension that exists on the scheme being static. Maybe a limit should be defined of withdrawing the certification after two consecutives static reviewing periods. However this should be flagged and discuss on the first "static" evaluation, as it might be an indicator that the GEP is either not ambitious enough to produce institutional changes, or, the opposite scenario, the GEP might be too ambitious. In these cases, the evaluation could have a very important role in empowering the users to correct their GEP goals in a SMART way.

joerg's picture

Hi Elisabeth, I think you mention an important point in terms of “branding” - which is increasingly becoming important. By attaching and imitating so to speak a well-known and successfully implemented scenario, the “success” of the GES4R could be relatively easily achieved. RPOs could be easily convinced to sign-up and get an additional certificate that is endorsed by a European authority, building upon their experience of the HRS4R. But as you do, I see a major difficulty from the perspective of advancing gender equality the lack of progress that needs to be demonstrated. The effectiveness of this scenario for achieving gender equality goals is quite questionable.

Rachel Palmén's picture

Hi Elisa, 

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with what you say about the strength of tying this scheme to an already existing scheme might be an attractive option from the institutional point of view. I do wonder however the extent to which linking this scheme with a separate scheme (with different objectives) might be counterproductive. So, for example in terms of the 'branding' and people 'identifying' with the scheme. 


Evanthia's picture

Hello everyone! Thank you to the CASPER team for organising this online discussion on the GECAS and for providing an opportunity to reflect in particular on scenario 2 - A Gender Equality Strategy for Researchers (GES4R) as a sister scheme to the HRS4R. My name is Evanthia K. Schmidt and I am Associate Professor and Research Director (with Full Professor qualification) at the Department of Political Science, the Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy, Aarhus University, and a visiting scholar at the Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway. I have been a visiting professor at the University of Oxford, Université Catholique de Louvain, and the Centre for National University Finance and Management, National Centre of Sciences in Japan. My work focuses on research and innovation policy; RRI; gender in knowledge production and research organizations; European gender policies and strategies; higher education studies; and research evaluation.

I have been involved in a number of European projects focusing on gender, in particular on the implementation and evaluation of gender equality plans, structural change and RRI (EFFORTI, STAGES, PRAGES, WHIST and STARBIOS). I am currently involved in two H2020 projects, one focusing on RRI in biosciences (RESBIOS) and another one on citizens science (STEP-CHANGE), while a third project, funded by the Norwegian Research Council, focuses on gender, citizenship and academic power (GAP). I have assisted the EC as member of two EU groups of experts, one working on the ex-ante impact assessment of H2020 (Environment and Climate Change) and the other on the ex-post evaluation of FP7 (International Cooperation) and have been engaged as expert in the evaluations of FP6, FP7 and H2020 project proposals. I am the EC appointed Danish expert member of the European RTD Evaluation Network and former expert member of the H2020 Advisory Group for Gender. To find my publications, click here

joerg's picture

Hi Evanthia, great to have you with us!

Evanthia's picture

As the European higher education institutions and other RPOs contexts vary greatly, it is obvious that we need a dynamic and flexible framework and effective mechanisms to develop a robust and suitable GECAS. This particular practical GECAS will provide a common Europe-wide framework for gender equality and a standardised approach, facilitating the creation of a common basis across diverse national contexts as a complement to the already employed HRS4R European scheme. Implementation of GES4R could be facilitated by the fact that there already are structures in place in many countries to accommodate the scheme in connection with the HRS4R. However, additional (limited) dedicated resources would be needed to the establishment and function of the new commissions/panels with GE experts. A precondition is the availability of gender competence at institutional level. Overall, this scheme could be attractive for many, in particular for countries that have limited experience from GEPs, as the mechanisms to operate the new GE scheme are the same as the ones for the HRS4R.

Focusing on the scope of the expected changes, gender equality, diversity and inclusion are wide-ranging concepts that go beyond HR policies and involve broader structural and cultural changes, but implicate also cognitive aspects. Starting from an existing scheme and building a sister scheme to the HRS4R, may involve the risk that the GES4R could easily be misinterpreted as targeting only HR and in particular only researchers. It could also make for example the integration of the gender dimension in research and teaching more challenging to incorporate in the award scheme. Research shows that it is difficult to address inequalities with GEPs that are limited in scope since institutional change is a complex phenomenon. GEPs have been criticized for failing to recognize the complexity of structural, cultural, and institutional factors. Thus, it is crucial to establish an all-embracing framework for the GE work with a coordinated set of guidelines, indicators and benchmarks.

Moreover, in line with the HRS4R scheme, only policy and process are considered in GES4R, but not outcomes. To avoid box-ticking exercises and window dressing, the award scheme should be linked to requirements for tangible progress in gender equality and suggest how to consider outcomes as well. Outcomes may be expected in terms of contribution to change, improved conditions to foster change, and work to increase the probability that change can occur. What is more, while higher education institutions and RPOs are dynamic, with emerging issues popping-up continuously in their contexts, the scheme is static in its nature and thus fail to address new conditions. Continuous monitoring and adaptation of the GAPs in response to implementation feedback, new emerging conditions, unintended consequences, and changes in the local dynamics are crucial to achieve institutional change.

In addition, studies reveal that in some cases when the human resource departments lead the implementation of gender equality measures, academics may resist putting them into practice, because they are not willing to introduce changes proposed by non-scientific bodies.

Finally, the scheme involves a simple pass or fail assessment instead of different levels of achievement and does not provide the necessary incentives to work for progression beyond compliance. A more ambitious scheme could encompass setting up requirements for higher education institutions and other RPOs to gradually achieve higher levels of gender equality outcomes, supporting thus sustainable institutional change.

Elisa Guenther's picture

Evanthia, you raise very good and important points. There is a potential risk of linking GES4R to HRS4R and it might be difficult to advance the implemantation of gender in research and teaching content. Alltogehter, the proposed scenario seems to focus more on fixing the organisation and less on fixing the women. Then again, this can also be an important step, if it is linked to tangible outcomes at one point in time.

joerg's picture

Thank you Evanthia! I think your point about the danger that the GES4R is seen in close relation to HRS4R and thus perceived as addressing only HR department is really an important one. From my own university and experience I would say that HRS4R is something that is dealt with by the HR department and internal working group. Although it might affect your career, the perception of this initiative is quite peripheral from a staff-researcher perspective. This needs to change if we want to address gender equality issues as it involves the whole organization, particularly day-to-day interactions among everybody. I think this is really a key issue that we need to keep in mind when thinking about this scenario.

Rachel Palmén's picture

Hi Evanthia, Thanks very much for your detailed reflections on this scenario. I really agree with the points that you make: 1)  the scheme must go beyond HR - integrating the gender dimension is such an important element - that risks being overshadowed with a scheme that's linked to a HR scheme. 2) Focus on outcomes - how should this be developed - given the complexities inherent in 'measuring' institutional change 3) more nuanced 'stages' - going beyond a 'pass' or 'fail' 

Rachel Palmén's picture

I do however think that from an institutional point of view - linking a scheme - to an ongoing certification might be perceived as somehow 'less work' - and therefore more manageable to assume for an institution... 

Angela Wroblewski's picture

The HRS4R scheme focuses on HR/staff. How relevant is the gender dimension in research and teaching in the proposed scheme? Are students also considered?

Marion Lesur's picture

Hello Angela. gender dimension in research and teaching would be one of the 5 recommended areas in the scheme, with instituations having to cover at least 3.

Rachel Palmén's picture

OK! That's good to it would not be mandatory to cover integrating the gender dimension in research content and teaching. This is problematic as we know from research that this is the least well implemented of the three ERA objectives....This would run the risk of reducing gender equality issues to a  human resources issue - thereby taking the focus away from institutional change and not challenging the notion of androcentric knowledge production.... 

Marion Lesur's picture

This very true, and in fact gender in research content and teaching is not mandatory in the three scenarios, but always one possible area to be covered. 

Elisa Guenther's picture

I like the idea that capacity building is one building block of this scenario, because this way more people within the organisations can take up responsibilities. However, how can this scenario make sure that it does not only reach the already converted, i.e. people who do consider gender equality an important issue. In many universities recruitment decissions are made more or less autonomous by working groups, and HR only has limited influence.

So, I think much of the effectiveness here is linked to how the process is desinged, so it makes sure it does not only "preach to the converted" and really has an impact.

Rachel Palmén's picture

Yes Elizabeth, I think this should always be an aim - because in these gender equality circles - we can often be accused of 'preaching to the converted'...Also capacity building is much more powerful than merely 'raising awareness' - because it means competence development in the skills needed to effect real institutional change...I think capacity building/ competence buidling needs to be an integral element of all the scenarios- because it often due to a lack of 'know-how' that the implementation of these plans comes undone.. 

joerg's picture

I want to comment upon another critical issue, the focus on the whole institution which reflects in a way the priority of HR for HRS4R certificate: it is valid for the entire organisation. However we know that gender equality challenges are very different in sub-organisational units, i.e. Faculties or departments. The situation in computer science or electrical engineering to name just two very male dominated disciplines is very different from more balanced disciplines such as business and economics or other areas of the social sciences. It seems difficult to imagine how a university wide certificate can address these very local contexts and specific challanges across faculties - which often work on their own GEP.

Elisa Guenther's picture

I do agree with you Jörg, especially big organisations might have very different issues in different subunits. However, when I was reading this I was thinking perhaps the aim is that only the whole university/research organisation can apply but they could define different aspects depending on the needs of the different subunits. Then again, this only works if there is a centralised management. If there is a lot of autonomy within the sub-units (which in research organisations is quite common) this might be more complicated.

Rachel Palmén's picture

I think an institutional/ organsiational wide GEP can have thematic areas -thereby indirectly targeting sub.-institutional units... I think it is important to keep it at an institutional level because this means that the 'institution' is responsible for providing the resources/ institutional structures/ allocating responsibilities  to ensure effective implementation....  

Evanthia K. Schmidt's picture

Yes, you are right Rachel, there already are structures in place to accommodate the scheme, which means less work for the institutions.

joerg's picture

Thanks everybody for your contributions and observations. A special thank you to Elisabeth and Evanthia for your time to read through and highlight the critical issues with GES4R. We will summarize these inputs in a report together with the other two threads.

The third and final scenario thread is now open, on europeanisation of a national GECAS - Athena SWAN. I'm sure this offers a lot of additional food for thought.


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11 months 1 week ago
Posted by: joerg
Let's start with our third and last scenario, the europeanisation of a national GECAS - Athena SWAN. Again, here is a short introduction to this third scenario:STRATEGIC CHOICE BEHIND SCENARIO SETUPThis concept scenario explores how the well-known Athena SWAN scheme could be adapted to become a Europe-wide scheme. The reason behind this proposal is that Athena SWAN represents one of the most...
Comments: 34
11 months 1 week ago
Posted by: joerg
Let's start with our second thread and scenario,  a Gender Equality Strategy for Researchers (GES4R). As a reminder of the main features, here is the short summary:STRATEGIC CHOICE BEHIND SCENARIO SETUPThis concept scenario builds on an already well-known European scheme (the HRS4R) and integrates it with a separate but connected GECAS devoted to gender equality. It would still be...
Comments: 26
11 months 1 week ago
Posted by: joerg
Welcome to this CASPER e-discussion on a New/EU wide Gender Equality Certification/Award Scenario. As an introduction, here is a short description of the main features and strategic choices behind this first GECAS scenario:STRATEGIC CHOICE BEHIND SCENARIO SETUPThe first concept scenario foresees the introduction of a brand-new EU-wide GECAS, which represents the most ambitious choice of the three...
Comments: 38

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