Promoting equality and nondiscrimination in the Academy of Finland: action instead of talk

11 Oct 2022

Openness, transparency, reliability, and equality and nondiscrimination are the values guiding the activities of the Academy of Finland. The Academy Board and the Strategic Research Council are committed to responsible science, where a key priority is the promotion of gender equality and nondiscrimination in research funding. Gender equality and nondiscrimination are also key science policy objectives for the Academy. The next steps in the Academy’s equality and nondiscrimination work will take us towards mainstreaming and diversity.

The science policy of the Academy of Finland is built on the common European research and innovation policy. Promoting gender equality and nondiscrimination in the research and innovation activities of the European Union remains a key objective of the European Research Area (ERA) and the Horizon Europe framework programme. The aim of the programmes is to achieve structural and institutional changes promoting equality and nondiscrimination, particularly in the context of research careers and researcher evaluation. More broadly, the aim is also to influence the activities of researcher communities, research organisations and European funding organisations, as well as to speed up the digital and green transition.

In European-level cooperation, the focus is on inclusive equality and nondiscrimination

Freedom of scientific research and gender equality are key priorities in the research and innovation strategy adopted by the European Union Competitiveness Council in September 2021. The importance of safeguarding gender equality and the need for proactive measures to mainstream gender equality in all areas of research and innovation are also emphasised in the Ljubljana Declaration adopted in 2021 during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In the period 2022–2024, EU Member States will develop inclusive gender equality plans and principles to evaluate the gender perspective in research and innovation contents in cooperation with national providers of research funding. The purpose of the inclusive gender equality plans is to broaden the intersectional gender perspective to other potential grounds for discrimination, such as nationality, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.

Systematic monitoring of progress towards gender equality and nondiscrimination

The Academy of Finland has worked to promote equality between women and men in research and research careers since the 1980s. Over the past two decades, the equality perspective has been a key consideration in the use and development of research funding instruments and terms of funding. Ensuring equal representation for women and men in evaluation and decision-making processes is also a key objective, and the aim is to have equal gender distribution in review panels. The Academy of Finland monitors the gender distribution of the panels on an annual basis. Approximately one in three of all panel members are women even though there are differences between calls for applications.

The Academy of Finland provides the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture with details of the gender distribution of funding applicants and recipients as part of its financial statements. In the peak years of the 2010s, women accounted for approximately 50% of all Postdoctoral Researcher applicants. Approximately 40% of Academy Research Fellow applicants and 30% of Academy Project applicants have been women.

The percentage of female and male applicants that are granted funding (success rate) has been one of the indicators used in gender equality monitoring. Over a period of ten years, success rates among women and men have varied between 10% and 20%, and there are few differences between genders in this respect. Differences in success rates are explained by annual variation rather than gender-related factors.

However, all fields of research remain highly gender-segregated. This is also true of Postdoctoral Researcher and Academy Research Fellow applicants: women account for more than half of all applicants in social sciences and humanities research, and biosciences, health and environmental research. At the same time, in natural sciences and engineering research, women account for between 20% and 25% of all applicants.

The Academy of Finland is currently developing statistical monitoring for individual Academy councils and committees on the percentages of women and men receiving funding. The aim is to develop methods for more detailed monitoring of the distribution of funding between women and men, especially in the STEM sectors (science, technology engineering and mathematics) and the distribution of leading positions in research projects between genders. For example, since 2018, the Strategic Research Council has required that there should be equal distribution of genders in leading consortium positions or that the consortium presents measures to achieve gender equality during the funding period.

In addition to reviewing and monitoring gender distribution among applicants and funding recipients as part of its equality and nondiscrimination work, the Academy of Finland is now also increasingly focusing on methods supporting the promotion of equality and nondiscrimination in research contents and research projects. Since 2020, promoting gender equality and nondiscrimination in projects and in society at large has become part of the evaluation criteria.

Steps taken by the Academy of Finland to mainstream gender equality and nondiscrimination

During the planning period 2022–2023, the focus in the Academy of Finland’s equality and nondiscrimination work is on integrating the equality and nondiscrimination perspective more strongly into its activities and promoting the practices that support this mainstreaming process. In the Academy of Finland, mainstreaming means that each public official must consider and assess the promotion and ensuring of equality and nondiscrimination in research funding. Stronger means of mainstreaming can also ensure genuine nondiscrimination and equality between genders. Legal provisions on equality and nondiscrimination are not always enough to eliminate or prevent structural inequality.

Once we have learned to identify obstacles to gender equality and nondiscrimination, we can develop ways to achieve genuine equality and nondiscrimination. For example, the equality and nondiscrimination perspective has been a key consideration in the ongoing funding reform for Academy Research Fellowships from the outset. The cycle of impact assessment for the reform will include ex ante evaluations and monitoring of activities after the changes in such areas as funding instruments and funding terms have been implemented. Ex post evaluations will also be carried out as part of other processes to monitor and assess the development of funding instruments.

The information on the progress towards equality and nondiscrimination produced in the impact assessments carried out as part of the reform will be used to support decision-making in such issues as the challenges facing researchers trying to reconcile their work with the needs of their families and other areas of private life. The evaluation data has had an impact on how the Academy Board has assessed the need for the mobility requirement in this time and in the near future: there are plans to eliminate the requirement altogether.

Mainstreaming is also a way to achieve change. To better understand the needs for change, it is necessary to obtain relevant information on equality and nondiscrimination in the activities of the Academy of Finland or within the scope of the activities. As part of its equality and nondiscrimination planning process, the Academy of Finland has developed methods to review the number of applicants and success rates, in which consideration is simultaneously given to gender and age, gender and citizenship, and citizenship and age on an intersectional basis. Understanding intersectional differences and reviewing different applicant groups in the calls for Academy of Finland funding is essential to identify potential structural inequality. The Academy of Finland performs these reviews as part of its planning process to regularly assess equality and nondiscrimination for its basic funding instruments.

It is essential to involve stakeholders in the work to promote equality and nondiscrimination

The ability of the Academy of Finland to promote equality and nondiscrimination greatly depends on the structures of the scientific world and different fields of science as well as the atmosphere prevailing in them. They impact the way in which scientists and researchers of different genders and from different backgrounds can develop during their research careers. By identifying these issues in our operating environment and by actively working with our stakeholders, we can build our own activities and science policy objectives so that they relate to the promoting of equality and nondiscrimination.

When preparing the current equality and nondiscrimination plan, we met with experts from the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers and the Finnish Education Employers. These discussions provided us with better understanding of how the Academy of Finland should set its priorities in the work to promote equality and nondiscrimination. Both stakeholder groups noted the substantial increase in the number of international researchers in Finland. At the same time, the challenges facing women in their research careers were also highlighted: women are more likely to end up in teaching tasks than to reach the highest echelons of the research community. In fact, most of the professors in Finland are men: approximately one in three of all full-time professors in this country are women.

Towards diversity

In the coming years, in accordance with its performance agreement, the Academy of Finland will also focus on the diversity aspects of its activities. In the Academy of Finland, the issue of diversity is particularly closely related to how we can attract scientists and other individuals from different backgrounds (such as our own staff members, experts serving in review panels and funding recipients) to join the diversity effort. The perspective of inclusion is also strongly connected to the objective of diversity.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has launched a project to examine how higher education institutions are working to ensure equality, nondiscrimination and diversity in their activities. The results of the project are also valuable for the Academy of Finland, as little information is currently available on diversity issues in the Finnish academic field.

Even though the Academy of Finland is still in the early stages of identifying and recognising diversity and in using it in its own activities, the work has got off to a promising start. The work is strongly supported by the Academy Board and now is also the right time to take up these issues with our stakeholders. In the current world situation, gender equality, nondiscrimination and diversity are more important than ever and this also applies to their role in research funding.

The Academy of Finland has set itself objectives to promote gender equality and nondiscrimination and it is also bound by standards at different levels.

Under the Equality Act and the Non-Discrimination Act, the Academy must promote equality and nondiscrimination as an employer and in all its activities. In its work to promote gender equality and nondiscrimination, the Academy is guided by its equality and nondiscrimination plan, which was recently updated to cover the years 2022 and 2023.

In equality and nondiscrimination issues, the Academy is also bound by its performance agreement with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Working to ensure equality, nondiscrimination and diversity in science and promoting sustainable development goals are set as societal impact objectives for the Academy in the current performance agreement. The objectives cover research funding instruments, funding terms, evaluation practices and stakeholder work and their development.

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