How the EU is Putting Gender Equality at the Heart of Horizon 2020

At the dawn of a post-Brexit Britain many scientists have looked to the EU’s flagship Horizon 2020 scheme, one which aims to invest a staggering €80 billion in innovation to help Europe secure a competitive edge in the research worldwide, and wondered whether the UK’s decision to leave the EU is one which is jeopardising the funding promised to advance cutting edge technology throughout the continent.

One thing’s for sure: Horizon 2020 has made gender equality the hallmark of its campaign and has focused on policies, management strategies, and both hiring and funding practices in order to make parity between men and women the heart of every step the scientific arm of the EU takes. From 2014 to 2020, the Work Programme will fund initiatives and research to ensure the cutting-edge of innovation in Europe is competitive with the rest of the world and that women are equally represented.



Part of the international Horizon 2020 programme is to build a foundation of gender equality, with organisers setting their sights on three targets which aim to be fulfilled congruent to the outcomes of the research and innovation-centric project. The framework outlined by the programme will set the stage for further advances in female participation, with Horizon 2020 representing a new chapter in equality-focused research and innovation.

The first of these is to create an environment in which female representation is equal to that of men by fostering gender parity in the hiring of researchers. In order to secure the participation of women Horizon 2020 hopes to facilitate a cross-over between academia and frontline research so that labs around Europe will see gender equality, and close the ever increasing gap between male and female scientists.

Panels and advisory boards are vital to the effective advancement of science and innovation and as such the programme also aims to ensure female representation is adequate on those groups which make key decisions on behalf of governmental and international research bodies. A target of 40% has been set for groups and for those boards which have a direct advisory capacity, and 50% for panels. Involving women in key decision-making at this level is likely to help support Horizon 2020 achieve its gender goals.

Third and finally, the project aims to bring gender dimension to all activity. From innovative discoveries to research councils, laboratories, and universities, Horizon 2020 will stress the importance of female voices at all stages of science, arguing that differing gender opinions will directly improve the quality of research undertaken and also increase the societal relevance of information.

While this commitment to gender equality can be commended, the ineffective application could stand as a major barrier in the way of improved female representation in STEM. Of the total fund, a portion will be earmarked to fund strategic approaches to gender equality through Research Performing Organisations and Research Funding Organisations.

Both play a fundamental role in the research pipeline and by funding initiatives within their governing bodies and application processes, under Horizon 2020 the European Commission continues to make strides against discrimination at a decision-making level and also for female advancement in industry-leading careers. By supporting parity within research organisations and ensuring companies have appropriate equality plans, Horizon 2020 also ensures an integration of content which provides a gender dimension.

In the long term, and at the conclusion of Horizon 2020 it is expected that those activities which positively impact gender equality through academia and the industry will result in actions that help universities and research groups reach a critical mass of women resulting in balanced representation and affect hiring practices into the future.

By targeting STEM at an international, national, and regional level, as well as inciting grass-roots innovation in gender equality, Horizon 2020 stands by its commitment to the disparity between the sexes and hopes to alter the attitudes and approaches to women in science further citing an objective improvement in research quality as a result.

The aim is to stem the leaks in the pipeline which often sees female talent lost from research and innovation activities. By encouraging the study of STEM subjects for girls and helping with the transition to world-leading research for those that wish to pursue a career in any aspect of science, gender inequality in STEM can be faced head-on.

For more information about equality in research and innovation visit the STEM Gender Equality Congress 2017, and check out www.stemgenderequality.comfor more information to to register for the congress.


European Commission, 2016 ‘Horizon 2020: Promoting Gender Equality in Research and Innovation’.