Quotas and Targets – do they have a place?
Quotas and targets, once shunned by Australians, are now increasingly part of the popular discourse. This in part has been driven by the strengthening business case for greater gender balance coupled with an increased frustration with slow rates of progress. However it is fair to say that the corporate sector is leading the way here. Nevertheless, while the need to accelerate progress is becoming clearer, targets and quotas have not been a feature in the Australian higher education and research sector. However two recent examples of affirmative action recruitment, where women only need apply (University of Melbourne advertised 3 positions in Maths and Swinburne advertised 5 Research Fellowships) signal that the sector may be ready for stronger action, particularly in redressing the scarcity of women in STEMM
In a recent discussion on twitter, triggered by the latest NHMRC funding round outcomes where women continue to be under-represented, the question was asked, ‘are there examples of targets and quotas in relation to funding and grants elsewhere, and do they work?’ Drawing on their local expertise and attendance at the recent Gender Summit in Brussels two colleagues from Europe, Ella Ghosh, The Norwegian Committee for Gender Balance and Diversity in Research and Claartje J. Vinkenburg VU University, Amsterdam provided some information and examples which may be of interest to us here in Australia.
Perhaps the clearest and strongest example of a quota comes from the The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and their Starting Investigator Research Grant. They have recently stipulated a maximum of 50% of applications coming in via institutions can be from men and this has strengthened numbers of women applications and grantees considerably. In 2013 there was a cap of 6 applications per University, with 27% of applicants female and 27% of awardees female. In 2015 the cap per University was raised to 12 of which a maximum of 6 can be male. There was NO change to the rigorous international peer review for excellence and impact, with 47% of applicants female and 55% of awardees female. However this Is not a standalone initiative and a great deal of supporting and foundational work has been done building up to this as detailed in their Gender Summit presentation
SFI began in 2012 by setting an over-arching target for 25% female award holders in STEM by 2020 and achieved this in 2015. In 2016 this was revised upwards to 30%. This work is supported by three main strands,
· Increasing the participation and interest of girls in STEM related activities
· Female representation within SFI funded portfolio and SFI review panels
· Gender perspectives integrated into the research content of SFI funded research programmes
It has also included changes in their processes and the use of unconscious bias training for staff and reviewers.
Ireland is a step ahead of Australia in implementing Athena SWAN, with the first applications occurring in 2015. In contrast to the decision to date to not link funding to accreditation in Australia, funding from the SFI will be dependent on Athena SWAN accreditation. By 2019 SFI require all HEI’s to have attained an Athena Swan Bronze institutional award to be eligible for funding and by 2023 to have attained an Athena Swan Silver institutional award to be eligible for funding.
This is a compelling example of how quotas can be an integral part of a strategy to increase the participation and success of women.
An idea for the Academies
The idea of positions specifically for women are increasingly seen as a way of making more timely progress. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) will recruit 10 new women members in 2017 and a further 6 in 2018 (as reported by Martin Enserink in Science 354 (6314), 815. November 17, 2016). In common with many academies the representation of women is low, at around 13% and difficult to move given the granting of life membership and a large (male) elderly cohort. The idea for special elections came from two male board members and was approved by a 73% majority vote. The regular rounds will meantime continue.