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Equality, Diversity and Inclusion After Corona: Quo Vadis?

At the 21st Gender Summit from 14 to 16 April, international representatives from the areas of academia, research funding and politics engaged in a virtual discussion on gender equality, diversity and inclusion and their importance to excellence in science and research. Another focus was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Screenshot of the virtual conference hall

Virtual entrance to the 21st Gender Summit

© Gender Summit

Enormous progress has been made in promoting gender equality in science and the humanities worldwide over the past 20 years, but there is still a lot that remains to be done: in 2018, for example, women obtained slightly more than half of the higher education degrees in Germany (51.4 per cent), but only 24.7 per cent of professorships were held by women. In addition to equality, the aspects of diversity and inclusion are also becoming increasingly important at all levels of the science system and research: they should be more firmly established so as to enable and promote academic excellence in its entire breadth.

These were the issues and challenges discussed at the 21st Gender Summit by some 80 speakers and a total of 920 participants. Due to the pandemic, the experts involved with the subject of equal opportunities in science and the humanities worldwide met virtually for the second time. The coronavirus pandemic and its impact were themselves the subject of discussion, too, since they are factors that have made gender-related gaps even more visible: the number of publications submitted to journals by women decreased during the pandemic, not least because women are more likely to take on care responsibilities. Inequalities relating to other dimensions of diversity dimensions have also become more prominent as a result of the pandemic.

The organiser of the Gender Summit, which has been held for ten years at different venues around the world, was the London and Passau-based non-governmental organisation Portia Ltd. In addition to the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG) and eight other members of the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany, the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) was involved as the host of the Summit, which had originally been planned to take place in Munich.

DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker gave a welcoming speech at the opening of the Gender Summit and took part in a virtual round-table discussion with the Alliance presidents.

DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker gave a welcoming speech at the opening of the Gender Summit and took part in a virtual round-table discussion with the Alliance presidents.

© Gender Summit

After the pre-recorded welcome speeches had been broadcast on 15 April, presidents of the Alliance organisations took part in a virtual round-table discussion entitled “Advancing Collective Action to Incorporate Gender and Intersectionality Dimensions in Research and Innovation, and in Science Policy”. On the issue of how to effectively evaluate researchers and their academic work based on unprejudiced criteria, DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker pointed out the significant challenge of not merely replacing existing concepts of equality with a diversity strategy. “What is needed instead is to tap into potential synergies, taking into account the complexity of the individual dimensions and not least the even greater challenge of intersectionality,” says Becker. Intersectionality is when several dimensions of difference come together in a single person – such as age, gender, religion, origin, sexual identity, culture, health status, life situation or social status.

“The key point here is to judge researchers and their academic work according to quality and not quantity,” Becker continued, saying that it was important to raise awareness among reviewers of this issue, further expand CV forms to include diversity aspects and, last but not least, promote research into diversity. The President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Professor Dr. Hans-Christian Pape, emphasised how dynamic and complex the phenomenon was: “We need to identify the turning points at which career paths converge or diverge and look at the various factors that play into this.” He said that academic excellence would always be the most important factor when assessing academic success, but that the major challenge for the future was to take greater account of researchers’ potential, too, by analysing and formulating the numerous alternative criteria with sufficient clarity so as to enable them to be systematically taken into account in the assessment process.

Professor Dr. Hans-Christian Pape, AvH

In addition to Professor Dr. Hans-Christian Pape, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker, Professor Dr.-Ing. Jan Wörner, President of acatech, Professor Dr. Ulman Lindenberger, Vice President of the Max Planck Society, and the Chair of the German Council of Science and Humanities, Professor Dr. Dorothea Wagner, took part in the panel discussion at the opening of the Gender Summit.

© Gender Summit

The round-table participants agreed that equality, diversity and inclusion were crucial requirements for excellence at the level of academic work and in the formulation of research proposals. They said that the key challenge to tackle now was to further promote an interdisciplinary approach and foster dialogue between different subject-specific cultures and mindsets. For this to happen, they said, academic career paths would have to be opened up further, since these had largely remained within the constraints of individual disciplines to date.

Magdalena Skipper, moderator and editor-in-chief of Nature, concluded that “diversity is a global phenomenon” that needs “local solutions”, depending on countries, institutions and disciplines. A rethink was needed as to what is actually meant by “talent”, she said, and this would require considering much more than performance indicators and metrics. Ultimately, she said, evaluations and reviews would have to be more flexible and geared more openly towards individual career paths.

The chemist Professor Dr. Roland A. Fischer is responsible for the issue of equal opportunities on the DFG’s Executive Committee

The chemist Professor Dr. Roland A. Fischer is responsible for the issue of equal opportunities on the DFG’s Executive Committee

© Gender Summit

The DFG contributed to the three-day Gender Summit in various ways: Professor Dr. Roland A. Fischer, the DFG Vice President responsible for the issue of equal opportunities, moderated a high-level plenary discussion on 16 April entitled “Reaching out from Science to Society: Creating Evidence Driven Policy Ecosystems for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion”. Another plenary session was attended by the head of the DFG’s Equal Opportunities, Research Integrity and Cross-Programme Development Group, Dr. Sonja Ochsenfeld-Repp. During the discussion on “Recognising the Movers and Shakers of Institutional Change in Science. What has Changed after former Gender Summit Events?” she presented the DFG’s activities relating to dimensions of gender and diversity in research and talked about how these were linked to good research practice.

Right at the start of the Summit, Dr. Eva Reichwein, head of the DFG’s Equal Opportunities Team, offered an insight into the DFG’s activities to date in the growing field of “Intersectionality in Research Funding: Thinking on Strategies for Implementation”. This workshop was hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council South Africa.

Summit participants had the opportunity to find out about the DFG and its funding activities at a virtual stand, where there was a film and also opportunities to engage in direct dialogue.

Summit participants had the opportunity to find out about the DFG and its funding activities at a virtual stand, where there was a film and also opportunities to engage in direct dialogue.

© Gender Summit

Overall, Gender Summit participants agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had starkly revealed the need to be more responsive to diverse life histories and promote diversity of perspectives. The sense among attendees was that all protagonists in the science systems were called upon not just to formulate rules but to commit personally to the ideals, too. With a view to promoting research excellence, the declared intention was to continue to rethink and adapt the criteria for evaluating excellence in the future and also to advocate change in the overall structures.