“Women in Science are often too invisible”

In July 2020, The French National Research Agency (ANR) implemented an Action Plan for Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming for 2020-2023. In this interview, Laurence Guyard, Sociologist and Gender Specialist at the ANR, discusses the main lines of action, the progress made and the actions under development.

In what circumstances did the ANR implement a Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan?

Laurence Guyard: Favourable national circumstances gradually arose, particularly starting from 2016 with the announcements made by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the then Minister, during the 9th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education and Research (ESR). That is when the Agency committed to roll out actions to help reduce gender bias in ESR, a commitment that was made official in our 2017 Work Programme. This favourable situation has been strengthened by the Civil Service Transformation Act of  2019, which requires dedicated action plans within ESR organisations and institutions.

In this context, we wanted to benefit from technical support to develop our Gender Equality Action Plan, which is why we partnered with the European Gender-SMART project coordinated by CIRAD1, which aims to implement dedicated action plans in partner organisations. From January to July 2019, we conducted a significant self-assessment within the Agency, as part of the Gender-SMART Project. Through this collaborative process, we were able to structure the Gender Action Plan.

Which areas of focus have you identified for 2020-2023?

Laurence Guyard: We worked closely with the Executive Committee to develop this plan. The strong support of our Chairman and CEO, Thierry Damerval, has proved essential because if the Executive Board does not support this commitment with conviction, it may hinder its proper implementation. Our plan is structured around 3 areas: the first one deals with the culture and the organisation of the Agency. The second one is dedicated to Human Resources (HR) management, where we worked with the HR department to review the indicators of the annual social report, the recruitment process and remuneration policy. The final area is devoted to research funding, our core business. We worked with the ANR's Data, Analyses and Impact Studies Department to identify potential gender bias in the assessment process, using analyses conducted since 2017 on the projects submitted, selected and funded under the Generic Call for Proposals (AAPG).

This first self-assessment work did not reveal any significant gaps between women and men, either in terms of project assessment, internal organisation or HR. It allowed us to review the actions already implemented and to define those to be rolled out.

What are the key levers to fight disparities and reduce gender bias?

Laurence Guyard: We need to systematise the generation of analyses on research projects because we must constantly ensure that biases are not incorporated in our processes, as the systematic search for parity in evaluation panels (regarding scientific communities), which we ensure at the ANR, does not guarantee the absence of stereotypes. We have thus pursued our analytical efforts on the data for the 2020 and 2021 AAPG. The generation of analyses on HR management also constitutes an essential lever to identify possible gaps and correct them. Therefore, we conducted analyses on starting remuneration or promotions and bonuses, which are reported in-house and appear in the annual social report.

Another major challenge refers to the integration of the gender/sex dimension in research content, an issue that is still poorly understood. This dimension is part of the scientific integrity and social responsibility of science, and we must foresee the potential consequences brought by research results. The example of biology illustrates this very well: developing drugs for the general population requires clinical trials to be conducted on men and women. The fact that I am the ANR Gender Advisor and the Ethics and Scientific Integrity Advisor provides me with a comprehensive approach to this issue, with scientific terms that may be heard and understood. Following a testing phase on the AAPG 2021, in which project coordinators were asked to describe how they integrate this dimension into their efforts, we managed to include it as an assessment criteria in stage 2 of the 2022 AAPG. In addition, to collectively reflect on these issues, we’ve hosted a symposium on Gender in Research with CIRAD, that focuses on gender biases in assessment and knowledge production. Among the 500 or so participants, all scientific communities and professional statuses were represented. A book bringing together the key contributions of the conference is currently being written under the joint direction of the ANR and CIRAD.

A key lever is the education and training of in-house reviewers and staff on gender equality concepts and issues. We are currently training committee chairs, and we wish to extend it to all committee members. We will soon offer a dedicated training course that we’ve developed for the ANR staff. We also prepared a non-prescriptive guide on inclusive communication without gender stereotypes that we shared with our staff, which should lead us all to consider and ponder these concepts.

The promotion of women in science, who are too often invisible, is also a key lever that was incorporated in the ANR's Gender Action Plan. As a continuation of our actions that began in 2017, new interviews were added to the "Women in Science" video collection. The ANR is indeed committed to promoting women researchers whose projects are funded by the Agency, together with those who are taking part, as committee chairs, in our assessment processes.

Finally, since the prevention and treatment of cases of sexual harassment or sexism is a substantial lever, the ANR has implemented a dedicated procedure to report and process these cases, in addition to regular internal investigations. 

All in all, almost 70% of the actions set out in the ANR's Gender Action Plan have been completed, which is positive.

How has the Gender-SMART project contributed to the ANR's Gender Action Plan?

The action plan is thriving on the collaboration within the Gender-SMART project, and, in turn, is fuelling this project through feedback regarding the actions implemented. Within the framework of Gender-SMART, we have contributed to several important productions with Angela Zeller, Gender studies officer at the ANR, including a deliverable on gender bias and another on strategic recommendations to incorporate the gender dimension into institutional documents. These productions, intended for European research organisations and research funding organisations, will be available before the end of the project in 2022. Being sociologist and expert in the field constitute an added value in the consortium to work on gender issues that are rooted in very complex mechanisms and issues.

What areas of focus are you currently working on?

Laurence Guyard: We have applied for the AFNOR-certified Equality label, which will increase the visibility and recognition of the ANR’s commitment, one that will stand the test of time. We also wish to receive, in line with our actions, the Diversity label.

Following the analysis of the testing phase for the integration of the sex/gender dimension in research project proposals submitted for the 2021 AAPG, we are currently drafting a document regarding feedback from experience. This feedback will help us to consider how we can adopt this approach in all our calls for proposals.

In 2019, we also tested an in-house mentoring system, giving priority to female ANR employees wishing to further their careers. We wish to pursue this approach and extend it to mentoring with non-ANR staff, so they can expand their professional network.

1 : CIRAD is the French agricultural research and international cooperation organisation working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions. It coordinates the Gender-SMART project, which brings together 9 partners, including the ANR, to roll out Gender Action Plans within organisations.

For more information:

The ANR’s commitment to Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming

The ANR's guide on inclusive communication without gender sterotypes (in French)

The ANR’s Action Plan for Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming 2020-2023

Women and Men in Science analyses in the AAPG

Video portraits of Women in Science

The Gender-SMART Project Website

Last updated on 27 June 2022
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