Across all sectors (business, public, university and NGO sectors), women researchers account for 32.9% of the workforce in Europe, while in Austria it is 30.4%. Women are least represented in the business sector with 21.3% across the EU and 17.7% in Austria. The European Commission (EC) is now responding by requiring Horizon Europe applicants to develop a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in order to apply for funding.
A GEP aims to promote gender equality through institutional cultural change. It is public organizations that face this task since 2022. Five content areas that can serve as guidance for companies are proposed by the EC for the GEP: these relate to taking action in work-life balance and organizational culture, gender balance in leadership and decision-making, and in recruiting and career progression. Likewise, measures are recommended to integrate the gender dimension into research and teaching, just as steps are to be taken to prevent gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
However, there are also elements of the GEP that are specified in order to secure it structurally in the organization. There must be sufficient resources (financial, human) for implementation, there must be ongoing monitoring of the indicators developed and combined with annual reports, and staff and decision-makers must receive training on equality and gender bias. Finally, the GEP must be signed by the management and must be published on the organization’s website.
In participatory processes MOVES supports organizations in developing an equality plan. Learn more.
Stereotypes provide structure; they are basically helpful in finding one’s way in the world by reducing uncertainties and providing orientation. They are unconscious, simplifying ideas that determine a person’s perceptions and thus help to make a quick assessment of a specific situation. As important as they are in a complex world, stereotypes harbor the danger of attributing certain characteristics to persons and groups, which are associated with dominant social evaluations and thus represent and at the same time solidify hierarchies and power relations.
The gender stereotypes “Men are interested in technology, not very communicative, not very empathic, mathematically gifted, determined, decisive, …” stand in difference to “Women are not interested in technology, communicative, empathic, mathematically not gifted, team-oriented, social …”. Completely disregarded in these discussions are people who, in their diversity, do not at all fit into such dichotomies. Although current research presents and contradicts explanations, these “naturally given” simplifications with all their individual professional, social and economic consequences are very persistent and widespread.
This brings us to the gender bias, which causes systematic bias effects in action by taking up these gender stereotypes. It is about an unconscious influencing of perception and decisions by such dichotomous, positive or negative evaluations of a person. In the professional context, for example, this is about how resumes are evaluated, how decisions are made about acceptance into a company, how decisions are made about career development, or how salary increases are argued. The gender pay gap in Austria in 2020 is 18.9% (calculated on the basis of gross earnings of men and women), which is far from the average of 13% in the EU countries. The adjusted gender pay gap (taking into account part-time work, industry, level of education or work experience) is still 12.7% in Austria, as shown by Statistics Austria data from 2020.
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If in the 1970s and 1980s it was the theories of equality and the theories of difference, later the (de)construction has prevailed, which in turn is a basis for the currently strongly spreading theories of intersectionality .
Intersectionality is a concept that emerged in the late 1980s in the United States, the name Kimberlé Crenshaw is inseparable from its genesis. It was Black feminists who criticized their white counterparts for presuming to speak for them, because their contexts are markedly different from those of white women. They are affected not only by gender discrimination, but also by the ethnic discrimination that can be pinned on skin color: sexism meets racism. Intersectionality theories assume that structuring categories such as gender or ethnicity cannot be viewed in isolation from each other, but must be analyzed in their interconnectedness.
Stereotypical notions of men* and women* regarding their attitudes, behaviors, interests, or competencies, and the associated hierarchizations and social power aspects, thus interact with equally largely unquestioned notions about other diversity factors. Sexism and racism thus also meet social status, religion, education, sexual orientation, disability, or age. Kimberlé Crenshaw offers the metaphor of an “intersection” for this, in the middle of which marginalized groups can be thought of as encountering discriminations (accidents) from multiple or all directions of the roads simultaneously. Forms of discrimination of gender and age paired with religion, for example, cannot be thought of separately in this context, but influence each other, potentiate each other, and this also means that new forms of discrimination can thus emerge.
This all seems very logical, but at the same time difficult to grasp. When and where do such forms of discrimination associated with power differentials and hierarchies occur? What do these multiple discriminations mean for those affected? How can they be dealt with? In any case, these questions represent a broad field of action for intersectionality-oriented research.