Thursday, 21 June 2018
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
125. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the progress in achieving more gender balance in funded research under Science Foundation Ireland’s Agenda 2020 strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27130/18]
In 2016, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) published its Gender Strategy for the years 2016-2020. This strategy provides a comprehensive framework for delivering SFI’s actions to retain and increase the participation of excellent female researchers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers. Since the launch, SFI has moved towards streamlining gender initiatives across all its programmes, with the overarching aim of redressing the gender imbalance amongst SFI award holders.
SFI’s Gender Strategy sets out the agency’s roadmap to improve the representation and progression of women in all aspects of STEM careers in Ireland:
- Strand 1 of the strategy focuses on gender equality across SFI education and public engagement initiatives, with the aim of increasing the participation and interest of girls in STEM-related activities.
- Strand 2 targets female representation within the SFI funded portfolio and SFI review panels. Concrete measures to achieve these targets are outlined.
- Strand 3 will ensure that gender perspectives are integrated into the research content of SFI funded research programmes.
In 2017, SFI achieved its Agenda 2020 target of making 25% of its awards to female researchers and this target has now been revised upward to 30%. This target has been aided by SFI providing incentives for research bodies to submit applications from female researchers to various programmes, with a focus on those aligned with early career stage.
The SFI Research Outputs Census 2017 shows that the percentage of female SFI Award Holders Active in 2017 was 28%, up on 25% in 2016 and 21% in 2015. The percentage of female team members (those employed on SFI awards) was 37%, an increase on 35% in 2016, which represents progress towards redressing gender imbalance.
Furthermore, award holders’ success rates (2016) shows that female researchers are as competitive as their male counterparts in terms of their SFI funding success rate i.e., 32% across all programmes. However, female researchers within the same cohort (2016) accounted for only 25% of SFI funding applications received.
SFI is also supportive of the Athena SWAN Charter which is the internationally recognised ‘quality mark’ for gender equality. It was established to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.
Science Foundation Ireland continues to implement specific grant management policies to deal with the needs of female researchers during periods of maternity and adoptive leave, and will continue to innovate in this regard. The policies being developed and associated outcomes will complement and support the Athena SWAN initiative, whereby the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board will require research bodies to have attained a bronze institutional Athena SWAN award by the end of 2019 and a silver institutional Athena SWAN by the end of 2023, to be eligible for research funding.
In further recognition of the Athena SWAN initiative, Science Foundation Ireland has, under the Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) programme set criteria around addressing gender imbalance. SIRG aims to support excellent postdoctoral researchers and others who are yet to hold an independent research post in taking the initial steps towards a fully independent research career. Research Bodies are permitted to put forward a maximum of 12 candidates. A maximum of six candidates, out of the 12 permitted from each eligible research body, may be male candidates.
Another aspect of Science Foundation Ireland’s Gender Strategy is to ensure that gender is integrated as a perspective in all the research Science Foundation Ireland funds, when this is relevant. While this approach was launched for some programmes during 2017, applicants will in future be required to provide a statement articulating the sex/gender variables in their research and will include guidance for applicants and a request for comment from the reviewers.
Finally, further rollout of gender redressing initiatives amongst SFI award holders will include those to address gender imbalance in senior academic roles. Specifically, in order to encourage more applications from excellent female researchers to the SFI Research Professorship Programme, SFI is mandating that for all institutions wishing to nominate candidates to the programme, one of the next two successful Expressions of Interest (i.e., approved by SFI) must be associated with a female candidate, which must then be followed up with the submission of a Full Proposal.
The above detail shows that SFI is proactive in bringing about a sea change on gender equality matters in the field of research and development and I am confident that the initiatives employed by SFI to date will continue to bring further successes in the future.