Fix the knowledge with regard to gender in scientific research

Special Research Programmes (SFBs) and Doctoral Programmes (DKs) are the flagship programmes in the FWF's portfolio, providing funding for extensive, long-term research and education projects in Austria. These programmes produce outstanding results which are highly visible at the international level 1, and at the same time their requirements for research institutions have the potential to bring about structural effects at the host institutions and universities.

These research and education centres thus provide an excellent framework for internationally visible researchers in Austria at all stages of their careers. Given the exemplary status of these programmes with regard to research productivity, the FWF has established a funding model where the application guidelines also account for gender aspects in the composition of the project team and in the research itself. In this way, the FWF has aligned its policies with the international discourse, and these funding programmes address both dimensions of gender equality in research: equal opportunities and the integration of gender aspects into research. The key importance of integrating these aspects into scholarly research is explained briefly below.

For more than 50 years, the EU has pursued the policy objective of equal rights for women and men (cf. Treaty of Rome, 1957). In the field of research work, therefore, legal bases such as the Austrian Federal Act on Equal Treatment (Bundesgleichbehandlungsgesetz) and official plans for the advancement of women are designed to advance equal rights and opportunities2. Nevertheless, numerous studies have clearly shown that women are still underrepresented in leadership positions as well as planning, decision-making and review committees in the world of research3. This problem is perpetuated by factors such as traditional roles and values, organisational cultures which are not conducive to gender equality, and the uneven distribution of family and career work between women and men4 - 8.

This means that gender differences and inequality in the research system still need to be addressed, and that it is necessary to provide women with equal career opportunities. Mixed-gender teams have been proven to work more efficiently, and working cultures which allow women and men to pursue fulfilling careers in research make it possible to take full advantage of the pool of available talent. Since 2010, therefore, the FWF has prescribed a target quota of 30% female principal investigators / faculty members, and applicants are required to provide reasons in cases where this target level is not reached. The initial results indicate that this measure supports the active recruitment of women for these programmes at Austrian universities and research institutions.

The first step towards integrating gender aspects into research approaches is to familiarize oneself with the relevant concepts and their significance.

The term "sex" is generally associated with biological differences, while "gender" is a far more complex concept. In medicine and biology, the precise meaning of the German term "Geschlecht" (sex/gender) has changed often throughout history and is always contingent on societal norms. Nowadays, gender is understood as a multi-dimensional concept. As a result, biological sex does not form the basis of gender, but is merely one part of it. The term "gender" eliminates the focus on biological sex and instead indicates that gender is not a "natural" reality. Gender refers to the interplay of biological factors such as a person's set of chromosomes, historical and social factors such as the division of labour between the sexes, cultural factors such as clothing, hairstyles or the way people are addressed, and legal or policy-related factors such as naming children, all of which represent an attempt to force clear attributions to a specific sex. Therefore, gender also emphasises that "men" and "women" are not uniform groups9 - 11.

The term "gender equality" describes a situation in which all members of a society are free to develop their own personal abilities and to make decisions without being restricted by specific roles, and in which the different behaviour patterns, goals and needs of women are accounted for, recognised and promoted in the same way as those of men12.

Equal opportunities for women and men refer to a situation in which there are no gender-specific barriers which stand in the way of equal participation in economic, political and social life13.

Gender-sensitive research accounts for gender aspects throughout the entire research process. The connections and mutual effects of gender with central analytical questions and categories are continuously observed, reflected upon and incorporated into the research process, as are potential discrimination structures.

In contrast, gender-specific research places gender or gender relationships and their characteristics at the centre of attention in research.

Gender-blind research refers to research which does not account for gender. In such cases, gender aspects are disregarded on the basis of the (often inaccurate) assumption that they are irrelevant to the research questions and analyses and/or the research does not have an effect on people14.

This may lead to gender bias, which refers to gender-related distortions arising from a failure to account for gender differences appropriately. In addition to affecting the research process, these distortions may also affect the validity of research findings15.

In the context of research design, therefore, gender-sensitive research examines how gender is integrated into scholarly/scientific knowledge and whether gender is systematically taken into account in the development of knowledge. This gives rise to higher-quality research results which systematically account for specific differences and needs. At the same time, gender-sensitive research also supports the development and more precise definition of scholarly questions and, thanks to its differentiated approach, serves a larger group of people in the development of their own scholarly agendas.

The following excerpt from a lecture given by Professor Susanne Baer aptly illustrates the importance of integrating gender aspects into research approaches. At the "Gender in Research" conference in Berlin (2007), Professor Baer noted that research without reflection on gender aspects is deficient16. In supporting her argument, she provided the following three examples:
" Die Medizin, das haben wir gehört, riskiert ernsthafte Behandlungsfehler, solange sie paradigmatisch am männlichen, mittelalten usf. Patienten orientiert arbeitet. Die Kindermedikation ist in der Öffentlichkeit mittlerweile Thema. Die Mädchenmedikation ist dann die Verdoppelung desselben Problems; ein Bias, weil über Gender nicht nachgedacht wird.
In den Ingenieurwissenschaften ist - nicht zuletzt dank des Fraunhofer Institutes und bmbf-Projektes "Discover Gender" - mittlerweile relativ bekannt, dass u.a. Märkte verfehlt werden, wenn systematisch ausgeblendet wird, dass für Frauen und Männer - eben nicht zwei Gruppen, die man mal kurz mit einbaut - sehr unterschiedliche, statistisch auch nicht ganz einfach zu erfassende Lebenssituationen reflektiert werden müssen. Menschen nutzen und benötigen Technik unterschiedlich.
In den Geisteswissenschaften - im Jahr 2007 zwingend Thema - gibt es wie in den Sozialwissenschaften riesige Problemfelder wie die Entwicklung des Wohlfahrtstaates, das Problem der neuen Kriege, Fragen der Gerechtigkeit usw. usf., die nur partiell behandelt werden, solange die Dimension Geschlecht außen vor bleibt. Und ganz deutlich: es geht hier nicht um das weibliche Denken, es geht um Forschung im Hinblick auf die Dimension Geschlecht. Und das beruhigt mich", schließt sie ab, "auch immer ungemein. So differenziert denken, können Frauen und Männer, wirklich ganz toll!"

Baer's comments make it clear how important it is to reflect on gender aspects in order to ensure high-quality findings in research. At the same time, they show that there is still a lack of gender-specific research, that is, a research approach which addresses gender in as many questions, methods, analyses and findings as possible. Although there are differences between specific research disciplines (e.g. technical/natural sciences vs. social sciences) with regard to the representation of women as well as the extent of gender-sensitive research, this fundamental finding applies to all subject areas. The next section illustrates how gender aspects can be integrated into the research cycle from the initial idea to the publication of findings. In this context, the process can be subdivided into four phases (discussed briefly below) in order to clarify the various gender aspects which may be relevant.

How to make research gender sensitive (pdf, 325KB)
Checklist for Gender in Research (pdf, 99KB)

1Evaluation ResearchNetworks

2Excerpts from the yellowwindow tookit

3 She Figures 2009

4Wie kommt gender in die Forschung


6 Stocktaking 10 years of "Women in Science" policy of the European Commission 1999-2009

7SNSF – Swiss National Science Fund / Gender and research funding

8Beyond Bias and Barriers – Fulfilling the potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering

9Genderkompetenz 2003 - 2010

10Was ist Genderkompetenz

11Lust auf Gender

12 Angela Wroblewski et al. (2007), Wirkungsanalyse frauenfördernder Maßnahmen im bm:bwk, Materialien zur Förderung von Frauen in der Wissenschaft, Band 21



15 Koordinationsstelle für Gleichstellung

16 "Qualitätsoffensive für die deutsche Wissenschaft" Vortrag Prof. Susanne Baer, in Gender in der Forschung - Innovation durch Chancengleichheit (Konferenzdokumentation); gesis  IZ, cews.publik.no11, 2007

17 Gendered Innovations: Concepts, Priorities

18 Gendered Innovations: Questions

Note: Not all citations are available in English. In such cases, the German Version of the text is provided.