Objectives and Principles

The equality plan of the FWF, which was developed in line with EU requirements (Horizon Europe), aims at considering diversity and gender aspects in research funding and dismantling barriers to equal opportunities and participation in order to facilitate the balanced participation of all genders. The application rate of researchers who identify as non-binary should be increased according to their potential. The strong support of the FWF executive board formulated in the equality plan points the way in this regard and is accompanied by a gender-sensitive communication concept.

The Staff Unit for Equal Opportunities in Research Funding takes steps to achieve the following objectives:

  • ensure the quality of the collected data and identify links in the existing data (data monitoring),
  • achieve balanced participation of scientists and representatives of the research community within the scope of the processes of the FWF (application and funding decisions),
  • increase the visibility and career opportunities of women and the underrepresented gender in the national science system (communication).

Implementation takes place in accordance with the following principles:

  • “Fix the Numbers” – increase the participation of women and underrepresented groups in science,
  • “Fix the Institutions” – improve the general conditions in the institutions by dismantling barriers and modifying structures,
  • “Fix the Knowledge” – improve knowledge by integrating sex and gender analyses into science and technology (“Gendered Innovations”).

Fix the Numbers

More men than women (66.6% men and 33.1% women) continue to apply for research projects at the FWF. Applications from people who do not identify as either female or male currently account for less than 1%. The imbalance between men and women in the disciplines of the natural sciences and technology is particularly evident (male applicants 79.5%). Among academic project staff (postdoc and PhD), the share of women has risen constantly by around 40% since 2015. In the last year, this share reached a pleasing 44.9% in FWF-funded projects (all staff).

This difference between applicants and project staff can be interpreted as a sign of the leaky pipeline phenomenon, whereby the share of women in science falls, the higher the academic position. While women and men are evenly represented at the beginning of many fields of study, the share of men increases disproportionately in the higher career levels, while the share of women falls sharply.

The qualitative and quantitative expansion of the research potential according to the principle of “training through research” can be seen in the way the FWF promotes young talents. Increasing the national potential of young researchers and thus also FWF applicants is an important goal of national research policy. The fact that women are underrepresented in the Austrian science system and among the applications to the FWF justified the special funding of young female talent through the career development programs for women (Hertha Firnberg und Elise Richter, Elise Richter PEEK). In 2020, the career development program ESPRIT replaced the junior program Hertha Firnberg und Lise Meitner and is now open to young researchers of all disciplines (up to five years after completing their doctorate; any career breaks can be considered under certain conditions). With the development of researcher careers in mind, the FWF has undertaken to reserve at least 50% of the funds for women who are leading projects in the ESPRIT program and for in-depth analysis of the FWF procedure and any possible biases. The results of 2021 and 2022 confirm the award of half of the projects to women (approval rates: 29% women and 23.7% men).

The FWF START prizes are aimed at internationally visible senior postdocs of all disciplines. In the last ten years, the share of women among applications was approx. 25%, with an approval rate of approx. 12.1% (7.6% men). The established senior postdoc programs Elise Richter and Elise Richter PEEK serve to develop the careers of highly qualified researchers of all disciplines who strive specifically for a long-term university career (approval rate of approx. 27% Richter, 28% Richter PEEK).

Fix the Institutions

In recent years, the FWF strengthened gender awareness within its own organization. This includes measures for raising awareness, the establishment of equality standards, and the creation of an equality plan. This defines equality as an overarching task and is implemented in all areas of the FWF. In this sense, the FWF considers equality and diversity for example when setting up FWF committees, and endeavors to achieve a balanced participation of representatives from the research community in the decision-making processes and in the FWF programs (application and project management).

The composition of the committees of the FWF is also closely related to the Austrian Research and Technology Funding Act (FTFG – Art. 4), which specifies that these bodies have a balanced age structure and a composition that exhibits gender parity. The FWF already achieved an almost balanced ratio of the genders in its decision-making committees at the beginning of 2016. The share of women on the executive board is 60%, on the supervisory board 70%. The assembly of delegates has a share of women of 44.1% and the share of women on the advisory board is 42.2%. The share of women in the FWF committees thus exceeds the share of FWF applicants (2022: 33.1%).

Fix the Knowledge

In Western societies, science aims to generate objective knowledge, but this field is not neutral in terms of sex, gender, and ethnicity-related values. Over the last few centuries, the underlying scientific culture has developed largely without the equal participation of all genders. Research has shown how embedded gender injustice has (negatively) affected medicine and technology, and how gender bias has had an adverse effect on creativity and excellence in science.

In 2011, the science historian Londa Schiebinger and the gender expert Martina Schraudner described the process of “gendered innovations” as one that integrates sex and gender analyses into all phases of research, thus ensuring excellence and quality in the results.

Following this approach, the FWF promotes research that, alongside the adequate participation of the underrepresented gender in the research team, purposefully includes – where relevant – sex-specific and gender-relevant questions in the research strategy. Therefore, since January 1, 2019, all applicants have been required to reflect on the processing of sex-specific and gender-relevant questions in their research applications. Reviewers are also required to assess this reflection and let it flow into their evaluation of the application. The basic understanding of the topic is conveyed by further information such as, for example, this video from an area of the “Horizon 2020” application. This sequence explains, among other things, the difference between the participation of female researchers in the research team and the integration of the sex and gender aspect into the research strategy.

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