Gender equality is one of the core values of the DEFEND project. Equality between women and men is recognised by the EU as a fundamental right and described in the European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 which sets out the Commission’s broader commitment to equality across all EU policies. The field of research and innovation suffers from significant, long-term and entrenched gender inequalities. There continues to be substantial under-representation of women in senior academic and decision-making positions across the EU, for example in 2019 the proportion of women as heads of institutions in the higher education sector in the EU was only 23.6%. Women are also under-represented in academic authorship, are less successful than men in accessing research funding, and significantly under-represented among inventors at the European level. Between 2015 and 2018 women held just one inventorship for every 10 inventorships held by men. As a research and innovation action, DEFEND needed to be aware of the inequalities in the sector and implement strategies to tackle them.
The DEFEND project emphasised gender equality as a core value and cross-cutting priority right from the start. We aligned ourselves with the EU’s gender mainstreaming approach, which meant we integrated a gender perspective into all parts of the programme of work. Gender equality was evident in the planning stage of the project as we made sure there was equal representation of women in senior roles. Five out of the eleven of the scientific work packages (45%) are led by women and the consortium lead is a woman. These senior female scientists are highly visible role models of female leadership. Other actions during project planning included designing a “childcare fund” to enable DEFEND participants with caring duties to attend the annual consortium meeting each year, consideration of gender balance in all of the DEFEND advisory panels (Multi-Actor Panel, Ethics Advisory Board, Enabling Impact Team), and the mandating of gender neutral language in all DEFEND documents.
During the project we have promoted gender equality within the DEFEND communication channels including our website, newsletter, and social media pages. Gender equality has been a standing item for update and discussion at every annual consortium meeting, and the DEFEND consortium lead participated in conferences on women in leadership, academia and research to bring back examples of best practice. Gender was considered during the selection of recipients for our annual intra-project knowledge transfer awards, and for the opportunity to do a podcast on DEFEND activities. We designed a “Women in Science” section on our website, we wrote a practice abstract on promoting gender equality in a research and innovation action, and we celebrated the Day of the Girl with a “how it started…” feature on our Twitter feed.
These activities were coordinated around our DEFEND Gender Action Plan. This was a simple document which allowed us to plan, resource, and evaluate our gender equality activities. It also gave us a useful tool to help us evidence our efforts and outcomes. The DEFEND Gender Action Plan was reviewed on a regular basis and discussed with all partners at the annual consortium meeting. We would recommend other Research and Innovation Actions consider designing and implementing a Gender Action Plan to provide a focus for their gender equality activities.
 Gender equality strategy (europa.eu)
 European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, She Figures 2021 – Gender in research and innovation: Statistics and indicators (2021), https://op.europa.eu/s/vWGB.
 Women in Science – DEFEND – African Swine Fever & Lumpy Skin Disease Consortium (defend2020.eu)
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