Skip to main content
EURAXESS Researchers in motion
NEWS9 Apr 2019News

Gender equality policies and gender distribution in MSCA and ERC

Gender Equality
Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020 and shall be implemented across all areas of Horizon 2020, including the MSCA and ERC. Key objectives include:
- Gender balance in decision-making: The aim is to reach the Commission’s target of 40 % of the under-represented sex in each group and panel. For Horizon 2020 Advisory Groups, the target was raised to 50 %.
- Gender balance in research teams at all levels: Applicants for funding are encouraged to promote equal opportunities and to ensure a balanced participation of women and men at all levels. Gender balance in teams will also be taken into account when ranking proposals with the same evaluation scores.
- Gender dimension in research and innovation content: Gender is explicitly integrated into several topics across the Horizon 2020 Work Programme, but all H2020 applications should take the gender dimension into account.
More information: European Commission
Check also our first article: Status update of gender equality in research careers in Europe: She Figures 2018

Gender equality policies and gender distribution in Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions

Since their creation, the MSCA have placed a strong emphasis on promoting gender and equal opportunities for their fellows, and within their projects. Indeed, the MSCA require transparent recruitment and high quality employment and working conditions for researchers, in line with the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. In addition, MSCA grants permit part-time working and parental leave. Post-doctoral researchers who wish to resume their career after a break, for example to raise children, can apply to a dedicated panel of the MSCA Individual Fellowships.

In practice, MSCA features four actions: RISE, which funds exchanges between several research institutions by allowing mobility of students, staff, researchers and professors alike; COFUND, which supports doctoral programmes for PhD candidates, as well as fellowship programmes for experienced researchers; ITN, which funds Doctoral programmes; and IF, which funds individual projects of experienced researchers.

Figure 5. Distribution of men and women accross all Actions within MSCA, 2014-2018

Over the five years of the running Horizon 2020 calls (2014-2018), MSCA supported a total of approximately 25,000 researchers, out of which 40 % were women. A breakdown of the ration of men and women per Action is displayed in Figure 5. Although no significant difference can be found in the gender distribution of the COFUND, ITN and IF Actions (respectively with a gender gap of 8.7, 7.5 and 7.2 percentage points), it is shown that the RISE Action displays a larger gender gap with 13.2 percentage points. This can be attributed to the fact that RISE projects involve senior as well as early stage and experienced researchers, whereas other actions only involve early stage- and experienced researchers (depfined as pre- and post-doctoral researchers). All of these values are notably higher than the gender gap in EU-28 as shown in Figure 1, since we would only expect between 2014 and 2018 a 3 point gap at the doctoral stage (ITN), 4.5 points at post-doctoral stage (COFUND and IF), and an aggregate of 9.5 points for a mix of senior, mid-career, post-doctoral and doctoral stages (RISE). The gender gap across all MSCA Actions therefore appear to be roughly four to five points above that expected from statistics at the EU level, perhaps pointing to further efforts to be made.

The only programme allowing individual rsearchers to directly apply for funding (i.e. not via their institution) is MSCA-IF. For this programme we can extract success rates of men and women and analyse their differences, as shown in Figure 6. Although the total number of female applicants over the 2014-2018 period is much lower than the number of male applicants (roughly 17,550 versus 25,750), we can see that their average success rate is higher, resulting in female researchers being better represented after evaluation stage than at proposal submission stage (2,770 versus 3,620).

Figure 6 shows that on average, women are 1.7 percentage points more successful than men at securing MSCA-IF funding. There are strong discrepancies between panels. The career restart panel features the most female-favouring score, with a 4.5 percentage points advantage to women over men, followed by Social Sciences and Physics with 3.2 points; while results in the Economics panel seem skewered towards men, with 3.5 points disadvantage.

Figure 6. Sex differences in the success rate to MSCA-IF calls, per panel, 2014-2018. Panels from left to right: Economic Sciences (ECO), Life Sciences (LIF), Mathematics (MAT), Reintegration (RI), Information Science and Engineering (ENG), Chemistry (CHE), Environmental and Geosciences (ENV), Physics (PHY), Social Sciences and Humanities (SOC), Career Restart (CAR).


Gender equality policies and gender distribution in European Research Council grants

The ERC has seven Working Groups dedicated to the advancement of specific topics, such as open accessor international participation. One of them is focused on gender balance. Since women and men are equally able to perform excellent frontier research, each process within the ERC - from creating awareness about the ERC to signing of grant agreements – is designed to give equal opportunities to men and women. The purpose of the gender balance working group, launched in 2008, is to monitor these aspects at all stages.

The Working Group on Gender Balance drafted the ERC Gender Equality Plan 2007-2013 and the ERC Gender Equality Plan 2014-2020, endorsed by the ERC Scientific Council, which main objectives are:

  • raising awarenessabout the ERC gender policy among potential applicants;
  • working towards improving gender balance among ERC candidates and within ERC-funded research teams;
  • identifyingand removing any potential gender bias in the ERC evaluation procedures;
  • embedding gender awareness within all levels of the ERC processes - while keeping focus on excellence;
  • striving for gender balance among the ERC peer reviewers and other relevant ERC bodies.

Figure 7. Men and Women success rates to the ERC’s Stg, Cog and AdG calls, 2007-2017

To achieve these objectives, the working group has been monitoring the evolution of gender balance of ERC funded projects since its inception, the latest available statistics dating from April 2018.

The ERC proposes three main grant categories: the Starting Grants (StG, 2-7 years post PhD obtention), the Consolidator Grants (CoG, 7-14 years –since 2013 only--), and the Advanced Grants (AdG, 10+ year and excellent track record); and features three main evaluation panels: Life Sciences (LS), Physical Sciences and Engineering (PE), and Social Sciences and Humanities (SH). The breakdown of men’s and women’s success rate per type of call and year is displayed in Figure 7. The tendency shown is positive, as while success rates of women were significantly inferior to those of men prior to Horizon 2020 (i.e. until 2013), statistics show that equilibrium is almost reached on average for all the calls within Horizon 2020 (2014-2017). Until 2013 the total success rate was 11 % for men and only 8 % for women (Stg: 10 %- 8%; CoG: 9 %-7 %; AdG: 14 %-12 %), but for the whole period 2014-2017 success rates are equal with 13 % for both men and women (Stg: 13 %-12 %; CoG: 14 %-15 %; AdG: 11 %-11 %).

Figure 8. Sex difference in success rates for ERC calls, per panel, 2014-1017

However, this tendency does not equally apply to all domains of science. Figure 8 shows the differential success rate by panel and call for the Horizon 2020 calls. The Life Sciences panel consistently features lower success rates for women, with a particularly strong imbalance for the StG call (early career researchers) at -4.5 percentage points. On the other hand, the Physical Sciences and Engineering panel shows success rates slightly in favour of women at all career stages; while the Social Sciences and Humanities panel features more balanced statistics.

When it comes to the total number applicants (i.e. irrespective of their success or failure in securing the grant), a positive tendency is also observed as shown in Figure 9. The total share of female applicants steadily grows since 2014, reaching 30 % in 2017 and as high as 37 % for StG only in the same year. The lowest shares of women participation are reached in the AdG (senior level), in agreement with the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect and the statistics at EU level displayed in Figure 1 and 2 (24 % of women at senior level overall, only 15 % in STEM fields in 2016).

Figure 9. Share of female applicants to ERC call, per grant type, 2014-2017


Check also our first article: Status update of gender equality in research careers in Europe: She Figures 2018