On February 15th 2018, the Regional Foundation for Biomedical Research (FRRB) hosted the first workshop of the project Target with the Lombardy Community of Practice. The presentation was held in the presence of seventeen persons, representatives from FRRB, IRRCS BESTA Foundation, University of Milan, IRCCS San Raffaele, IRCCS European Institute of Oncology (IEO), Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini, Target Project, European Institute of Oncology IRCCS, the Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation Research Center. Main aims of the first workshop were to establish the Target community of practice and to build the main features of the audit tool, which will be used by FRRB to conduct the gender gap analysis.
Marina Gerini, director general at FRRB, opened the workshop stressing the importance of fighting all forms of discrimination in the workplace and particularly in science, where discrimination jeopardises research quality and outcomes. In addition, she remarked the commitment of FRRB as Funding agency and as institutional player within the Lombardy ecosystem. She thanked the workshop participants for their attendance, highlighting the importance of this dialogue to build and apply effective gender mitigation measures. Gianni D’Errico, project coordinator and EU Funding Officer at FRRB, opened the working session, explaining how the impacts of gender issues in science are still underestimated within many of the international networks of funding agencies, and encompassed the organisational path that brought FRRB in joining the Target consortium.
Barbara De Micheli, manager at Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini, introduced the main features of the project, providing the appropriate framework to the discussion of the day. She also overviewed all the national and international works already conducted on the topic, which could be used as reference (GENPORT, Gendered Innovation, LIBRA, etc.). Paola Larghi, scientific officer at FRRB, went through the organisational structure of FRRB, explaining which kind of action can be undertaken by FRRB as gender gap mitigation measure: organisational level measures, call for proposal text and eligibility requirements, call for proposal evaluation process, policy papers addressed to institutional and scientific community.
Main outcomes of the plenary discussion
Age issues. One of the first aspects raised was that together with gender we should avoid also age issues. Sometimes, one of the main eligibility criteria for research projects is age, and if not appropriately formulated it may generate discrimination. For example, the Italian Ministry of Health launched a research call for proposals where the age limit was not adjusted, i.e. for parental leave period nor was disease adjusted.
Scientific excellence. Another issue is how the concept of scientific excellence is actually intended and applied. The international literature on women and scientific productivity is not consistent, studies show that men are less likely to publish with women while women have stronger administrative and teaching commitments.
Gender quota. It was suggested that gender quota may be included in the call for proposals as eligibility requirement, they are temporary and usually enable the expected results.
Type of contract. It is important to notice that the type of contract may be a discriminant, as some contracts do not include the maternity leave nor other leaves due to family management, which are often charged on women.
Raising the awareness of the evaluators. Evaluators must be trained on gender issues in order for them to be aware that gender gaps might arise during the evaluation process. For the moment, evaluators will be trained through an informative brochure on the review process, in the future they will be trained through videos and possibly by experts during a plenary session.
Next steps and closure
Gianni D’Errico explained what comes next in the frame of Target and how the community of practice will be a supporting board for designing and implementing effective gender equality plans as well as driving wider institutional changes. The next institutional workshop was scheduled for June 6th.