SFI is committed to removing and mitigating any existing or perceived factors that may limit the participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, and to redressing the gender imbalance amongst SFI award holders, of which 26% are female (Source: SFI Census 2018). One of SFI’s Agenda 2020 KPI targets is to increase the proportion of female award holders to 30% by 2020. The aim in attaining this target is to facilitate the retention of excellent female researchers within academia, thereby increasing excellence in research and impact by continuing to fund meritorious researchers regardless of their gender, while widening the pool of potential applicants.
To this end, SFI is focussing on streamlining gender initiatives across all its programmes as outlined in the SFI Gender Strategy 2016-2020.
Analysis of gender success rates in the SFI review process
SFI has been collecting and analysing data on application submission and success rates by gender since 2011. These data have enabled it to monitor the effectiveness of its gender redressing initiatives, reveal if there are unintentional gender biases in review processes and examine gender balance across the portfolio of SFI research awards. In support of SFI’s commitment to the transparency of its review processes, we present analyses of gender disaggregated data across SFI Funding Programmes from 2011 with all application data available.
Overview of SFI’s initiatives to redress the gender imbalance
SFI has incorporated a gender initiative into the SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) Programme, which incentivises the Research Bodies to nominate excellent female candidates by permitting a maximum of 6 (out of a possible 12) male candidates to the funding call. Upon submission to SFI all applications are treated equally regardless of the gender of the applicant. This gender initiative resulted in an increase in the number of female awardees from 27% in 2013 to 54% in 2015.
Further initiatives amongst SFI programmes includes encouraging more applications from excellent female researchers to the SFI Research Professorship Programme. As part of this initiative SFI is mandating that for all institutions wishing to nominate candidates to the programme, one of the next two successful Expressions of Interest (i.e., approved by SFI) must be associated with a female candidate, which must then be followed up with the submission of a Full Proposal.
More recently, applicants to the SFI Centres for Research Training and the SFI Research Centres (2013) Phase 2 programmes are required to develop a Gender Action Plan that will be assessed as part of the review process and during progress reviews. Furthermore, all SFI Research Centres will be required to set targets against a gender key performance indicator, which will be assessed on a 6-monthly basis.
SFI continues to implement specific grant management policies to deal with the needs of female researchers during periods of maternity and adoptive leave and will continue to innovate in this regard. SFI recently performed a survey of its award holders that availed of the SFI Maternity / Adoptive Leave Allowance since its inception to review the impact of this support. The results were positive and over 80% of respondents used the supplement to hire a replacement and maintain continuity of their research programme. The feedback from this survey will inform enhancements to the policy in the coming months.
The policies being developed by SFI and associated outcomes will complement and support the Athena SWAN initiative, whereby the Irish Research Council, SFI and the Health Research Board will require research bodies to have attained a bronze institutional Athena SWAN award by the end of 2019 (IoTs/TUs may be required to have applied for a bronze award by this date) to be eligible for research-funding.
SFI is a seed partner for Ireland and the UK in an EU gender project called ACT, which aims to improve access, sharing, and improvement of gender equality knowledge by advancing Communities of Practice (CoP) as agents for implementing gender equality actions amongst Research Performing Organisations and Research Funding Organisations in the European Research Area. This includes integration of the gender dimension into research content and process. As a Research Funding Organisation in ACT, SFI will setup and coordinate a Community of Practice amongst Research Funding Organisations across Europe.
Consideration of Sex / Gender dimension in Research
Research generates new knowledge and develops technologies leading to new products and services. Each year, the Irish Government spends a significant amount of public funds on scientific research. It is crucial that this knowledge benefits all individuals in society, regardless of gender. Both in the European Research Area and Horizon 2020 it has been pointed out that gender perspectives are not a sufficiently integral part of research and innovation (R&I). This applies in Ireland as well. By increasing the relevance of basic and applied research endeavours to all genders, the integration of gender perspectives in the research programmes will improve both the scientific quality and impact of the outputs and outcomes of Science Foundation Ireland funded research.
Information for applicants
Applicants should fully consider the potential biological sex and socio-cultural gender dimensions as key analytical and explanatory variables in their research. For examples on how designing sex and gender analysis into research and innovation has contributed to world-class science and technology in fields ranging from biomedicine to environmental science, applicants are encouraged to refer to the Gendered Innovations website and to consult SFI’s guidance on preparation of a sex/gender in research statement in SFI Guidance for Applicants on Ethical and Scientific Issues.
SFI Maternity Policy
SFI is committed to removing and mitigating any existing or perceived factors that may limit the participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. In particular, SFI is committed to supporting the retention of women in science, to encourage women back into STEM careers following maternity or adoptive leave, and to position SFI schemes so that they do not unintentionally discourage the hiring of female researchers. The SFI Maternity/Adoptive Policy aims to help in addressing the gender imbalance among SFI award holders and SFI-funded team members, as highlighted in SFI census data.
The lack of support during critical times such as those surrounding childbirth or adoption is often reported as one of the factors underpinning the well-recognised dropout rate of women from STEM careers.
As of 15th November 2014, SFI invites its award holders to apply for a supplemental discretionary allowance to support their SFI funded award when either a Principal Investigator (PI) or a team member funded on an SFI award takes a period of maternity or adoptive leave. From October 2019, postgraduate students funded by SFI awards are eligible to apply for SFI Maternity/Adoptive Allowance.