Gender mainstreaming in research

Gender equality refers to the equal rights, liabilities, opportunities and responsibilities of men and women across all sectors of society (including labour market and education) according to the Estonian Gender Equality Act.1 There is no single concept of gender equality internationally: various countries as well as the central policy documents of the European Union give different explanations to this term and though most of the definitions try to stay gender-neutral, the overall tendency is focusing on women’s rights (equality in decision making and rights, gender balance on labour market, work-life balance).

Equality between men and women is a fundamental value of the European Union clearly stated in the Treaty of European Union.2 The European Union considers equality of citizens as human value as well as sees in gender equality a driver for economic growth.3 The latter has been emphasised also by the OECD bringing out that aging societies need to use more effectively all talents, regardless of gender.4

Gender mainstreaming – strategy towards realizing gender equality and integration of gender perspective into design and implementation of policies. It means that the needs, interests and experiences of both genders are considered and impact on gender-equality is pre-evaluated for planned policies ensuring that neither gender is put in a disadvantage.

Gender mainstreaming in research is important since diverse research groups are more successful and better able to consider the needs of both genders resulting in creating better solutions for society (for example in product and service innovations, policy creation, etc.). Moreover, women’s research potential is an essential resource that has been largely underused. In the EU-28 the share of women among PhD graduates was 47,9% in 2016. Nevertheless, those highly skilled female professionals could not find positions in academic world equally with men. In higher education sector the share of women among Grade A positions (professors) was only 24% in the EU-28 (same for Estonia) in 2016.5 The share of women among heads of institutions in 2017 was 22% (30% in Estonia)6. For better exploitation of women’s potential in research, Horizon 2020 set three objectives to underpin gender equality: fostering gender balance in research teams, reaching the target of 40% of under-represented sex in panels and groups and of 50% in advisory groups and integrating the gender dimension in research and innovation.7

European Research Area (ERA) highlighted gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research as its fourth priority (out of six) suggesting that various national equality legislations have to be translated into effective action to address gender imbalances in research institutions and decision making bodies and improving the integration of gender dimension into research policies, programmes and projects. Within ERA, three main indicators have been selected to regularly monitore this priority: share of women in Grade A research positions (professors) and heads of institutions in the higher education sector and gender dimension in research content (based on bibliometric analysis).8

Estonian Research Council has participated and represented Estonia in various working groups at the European Union level helping to monitor the situation of women researchers and to prepare gender policy proposals for the governments at member states: Science Europe gender and diversity working group, COST TN1201 Gender STE and Helsinki Group on Gender in Research and Innovation. Estonian Research Council has also organized events on gender mainstreaming (materials are available here). In January 2019, Estonian Research Council joined the gender mainstreaming project GEARING-Roles. The project will last for four years.

In the frame of the GEARING-Roles project, the organisation’s first Gender Equality Plan was created in 2020. The plan was created for 2020-2027 and it includes five main goals:

1. Raising gender awareness among the employees and among the members of the panels and committees of the Council
2. Adhering to the principles of equal treatment
3. Improving gender balance among the members of the panels, committees, and among the reviewers
4. Improving gender balance among the applicants and recipients of research grants, awards, and funding
5. Implementing a gender-sensitive communication strategy

The plan will be implemented by all departments of the organisation. The plan is based on interviews with the Directors of the Council and the Heads of Departments, a data analysis of the activities of the Council, and on the written recommendations as well as discussions between the employees. The Plan has been approved by the management of the Estonian Research Council on 15 September 2020 and it will be revised at least once a year.

See also: statistics on gender balance in research.



1 Gender Equality Act. § 3. Riigi Teataja.
2 Consolidated version of the treaty on European Union. Official Journal of the European Union.
3 Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. European Commission.
4 Closing the gender gap: act now. OECD.
5,6 She Figures 2018. European Commission.
7 Promoting Gender Equality in Research and Innovation. Horizon 2020.
8 ERA Progress Report 2016. European Commission.

Additional information:

Gender Studies Research Group (Tallinn University)
Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre (ENUT)
Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner
Gender Statistics (Eurostat)
ERA portal Austria
OECD Gender Data Portal
European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) & Estonia
Gender Equality in Academia and Research – GEAR tool
Practical guide Improving Gender Equality in Research Organisations
Practical guide How to put Gender Equality into practice
Annual reports on Equality between Women and Men by EU (2006-2015): reports
Report She Figures 2015 ja She Figures 2018
Report Gendered Innovations (2013)


Loone Vilumaa
R&D analyst
Tel +372 730 0377