Is the assessment of applications gender-equal?

The Swedish Research Council has conducted gender equality observations at the meetings where research grant applications are assessed. We use the observations to follow up our own work and safeguard a gender-equal review process.

During 2023, the Swedish Research Council carried out gender equality observations in 14 review panels to see how the assessment of applications works from a gender equality perspective. The result is presented in the report “A gender-equal process: A qualitative investigation of the assessment of research grant applications 2023”.

“The gender equality observations capture factors that are otherwise difficult to see, and are an important tool for improving our process,” says Anna Vallstedt Haeger, Head of of the Review Process Unit at the Swedish Research Council.

She highlights how previous observations have led to panel members using a lesser amount of informal information in the discussions at the review panel meetings where the applications are dealt with. For example, information or opinions about an applicant that is not included in the actual application.

The Swedish Research Council has also emphasised more clearly that the review should focus more on the contents of the application, not on the researcher making the application. Together with other measures based on the recommendations arising from the observation studies, this has led to a more legally certain process and greater equality of treatment, she considers.

The focus is sometimes on the researcher’s merits

In the review panels observed in 2023, the discussion and collaboration were characterised by great engagement and interest, also in relation to gender equality issues.

“When the assessment led to gender inequality, the observation material shows that this was probably due to the panel placing too strong a focus on the applicant’s accumulated merits. Such a focus benefits senior researchers, a group that includes more men than women,” says Lisbeth Söderqvist, Senior Analyst at the Swedish Research Council, and project leader for the gender equality observations.

It is primarily in the assessment of applications within the field of medicine and health that the applicant’s merits often become the focus. This has been shown in several of the Swedish Research Council’s gender equality observations. Similar tendencies also exist within the field of educational sciences, according to the Swedish Research Council’s report Könsbias i forskningsfinansieringens bedömningsprocesser, from 2023.

“One conclusion is that it may be relevant for more research funding bodies to analyse what a strong focus on the applicants’ merits may entail,” says Lisbeth Söderqvist.

This is the eighth time the Swedish Research Council has carried out this type of observations

It is the eight time the Swedish Research Council has carried out this type of observations. The first time was 2011.

“We have seen that the gender equality observations are recognised by other research funding bodies, both nationally and internationally, which is positive. This means that our work can contribute to greater gender equality in the assessment of applications elsewhere too,” says Lisbeth Söderqvist.

The new report provides concrete recommendations to the Swedish Research Council’s scientific councils and committees and the Department of Research Funding, which are all jointly responsible for the assessment process.

A gender-equal process: A qualitative investigation of the assessment of research grant applications 2023

Gender equality perspective in the assessment

The Swedish Research Council observes the principle of maintaining gender equality on the review panels that assess the applications for research funding, with a minimum of 40 per cent of each gender. All applications shall be assessed objectively and therefore on a gender-neutral basis. We inform all the members of the review panels, scientific councils, councils and committees about our gender equality objectives, and how we are working to achieve them.

Read more about how we work with gender equality issues



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