National environments for most EU countries have comprehensive legislation relating to equality of opportunity for women and minority groups with regard to welfare, social, and recruitment policies. Most RPOs in most countries have established the policies their local regulatory framework requires. However, the experience of the members of PLOTINA is that policies do not necessarily affect research cultures or the decision of young researchers to pursue (or not) an academic career. A key issue that urgently needs to be addressed is the difficulty ‘on the ground’ of putting into effect existing policies.
A formal regulatory framework that is not always applied in practice.
Under-representation of female researchers in specific areas.
There is strong horizontal gender inequality in most areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) with women being under-represented particularly in some subject areas (e.g. engineering, computer science) as both students and professionals (Meulders et al, 2010). Across Europe there is also significant vertical gender inequality in all academic disciplines and especially in high-level university management (She figures, 2015). Despite efforts, particularly over the last decade at European level, the gender inequality is still very apparent.
Cultural and Structural barriers
Cultural barriers, such as gender bias, lack of women’s empowerment, ‘homo-sociality’, all-boys team-networking, still persist within academic environments.
In terms of structural barriers, the processes of recruitment and retention of researchers are still affected by organizational aspects and the work life balance policies still need to be implemented. A summary metric of statistics on vertical segregation in academic careers is given by the Glass Ceiling Index which was 1.8 in 2010 (UE, 2013), making slight progress since 2004 when it was 1.9.
Gender equality in the European Research Area
In order to gather an overview of gender equality in the European Research Area (ERA), the European Commission issued a recent report based on a survey submitted to 31 members of the Helsinki Group on Gender in Research and Innovation (EU, 2014). This report reveals that “general provisions for equal treatment and non-discrimination on the labour market are in place in all 28 EU Member states, associated countries and the Western Balkan countries” (EU, 2014, p. 17). Nevertheless, the report identifies two different groups of European countries, with reference to their level of commitment towards gender equality. The first group has promoted proactive academic systems, while the second one (including 19 countries in 2009) has relatively inactive academic systems. The ‘relatively inactive countries’ were ascribed that status for several reasons mostly related to the very low representation of women in public research and academic systems. They also seemed less reactive to policy impulses relating to gender equality. Among such countries are: Italy, Portugal, Turkey. By contrast, countries that have been found to be ‘proactive’ include UK and Spain (EU, 2014, p. 17).