Conversations on the Gender Equality Plan

Horizon Europe is the European Union’s most ambitious funding programme for research and innovation, counting on more than €95 billion over 6 years. For the new 2021-2027 programming period, some novelties have been introduced when compared to its ancestor, Horizon 2020. The Commission seems to be focusing more and more on bringing solutions from research to the market.

According to Ursula Von der Leyen, indeed, ‘Europe uses its money well to create knowledge, but it still has to learn how to turn knowledge into money’. The latter is the strategic objective of Horizon Europe: among others, the European Innovation Council with its Pathfinder, Transition, and Accelerator programmes supports all phases of innovative projects, with grants and equities for beneficiaries. Once again, the Commission proves efficient in publishing calls for applications, managing and monitoring the funds it provides. With Horizon Europe, it even stresses the social impact of projects, requiring that beneficiaries measure and adjust them to specific standards, such as the need for gender balance.

The main novelty in Horizon Europe is its Gender Equality Plan (GEP)

European Commission for Innovation Mariya Gabriel has presented it as a fundamental priority: proposals to get funded within Horizon Europe will need to provide a clear strategy for gender inclusion. From 2022, all public entities applying for funding will be required to submit a GEP in order to be declared eligible, and the rule will be extended to all applicants as of 2023. Not only this will be fundamental to ensure eligibility to access the programme, but it also provides an opportunity to improve the work environment and to increase effectiveness in a company’s innovation output. This is not only about following the latest trend or complying with bureaucratic requirements: GEPs will also create internal innovation for applicants, with clear benefits for employee wellness, as well as for the productivity and public image of the entity.

What is this about? How to build and implement an effective GEP?
A GEP must contain a set of actions and policies aimed first at evaluating pre-existing imbalances, then at overcoming them, to finally monitor progress through clear objectives and indicators. The final objective should be the achievement of gender balance at all levels and in all activities of the organisation. Fundamental elements in the process include the commitment of the top management, the creation of ad hoc bodies to constantly monitor the situation, as well as the involvement of all employees in achieving the GEP’s objectives. The relevant data should be collected and handled transparently and in compliance with privacy policies: this will be fundamental for the involvement of the staff. Input can be drawn from previously-implemented GEPs, although strategies will have to be adapted to the entity’s specificities.

Linking funding to gender balance requirements is eventually expected to harmonise a situation that is currently very heterogeneous throughout Europe. On the one hand, in Sweden all employers – public or private – are required to lay out a yearly plan for equal opportunities (since 1991). By contrast, legislation on the matter is less advanced elsewhere in the Union.

In Italy, incentives for businesses adopting GEPs exist, as well as best practices in several fields. Electrolux Zanussi and Coop Toscana Lazio have led the way since the 1990s, but the adoption of GEPs is still to be mainstreamed in the country.

According to the Diversity Management Lab of SDA Bocconi, a very low percentage of employees is aware of measures for gender balance and diversity in the work environment (27% in 2014). This situation is expected to improve due to the EU’s impulse. GEPs seem to be effective tools for the growth of businesses and their staff members: as it was the case for business quality systems, what seemed like an inefficient constraint in the first place, soon proved to be a fundamental engine for the development and success of companies.

In the coming months, we will thus monitor developments around the GEP, learning about entities that have adopted them in Europe and throughout the world, in order to provide guidelines and interpretations of one of the most promising novelties of the new EU programming for innovation.

ing. Paola Bazzoni – Senior Project Manager & Developer
dott. Beniamino Brunati – European Policy Expert