On 7 June this year during TNC23 in Tirana, Albania, a workshop was held regarding potential Gender Equality Principles that could be of use to our wider community. What led to this workshop coming to fruition, and what came out of it, is a subject that requires greater exposure.
The topic of Gender Equality is becoming both increasingly important and urgent. And, in a way not dissimilar to other challenges that face our community, it is the subject of both top-down and bottom-up influences.
Starting with the bottom-up, gender imbalances within both GÉANT and NRENs is a well-known problem that is rooted in systemic, structural, and cultural issues. Especially in our technical sphere, there is a growing realisation of the need to encourage and support non-male starters and professionals in a wide range of roles – be that in development, engineering, technical, procurement, managerial – you name it. Not only does this help the broadest range of individuals flourish in what is a unique community, but it also makes our organisations stronger and healthier.
The European Commission recognises this need also in the research realm, and as a result has brought in the requirement for Horizon Europe grant beneficiaries which are public bodies, higher education establishments, and research organisations (GÉANT and most NRENs qualify in these classifications) to have formal Gender Equality Plans. From the plans, actions are put in place that are designed to improve gender balances. So, here the top-down approach is also starting to make a difference. Within one year we have now established a Gender Equality Committee at GÉANT that oversees the implementation of this plan and looks to bring about tangible results. Some smaller differences have already been made, such as introducing a blind marking process for TNC submissions, or in starting to collect gender data as a baseline for events run by GÉANT in our community in order to help set future targets. The Gender Equality Principles socialised at TNC23 were also a part of this.
But what are these principles? You can see them below. They’re not official, they’re not finalised, and they’re available only for reflection and discussion. This is because, when thinking about how to best help our community on this important topic, principles are normally an effective vehicle to bring about correct decision-making that is rooted in core values and ethics. Many NRENs globally are at the very beginning of this process, and so to have too rigid a process or blueprint with formalised actions would not land with a wider audience. Instead, a list of principles helps serve as a first guide or iteration of the process for any organisation that wishes to use them. You can see this reflected in the first principle below.
- We utilise respective stand-alone gender-inclusive policies that explicitly promote and support Gender Equality in all aspects of our work. If need be, this document can be the first iteration of that process.
- We promote Gender Equality in all aspects of leadership, governance, and decision-making.
- We promote Gender Equality in the recruitment and career development opportunities of our respective organisations.
- We promote Gender Diversity in the more technical teams of our respective organisations.
- We actively support the requirement of gender auditing in our respective organisations.
- We support a safe and collaborative culture of inclusive Gender Diversity across our respective organisations, including Gender-Aware training.
- We promote working arrangements within our respective organisations that must include flexible working arrangements and resourcing in order to not just support but encourage the career progression of women.
During the one-hour roundtable, which was well attended at the TNC23 Community Hub, these principles were discussed both with regard to their content, but also in relation to the wider feelings and observations they touched upon.
Needless to say, it was a fascinating session that will be built upon in successive years. The discussions shed light on the complexities and challenges faced by NRENs and RENs in promoting Gender Equality in technical communities. The insights shared during this event underscore the importance of collaboration, awareness, and continuous effort in advancing Gender Equality in the digital sector. There was recognition that change is needed, and by adhering to these principles, NRENs and RENs are taking significant steps toward a more inclusive and diverse future for their organisations and the broader technical community.
Regarding practical next steps, these principles are being discussed by those who attended the roundtable, and the GÉANT Gender Equality Committee. We also have the reflections made by participants per principle, and we would like to translate those into tangible recommendations that could be useful and transferable across all of our organisations in order to potentially improve working practices. For those who could not attend but are interested in the principles or would like to engage more with this subject within our community, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or any member of the Gender Equality Committee.