Dr Marion Boland
Head of Research Policy, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)
Diverse perspectives must inform science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research in Ireland, so we can develop solutions for the many challenges we face.
To achieve a research community which reflects the diversity of Irish society, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has been supporting many talented women researchers across our higher education sector.
To this end, we have been developing initiatives to remove and mitigate any existing or perceived factors that may limit the participation of women in STEM careers. As a research funder, identifying whether bias exists in our review process is a priority, and analysing data on application submissions and success rates is an important part of this.
Developing inclusivity measures
In support of our commitment to transparency in our review processes, we have recently updated our Gender Dashboard to enable the inclusion of an expanded set of gender data across all research programmes between 2011 to 2021.
The analysis enables us to look at the impact of some of the initiatives we have undertaken. Interestingly, the overall percentage of women applicants to SFI funding calls has increased from 17% to 43%, while the percentage of grants awarded to women has increased from 20% to 40% in the same period (between 2011 to 2021).
More women participating
Gender initiatives introduced into our research programme calls have significantly contributed to the increase in the representation of women as award holders. Our Frontiers for the Future programme was first run in 2019 with 35% of the applicants being women — and 45% of grants awarded to women. In 2020, women applicants increased to 40%, with 44% of grants eventually awarded to women.
Gender initiatives introduced into our research programme calls have significantly contributed to the increase in the representation of women as award holders.
Re-strategising EDI commitments
Focusing on early-career researchers, the SFI-IRC Pathway programme introduced in 2021 has also proven to be a successful call for women applicants, with 52% of applicants being women and 58% of grants being awarded to women.
In 2019, we introduced the Narrative CV to our grant evaluation process, as it encourages fair and responsible research assessment procedures by taking a more holistic view of an applicant’s achievements. This shift will also support improvements in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
There is, of course, more to do — we are undertaking a review of our gender strategy to understand what worked and where gaps remain. The output will be married with a review of best practices in EDI and the findings of an extensive consultation process, which will be consolidated into our new EDI strategy.