Working Group on Gender Balance

Women and men are equally able to perform excellent frontier research. This is the view of ERC Scientific Council. Each process within the ERC - from creating awareness about the ERC to signing of grant agreements – is designed to give equal opportunities to men and women. To monitor gender balance in ERC calls, in 2008, the ERC set up a dedicated working group. 

ERC Gender Equality Plan

The Working Group on Gender Balance drafted the ERC Gender Equality Plan 2007-2013 and the ERC Gender Equality Plan 2014-2020, endorsed by the ERC Scientific Council.

Main objectives of the ERC Scientific Council Gender Equality Plan: 

  •  raising awareness about the ERC gender policy among potential applicants;
  •  working towards improving gender balance among ERC candidates and within ERC-funded research teams;
  •  identifying and removing any potential gender bias in the ERC evaluation procedures;
  •  embedding gender awareness within all levels of the ERC processes  - while keeping focus on excellence;
  •  striving for gender balance among the ERC peer reviewers and other relevant ERC bodies.

Activities of the Working Group

The Working Group has commissioned two studies:

  •  Gender aspects in career structures and career paths
  •  ERC proposal submission, peer review and gender mainstreaming

The Working Group organised a workshop in 2013:

  •  "On the way to the top: providing equal opportunities for men and women in science and technology" (see the agenda and final summary)

Measures and practices to improve gender balance

The ERC has introduced a measure about parental leave whereby female applicants' eligibility window is extended by 18 months per child. For example, if a female scientists has one child, and she obtained her PhD 8 years earlier, she can still apply for a Starting Grant grant (8 - 1.5 year of parental leave = 6.5 year of professional experience after PhD)

Female ERC grantees are also often asked to explain their ERC experience and to showcase their ERC-funded research, to promote female participation in the ERC and encourage more women to apply for ERC calls by creating female role-models.


  •  The lower share of women in the ERC calls mirrors the overall situation in science in Europe
  •  From 2007 – 2013, around 25% of all ERC applicants and 20% of all ERC grantees were women (see statistics)

Above: Share of women applicants and grantees by domain in all ERC calls 2007 – 2013

  •  In the 2014 ERC Consolidator Grant call, the overall success rate of women was for the first time higher than men  

Above: Success rate of women and men applicants in all ERC calls in 2014 



ERC Executive Agency secretariat: Severina Shopova, Unit for Support to the Scientific Council


Tackling gender bias in research institutes

In a constant strive to improve Gender Equality in the ERC evaluation process, the ERC Scientific Council has decided to raise further awareness on potential bias that can occur during evaluations. Therefore, the ERC Scientific Council encourages evaluators to watch a video developed by the Catalan Research Centres Institute (CERCA) on unconscious bias in recruitment processes.

The CERCA has been closely involved in increasing women’s role in the system. Including the creation of a Diversity Commission to discuss and propose tools and measures to remove bias and obstacles, preventing waste of highly qualified human capital, along with an equality plan to provide a model for research centres. While evaluators might not always be aware of potential bias, several scientific studies (see below for references) show bias in evaluations, which is particularly detrimental to women and which leads them to see evaluation as something hostile. To tackle some of the potential biases in the recruitment and evaluation process, the CERCA diversity commission made a video highlighting how evaluations of scientists by their peers could be affected by unconscious bias of the evaluators.

Each year around 1200 high profile ERC Panel Members are evaluating research proposals in the various ERC calls. These experts also have important roles in their respective host institutions and scientific communities. The ERC Scientific Council believes that by working hand in hand with these important actors, they might have an impact beyond the ERC evaluation process.


  •  Ahlqvist V. Andersson J, Hahn Berg C, Kolm CL, Söderqvist L & Tumpane J (2013). Observations on gender equality in a selection of the Swedish Research Council’s evaluation panels. Stockholm: Swedish Research Council.
  • Ahlqvist V. Andersson J, Söderqvist L & Tumpane J (2015). A gender neutral process? A qualitative study of the evaluation of research grant applications 2014. Stockholm: Swedish Research Council.
  • Banaji M & Greenwald A (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Correll SJ, Alexard S & Paik I (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? Am J Social 112:1297-1339.
  • Isaac C, Lee B & Carnes M (2009). Interventions that affect gender bias in hiring: a systematic review. Acad Med 84:1440-1446. Kahneman D (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: - Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ & Handelsman J (2012). Science Faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:16474-16479.
  • Reuben E, Sapienza P & Zingales L (2014). How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:4403-4408.
  • Schmader T, Whitehead J & Wysocki VH (2007). A linguistic comparison of letters of recommendation for male and female chemistry and biochemistry job applicants. Sex Roles 57:509-514.
  • Steinpreis RE, Anders KA & Ritzke D (1999). The impact of gender on the review of the curricula vitae of job applicants and tenure candidates: A national empirical study. Sex Roles 41:409-528.
  • Trix F & Psenka C (2003). Exploring the color of glass: Letters of recommendation for female and male medical faculty. Discourse Soc 14:191-220.

1 The Catalan Research Centres Institute (CERCA) is the Government of Catalonia’s technical service, which is supervising, supporting and facilitating the activities of the research centres in the CERCA system. The CERCA centres diversity commission has drawn up a pioneering protocol, to inform faculty, both men and women involved in evaluation panels.