Workshop on gender equality in regional research and innovation

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Nordwit, in collaboration with the Tampere regional council, the Tampere Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, the Tampere University Gender Equality group, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, and the EU project Marie, arranged a zoom workshop focusing on the regional stakeholders’ opportunities to turn gender equality into a resource in research and innovation (R&I) on 27 August 2020.

The regional council which delivers EU structural and regional development funding, together with the ministries that guide its work, wanted to develop their own practices to promote gender equality at the level of concrete project planning and applications. Nordwit shared its research findings in the workshop and its planning.

The workshop was a follow-up to the large conference Gender equality in research and innovation arranged in Helsinki in the autumn of 2019. This seminar gathered together speakers and participants from national ministries and funding agencies in Finland and Sweden, European Commission, and regional councils, among others. As the regional level gender equality in R&I has received minimal attention, too little is known about it and there is only limited research on it, we started the collaborative workshops in one of the middle size regions in Southern Finland. The first workshop, February 2020, mapped out how gender equality takes place in the current R&I activity of the region. The second workshop, planned to be held in March, aimed to continue by discussing how gender equality could be taken into account more, compared to the current situation. We planned to have intensive small groups around small tables so that different actors could share their experiences and produce creative knowledge collaboratively on gender equality in R & I, in line with the notion of situated knowledge. However, corona made us cancel the second workshop. As we considered the small-group work crucially important, we postponed the workshop until the end of August, with a hope of doing our face-to-face discussions then. However, at the beginning of August, it became clear that we would not be able to have a face-to-face meeting. So we decided to run the workshop in zoom. We were able to keep the planned content of the workshops, the talks that provided the conceptual tools and inspiration for the gender equality work, the intensive small group work, and the final discussion.

The Vice-President for Research of Tampere University, Juha Teperi, opened the event by talking about the responsible and diverse university, and looked for ways to develop traditional gender equality work in academic institutions. Secondly, I, Marja Vehviläinen, took the discussion to the level of funding applications and project planning, and talked about gender in innovation in terms of science and technology studies (STS) and inspirations from the Swedish innovation funding agency Vinnova: both gender and innovation are seen as activity and practices, including knowledge production. For a gender analysis, we need to examine all activity in innovation by distinguishing also different time phases such as planning, production and use (although they do not follow each other linearly), all stakeholders in each of these activities, and furthermore, the practices of knowledge production: how do stakeholders starting from the R&I folks to the end users engage in knowledge production? Thirdly, Hanna Vuorinen from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, talked about gender equality in the Horizon 2020 framework. She shared a link to the video Understanding the gender dimension for MSCA projects which clarified the analysis of gender in innovation even further.

The small groups each analysed and discussed gender in the context of (a publicly available summary of) a R&I project funded by EU regional development fund, by using the conceptual tools provided by the talks (sent to them beforehand). The project summaries included brief commentaries on gender equality, as the application forms include two questions on it. However, it is generally known, as was also evident from the panel discussions in the earlier mentioned Gender Equality in Research and Innovation seminar, that the applicants were not able to give proper answers to the questions, nor did the application forms provide guidance for answering the questions. The answers were often based on common knowledge, that is, based on false cultural understandings such as gender equality has already been achieved in Finland, and there is no need to do anything further. The difficulty of gender analysis was also the shared pre-understanding during the introduction round of the workshop.

In the small groups, however, the introduced conceptual tools were found to be useful and worked, and each of the two groups had made a significant gender analysis for the projects that earlier did not appear to have much to do with gender. The STS tools, the clarifying videos from the Horizon 2020, and bridging between responsible R&I, diversity and gender equality were resources that made a number of gender aspects appear even self-evident. As gender in innovation started to become visible, there was an opportunity to develop the practices of the funding agencies so that they would be able to guide and conduct dialogues on gender equality with the groups and institutions that apply for funding. A third workshop will follow.

Marja Vehviläinen

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