Gendered dimensions in ERC grant selection - gendERC: Final Report

Helene Schiffbaenker, P.A.A. van den Besselaar

Research output: Book / ReportReportAcademic


To explain lower success rates of female applicants in ERC grants, we collected data about past performance of the applicants and interviewed panel members about how selection criteria are practiced in general and specifically for female vs. male applicants. Controlling for past performance, we found gender bias. The analysis of the interviews provides empirical evidence that current evaluation practices are suboptimal, leading to some gender-biased (gendered) practices. Providing empirical evidence of gendered practices raises gender awareness and gives a chance to modify and improve them.

When analysing potential sources for gender bias in the ERC peer review process, we found that gender bias exists (after controlling for the Pl's past performance) and that it can be located on two different levels. Evidence-based recommendations for improvements have been developed on both levels.

As we identified some general suboptimal evaluation practices - due to a vague definition of excellence and a quite open process how to apply different elements of excellence in practice - it is recommended to (1) more specifically define what excellence means in the context of ERC as a prestigious funder for blue sky I frontier research (e.g. at the panel level). To (2) better standardise the process will reduce space for individual interpretations and improve the selection process.
Such interventions would also help to reduce bias on a second level: gendered practices - which affect female and male applicants differently - have been identified. Treating men and women differently is mostly done unconsciously and related to personal assumptions and attributions on how men and women are or should be (=gender stereotypes). When in some panels independence or mobility are checked for women only while they are not questioned for males - for the latter, they seem naturally given - male applicants are favoured, different standards are applied. To change this pattern, room for reflections is needed to (3) raise awareness for gendered practices. Therefore, unconscious gender bias checks or trainings, films and more can be provided and offered to panel members, ERCEA staff and also the ERC as a funding institution in an efficient format. By (4) recognising that gender plays a role in the peer review process and when constructing excellence, ERC could take over a pioneer role for more gender equality in science and for better selecting the best (female and male) applicants.

We hope that our evidence-based arguments contribute to better understand what is going on in the ERC peer-review process and in panel meetings and to illustrate where and how the quality of the peer-review process in general and gender fairness in the evaluation process can be optimised
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEuropean Research Council
Commissioning bodyEuropean Research Council (ERC)
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2017


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