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Gender Equality and Research Funding

From 2022, Horizon Europe require that those bidding for EU funding provide evidence of their gender equality initiatives. Other funders are also looking to incorporate greater scrutiny of gender equality work. This page provides a resource for funders conducting checks as well as staff bidding for funding.

The Open University is committed to embedding gender equality across the institution and much of our work towards Horizon’s mandatory Gender Equality Plan is covered in our Athena Swan work. The OU has been a member of Athena Swan since 2012 and has held a Bronze award (twice renewed) since 2013. All seven of our STEM Schools have an Athena Swan award (three Silver and four Bronze) and in 2021, the Business School became the first non-STEM School to receive an award. All OU Schools will have applied for an award by the end of 2023.

The below page maps out how the OU meets the Horizon Europe criteria.

Mandatory criteria

  1. A publicly available Gender Equality Action Plan
  2. Resource commitment and expertise in gender equality
  3. Data collection and monitoring
  4. Training on gender, equality and unconscious bias for all staff and decision makers

Recommended criteria

  1. Work-life balance and organisational culture
  2. Gender balance in leadership and decision making
  3. Gender equality in recruitment and career progression
  4. Integrating gender into research and teaching
  5. Gender based violence including sexual harassment

Mandatory criteria

A publicly available Gender Equality Action Plan

Our institutional Athena Swan action plan forms our Gender Equality Action Plan. Please read the 2020 institutional plan (redacted for GDPR compliance).

The submission is signed by the Vice-Chancellor and his covering letter sets out our commitment for the award which is valid until 2025. Our ambitious action plan, covering cultural, procedural and policy changes runs from 2020 and 2024.

Resource commitment and expertise in gender equality

The OU’s institutional Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team is based in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office. It is headed by Professor Marcia Wilson, institutional Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, who sits on the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive. Within the team there is a dedicated role for gender work, primarily through Athena Swan. This post oversees implementation of the institutional action plan as well as other gender initiatives. The gender role is line managed by a Senior EDI Manager who also has responsibility for charters, including Athena Swan, and is heavily involved in gender-based work at the University.

For reporting, we have a dedicated EDI Data Analyst and are in the process (as of February 2022) of recruiting another. Our Analyst has produced annually updated datasets for the use of Schools applying for departmental Athena Swan awards.

Within the Schools and Faculties staff have workload time allocated for Athena Swan gender equality initiatives in the University’s Annual Workload Management tool. Each of the four Faculties is also represented on the Gender Equality Steering Group (GESG). The GESG is chaired by the institutional Athena Swan Lead and draws membership from across the OU’s units and staff types, as well as including student representation. The GESG monitors institutional Athena Swan progress and, in addition, looks at other gender-based initiatives such as the Gender Pay Gap.

Data collection and monitoring

As discussed above, the OU collates detailed data on gender for Athena Swan applications, which is made available to School Leads. This covers leavers, recruitment, promotion and family leave, among other things, by sex. This data is too granular to be shared and reported. General population data (staff and student) can be found in our institutional Athena Swan submission.

You can read our overview of staff data by sex for the 2020/21 academic year.

The University also reports to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and is working to make annual EDI reports publicly available on our website.

Our annual Gender Pay Gap reports are available online and show sex of staff by pay quartiles, bonuses and other relevant metrics. It also demonstrates progress against our targets and actions around gender.

For student data, please refer to our Access and Participation Strategy. Read a brief breakdown of our students by sex for the 2020/21 academic year.

Training on gender, equality and unconscious bias for all staff and decision makers

The OU has a mandatory ‘Equality Essentials’ training module on its virtual learning environment (VLE), which covers sex, as well as other protected characteristics, such as gender reassignment and issues such as the gender pay gap.

We also host a course on understanding gender identity on the VLE, as well as a module on unconscious bias, which staff are encouraged to complete. Staff taking part in recruitment and selection are required to complete mandatory recruitment training which also covers bias.

We are working to make a specific module on gender for all staff available in the summer of 2022.

Recommended criteria

Work-life balance and organisational culture

The OU is a leading institution for flexible learning, allowing our students to work part-time and flexibly. Our policies and practices are aimed at ensuring the same flexibility for our staff. We have a range of policies around agile working, family-friendly leave and time off for study. Details of our institutional culture can be found in our Athena Swan submission.

Gender balance in leadership and decision making

The University’s commitment to equality between men and women is set out in its Charter. The OU aims for diverse leadership and management and our figures for staff gender balance at senior level can be found in our institutional Athena Swan submission. In governance, the University’s Council has sa Governance and Nominations Committee, which is committed to creating a diverse membership for the Council and other important decision-making bodies.

In terms of recruitment decision making the University instituted a policy in 2021 that all panels must include at least one man and one woman.

Gender equality in recruitment and career progression

The University’s recently approved Recruitment Diversity Strategy aims to increase the diversity of the candidate pool to redress under-representation where identified. In 2022, the OU will undertake a thorough review of its recruitment practices, instituting new processes such as positive action guidance for all hiring managers.

The University now uses fewer criteria in job descriptions to encourage women to apply and software for distinguishing gendered language in advertisements.

Another ongoing piece of work is around academic promotions and gender. The Academic Staff Promotions Committee (ASPC) has responsibility for academic promotions and has two members with EDI responsibility on it. An Academic Promotions Review has highlighted the need to gather more data on promotion cases and informal conversations by gender which will be a priority going forward.

Integrating gender into research and teaching

In 2021, the Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion was also given responsibility for the OU’s Teaching and Learning Plan. EDI will, therefore, be fully embedded in the plan. Schools and Faculties are also encouraged to consider gender in their research and curricula, through the lens of Athena Swan work at School level or Faculty EDI Managers.

The University has also introduced an Inclusive Curriculum Tool (link accessible only to internal staff). Module teams can check new and existing curriculum content against three principles of inclusivity:

  • Our materials should be accessible to diverse groups of students not just in terms of accessibility for disabled students, but the language, images, stories and structure used
  • all students should see themselves reflected in the material
  • the material should equip our students to participate in a global and diverse worlds

Each of our four Faculties has a Scholarship Centre (FASSTEST, PRAXIS, eSTEeM and SCiLAB) which are dedicated to innovation and the scholarship of pedagogy. Equality and diversity form crucial components of their strategies.

The OU has sector-leading research on gender within its academic community. This includes the Gendered Organisational Practice research cluster in the Faculty of Business and Law and the Gender and Social Policy strand of International Development research in our Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Our STEM Faculty publish The International Journal of Gender Science and Technology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal.

The University is working to create a bespoke module for academic and research staff on how to integrate gender into their research, scholarship and teaching.

Gender based violence including sexual harassment

The OU has two new gender-based violence and domestic abuse policies, one for staff and another for students, instituted in 2021 The University includes its policy and guidance on sexual harassment under its bullying and harassment policy. OU staff should refer to the relevant policies under the People Services A-Z on the intranet.

The University provides twenty-four-hour support for those impacted by these issues including the Employee Assistance Programme and the ‘Shout’ text service and ‘togetherall’ platform for students. In 2021, the OU launched its Safe Space Reporting System, which also allows anonymous reporting for discrimination around a variety of issues such as discrimination on the basis of sex or gender and sexual harassment.