Policy brief: Gender quotas & positive action: An attack on meritocracy?


Addressing gender imbalances in academia and research institutions is crucial to advance women's careers and foster diverse and inclusive research environments. This second policy brief in the MINDtheGEPs brief series explores positive action, also known as positive discrimination or affirmative action, as a means to tackle this challenge. With insights from the Gender Equality Plan development process and interviews conducted by MINDtheGEPs, we share the arguments for and against such measyres, and present two case studies from Italian universities.

Gender imbalances remain in universities and research institutions, despite EU policy efforts. This has led to a growing emphasis and focus on achieving better gender balance through proactive measures. Positive action, though controversial, directly addresses this issue and challenges long-held beliefs in the neutrality of science and meritocracy in academia.

These policies are contentious, and concerns about them centre around the concept of merit and research meritocracy. Research indicates that the current framework for excellence tends to favour men over women, undermining the belief in science as value-neutral and merit being the primary determinant of success in research and academia. Positive action measures may be contentious, but they can also be a really effective way to amend gender imbalances. To make sure measures taken can meet their intended goal, is crucial to engage in constructive dialogue, negotiation, and discussions is crucial among various stakeholders, including governing bodies, delegates, departments, mentors, and mentees at universities to achieve consensus in introducing these measures.

Addressing gender imbalances through proactive measures like positive action is important to advance gender equity in academia and research institutions. By challenging deeply ingrained beliefs, and promoting diverse and inclusive research environments. We believe that sharing our knowledge on identifying and amending gender imbalances can contribute to sustainable change, in and outside of our partner organisations. Which is why we have now published our second policy brief in the MINDtheGEPs Zenodo community.

By Märta Karlén

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Cipriani, Nastassja., Solera, Cristina., & Holm Bodin, Anna. (2023). Gender quotas & positive action: An attack on meritocracy?. Zenodo. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.10024373

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Last modified: 2023-08-25