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The FWO supports researchers in all stages of their careers. For the selection of young researchers, the FWO has implemented an active equal opportunity policy. In addition, the FWO informs its young researchers about their career opportunities within and outside academia, and conducts a policy that seeks to offer them every opportunity to maximize their career options.

In this respect, we refer to the HR Excellence label that the FWO received in 2010 for its HR policy aimed at equal opportunity, and open and transparent recruitment based on the researcher’s merits (the so-called OTM-R policy). Finally, we refer to the facilities provided for in the FWO regulations with regard to research careers for its young researchers.

HR Excellence in Research

The European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers were published by the European Commission in 2005. Through the implementation of this Charter, the European Commission aims to contribute to the development of an attractive, open and sustainable European labour market for researchers. All Flemish research institutions have signed onto the Charter. 

The European Commission supports research institutions with the elaboration and implementation of the Charter & Code via the HR Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) project.  Institutions who can demonstrate that their HR policy seeks to conform to the Charter, are awarded the "HR Excellence in Research" logo.

As a Member of the European Commission's HR Strategy Group, the FWO has elaborated a strategy to promote research careers in Flanders. On the basis of this strategy, the European Commission awarded the FWO with the "HR excellence in research" label in 2010, thereby recognising the efforts by the FWO to maximise career opportunities for researchers

Equal opportunity policy

The FWO funds excellent and promising researchers as well as research projects following an inter-university competition. The evaluation is carried out by national and international experts. The selection follows the bottom-up principle and is conducted on an inter-university basis.

The sole selection criterion is the outstanding quality of researcher and research proposal, regardless of scientific discipline, host institution, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or political or religious beliefs. The FWO attaches great importance to the creation of equal opportunities for all researchers relying on the FWO for the funding of their research. This is reflected in an equal opportunity policy that covers different areas of interest.

All information is published both in Dutch and in English so that all relevant information is also accessible to foreign language speakers. To avoid any discrimination based on age, the FWO uses relative scientific seniority (the number of years of research experience) as an eligibility requirement for fellowship and research project applications. This allows for a more correct evaluation of researchers whose careers have been temporarily interrupted. Furthermore, the FWO does not impose a nationality requirement. In the e-portal, there is not only a male (M) and female (F) but also a gender neutral (X) check box. This has been done in response to changing social needs.

The FWO oversees the composition of the expert panels for the evaluation of project proposals and fellowship applications. As a rule, the FWO strives to achieve a diverse composition of the expert panels. More specifically in terms of gender, the FWO endeavours to ensure that no more than two-thirds of the members of its expert panels are of the same gender. In 2020, 36.6 percent of the members of the Fundamental Research (FO) panels are female and 77.3 percent are affiliated with a foreign institution. In 2020, the membership of the Strategic Basic Research (SB) fellowship panels includes 39.8 percent of female experts, 61 percent are affiliated with a foreign organisation and 41.2 percent work at a non-academic organisation. Members of the expert panels for the evaluation of Strategic Basic Research (SBO) and Applied Biomedical Research (TBM) project applications are drawn from a heterogeneous pool of experienced scientists. In 2020, 33.7 percent of the SBO panel members are female experts, 40.2 percent have a non-academic background and 85.9 percent are affiliated with a foreign organisation. In 2020, 45.7 percent of the TBM panel members are female experts, 90 percent are affiliated with a foreign institution and 23.9 percent have a non-academic background. Moreover, panel members are made aware of unconscious biases in evaluating project and fellowship applications, for example through this video (source: The Royal Society).

Besides informing the panel members, it is also important to continuously analyse the evaluation procedures and monitor the success rates. To this end, the FWO keeps, for each of its funding channels, statistics on the number of projects and fellowships applied for and granted per gender. These figures are published each year in the Annual Report. Any further information can be provided upon request.

For ongoing fellowships and projects, family-friendly provisions and flexible working conditions should help to better balance the gender mix and stem the outflow of female (postdoctoral) researchers leaving the academic sector (the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’). The FWO provides, among other things, the necessary flexibility for dealing with medical and social needs. Thus, for example, all fellows, both at predoctoral and postdoctoral level, receive a bench fee to pay for the costs of their research. Where necessary, researchers can use this bench fee to pay for medical support in overcoming physical disabilities or functional impairments. The FWO also makes it possible to move up the seniority limits by one year for each pregnancy and to extend an ongoing fellowship one-time by one year in case of a pregnancy during that fellowship. This possibility exists for both PhD and postdoctoral fellows.

In an international context, the FWO regularly accepts requests to participate in studies on equal opportunity in academia (e.g. GENDER-NET Plus) and attends scientific congresses and symposiums (e.g. Gender Summit) to keep abreast of current trends and best practices.

Finally, the FWO is a member of the following organisations which are committed to promoting equal opportunity in the academic community:

Gender Equality Plan

The Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) attaches great importance to the creation of equal opportunities for all researchers relying on the FWO for the funding of their research. This is reflected in an equal opportunity policy that covers different areas of interest, including gender equality. Gender equality is a fundamental value that benefits research and development (R&D) by improving its quality and relevance, attracting and retaining more talents and ensuring that everyone can fully realise their potential. 

As part of the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the European Commission requires that public bodies, higher education establishments and research organisations from EU member states and associated countries that seek to participate in the Horizon Europe framework programme, have a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place. A GEP is a policy instrument that comprises a set of objectives and actions aimed at promoting gender balance in an organisation through institutional and cultural change. 

The FWO GEP can be found at the bottom of this page and includes a background sketch of the situation in the Flemish academic world, a description of the process-related requirements and recommended thematic areas and their translation into actions that can be undertaken by the FWO. For each of these elements, a current state of affairs is described. Based on the current state of affairs, challenges have been identified which in turn form the basis for the objectives for the future. On a number of points, other aspects of diversity are also being looked at.

The FWO GEP was formally approved by the FWO's Board of Trustees on 22 December 2021. A progress report was prepared in spring 2023 and approved by the Board of Trustees on 23 May 2023.

FWO Gender Equality Plan:

Gender equality and GEPs at the Flemish universities and research centres:

FWO’s policy regarding Open, Transparent and Merit-based Recruitment of Researchers

As a research council the FWO currently hosts funding programmes for PhD fellows and postdoctoral fellows. These fellows will eventually perform their research at one of the Flemish universities. As these fellows are being selected and funded by the FWO, our procedures need to comply with the principles of open, transparent and merit-based recruitment (OTM-R) as set out in the Charter and Code of the European Commission.

The following section shows how the FWO has permanently embedded the OTM-R principles in its policy and procedures.

Clear and transparent procedures

FWO’s PhD and postdoctoral fellowship programmes are highly competitive in nature and aim to attract the best possible candidates, either in Flanders or abroad. The basis for the selection of candidates is academic excellence, regardless of background such as nationality or gender. To acknowledge the diversity of its applicants, the FWO has drawn up adjusted admission rules taking into account, among other things, maternity, parental or sick leave or military service. The FWO communicates this equal opportunity policy to all of its applicants. To assure all these principles, FWO’s policy and the implementation thereof is fully geared towards transparent selection procedures.

A system of recurrent calls for proposals is set in place and the websites for the respective fellowship programmes feature clear timelines, required competencies for the candidates and an overview of the selection procedure. The selection criteria, as included in FWO’s published regulations for internal and external peer review, are operationalized in a scoring grid for each specific programme and adapted to each particular phase of the selection procedure. These grids are also available on the FWO website. The FWO organizes information sessions at all Flemish universities to inform possible applicants. Besides this, the FWO ensures high accessibility to its administration for questions regarding its procedures. As all calls are open to international applicants, all information is available in Dutch and in English and he entire application procedure takes place in English.

Reducing the administrative burden

The FWO has set up its e-portal to allow candidates to apply for a fellowship online. All information remains available in the e-portal in case of consecutive applications. All required documents, such as proof of qualifications, can be added to the application electronically: no hard copies are requested during the procedure.

Support and feedback

During the procedure applicants can contact the FWO for administrative questions related to their application. An IT support desk is available for technical questions related to the e-portal. Contact information is clearly communicated on the FWO website.

At the end of the procedure, all applicants receive feedback consisting of a score on each of the evaluation criteria as well as specific comments on strengths and weaknesses of their application.

Quality management and control

For the selection of its fellows the FWO relies on national and international experts who participate in expert panels that are supported by FWO policy advisors. The composition of these panels in terms of gender is set out in FWO’s peer review regulations. All experts receive training before they participate in these panels, to assure they adhere to FWO’s implementation of the OTM-R principles. Topics include amongst others the interpretation of the evaluation criteria as set out in the scoring grids as well as unconscious bias during the evaluation of candidates. The training is also made available to applicants to assure maximum transparency.

To monitor and improve its procedures the FWO surveys applicants at the end of each call. Feedback is collected regarding all aspects of the application procedure: available information on the procedure, the procedure itself and the feedback received afterwards.

Research Careers

The FWO seeks to optimally support researchers at every stage in the development of their careers. In this context, it is important for researchers to get a taste of life both within and outside the university, also those who want to pursue an academic career.

It is also good that companies and institutes get the opportunity to gain experience with young high potentials. This will create a strong win-win situation, particularly when considering the supply of PhD students and the demand for skilled employees.

To provide young FWO researchers with the best possible opportunities to exploit their expertise also outside the academia, the FWO has implemented various new schemes to promote intersectoral mobility: 

  • Every FWO PhD fellow can spend 20 percent of their available time on activities other than the actual PhD research, so long as they contribute to the researcher’s development. Such development in fact requires participation in activities as part of the doctoral training. A PhD fellow may, however, also choose, in consultation with the supervisor, to devote all or part of this time to academic education or services. To develop specific skills, a PhD fellow may also choose to do an internship within an organisation.
  • Enterprising predoctoral researchers are given the opportunity to carry out a paid activity alongside their PhD provided such activity takes place outside the university and independently of their PhD research.

  • Postdoctoral researchers in particular have the opportunity to suspend their fellowship to enable them to take up a paid full-time research fellowship or grant at a university, a scientific institute, within a company or organisation.