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 for both PhD and postdoctoral fellows to move up the seniority limits by one year and to extend an ongoing fellowship by one year, for each pregnancy.
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:
- The Gender and Diversity Working Group of Science Europe, the association of major European research funding organisations;
- AcademiaNet which aims to increase the visibility and recognition of excellent female researchers;
- European Platform of Women Scientists, an umbrella organisation which brings together female scientists and organisations focusing on gender and diversity in academia.