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The European Gender Summit

November 1, 2011

In less than a week, hundreds of men and women who care about the intersection of science, policy, and gender, will gather in Brussels for the first European Gender Summit. It’s a high-powered event, sponsored by the Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and many other partners.

Why is this meeting being held? What is it about? What can we hope for?

The results of research are crucial for the future economic health of Europe. Research generates new knowledge, and new knowledge can in turn yield innovation and commercialization.

Because the results of research are so important, we must use everything we know to create the conditions for great results. And one thing we know now is that gender can positively affect the quality of research.

The Gender Summit will communicate these results. It will provide a forum for scientists and policy makers to discuss these issues, and to identify appropriate political measures.

When we say that gender can affect research, we are often connecting gender equality or gender balance in the workplace with increased quality of the work done in that workplace. I’ve written on this, too, for example in my blog Why hire (wo)men?

But another perspective is to think about science itself. Can research be improved by thinking about gender as we formulate research questions? There are many examples suggesting it can, and a spectacular new resource has just been previewed — while still under development — the Gendered Innovations website, which I will blog more about in coming days. This website presents the view that sex and gender are a resource in the creation of new knowledge and technology. It focuses on methods that can be used, especially in science, health & medicine, and engineering, and it provides concrete case studies.

At the European Gender Summit, many examples of gendered research and innovation will be discussed, and the effects of gender balance on research will be presented. I’ll make my case in a presentation entitled Equality Targets as a Management Tool, along with scores of others who will offer their latest thoughts and research on kindred topics.

Many of the presentations grow out of the genSET project, developing further the recommendations in the Consensus Report which 15 of us generated through three demanding seminars during the spring of 2010.

My hopes for the gender summit are simple: I want to see discussion and debate focused on the claim that sex and gender perspectives improve science. If we conclude that they are important, I want to see policy makers start thinking about how to incorporate this knowledge into their national systems. And I want tracking systems to emerge that will help us do research on the processes we initiate, so we can document and understand the effects of our work, ultimately in the pursuit of an economically sound Europe – a crucial and timely pursuit!

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