Culture eats (a gender equality) strategy for breakfast? - Structure eats (a gender-sensitive) culture for lunch?

Horizon 2020 sister projects CHANGE, LeTSGEPs and SPEAR invited for joint reflections and sharing of perspectives on cultural and structural dimensions of gender equality work

On 25 and 26 November 2021, the German teams of the H2020 gender equality sister projects CHANGE, LeTSGEPs and SPEAR invited national and international gender equality practitioners, researchers, and the interested public to explore and share perspectives on gender equality work in different cultural and organisational contexts and to discuss how to achieve sustainable structural and cultural change. 

Culture eats (a gender equality) strategy for breakfast? - Structure eats (a gender-sensitive) culture for lunch?

The joint conference was initiated by the German SPEAR team at the RWTH Rectorate Staff Unit IGaD (Integration Team - Human Resources, Gender and Diversity Management) and co-organised with German CHANGE and LeTSGEPs project partners from Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM, Max Planck Society and the RWTH Institute of Sociology. The aim was to strengthen collaboration and foster exchange between the three gender equality projects in which RWTH Aachen University is involved and thus to further promote Gender Equality Plan (GEP) implementation in European Research Performing Organisations (RPOs).

Sabine Brueck-Duerkop, Vice-Rector for Human Resources Management and Development at RWTH Aachen University (RWTH), welcomed speakers and participants to the conference and acknowledged the opportunity for RWTH to contribute to the advancement of gender equality in Europe by forming part of three EU projects. Keynote speaker Marcela Linková, Head of the Centre for Gender and Science at the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) and coordinator of GENDERACTION, opened the first conference day by “Taking an EU-wide look at GEP implementation”. She outlined different approaches to GEP implementation across EU member states as well as continued challenges, barriers, and new areas for action and emphasised that in light of the current policy developments at the EU level, gender equality work was ‘at a highly promising moment’ but ‘still unfinished business’. She concluded that there was a need for policy coordination to push gender equality at the EU and national levels.

Anita Thaler (IFZ Graz) and Jennifer Dahmen-Adkins (RWTH) from CHANGE provided the first project perspective. Anita and Jennifer shared theoretical insights and practical experiences in designing, implementing, and monitoring GEPs. Being a co-creative process, GEP design, implementation, and monitoring required commitment by key stakeholders and, ultimately, the entire university community. Thus, awareness-raising and knowledge transfer are crucial elements to its success. Finally, they emphasised that, against all ‘to-dos’ to be completed, central actors needed to take care of their personal resources to drive gender equality work in the long term.

Subsequently, Linda Gjika (University of Tirana) and Corinna Pusch (Max Planck Society) from LeTSGEPs reflected on power and intercultural awareness in GEP implementation. EU-funded gender equality projects unite practitioners and researchers from different cultural and national backgrounds. Linda and Corinna thus underlined the importance of understanding institutional and national power structures and inequalities as well as the need for reflecting on prejudices and stereotypes to support structural and cultural change at the national and institutional levels.

SPEAR project partners Liv Baisner Petersen (SDU), Sanja Bojanic, and Brigita Miloš (UNIRI) rounded up the session of project presentations. Elaborating SPEAR’s project design principle, they highlighted the importance of communities, peer reflection, and sensitivity to national and institutional contexts for successful GEP implementation. Pointing to the concept of the ‘velvet triangle’ coined by Alison Woodward (Bernal and Grewal, 2014), the project partners emphasised that formal and informal networking of gender equality and feminist actors at all levels was fundamental to promoting a more equal European Research & Innovation (R&I) landscape.

To conclude the first conference day, the panel discussion chaired by moderator Maxime Forest (OFCE) brought together EU and project perspectives on GEP implementation. Marcela Linková (CAS), Liv Baisner Petersen (SDU) from SPEAR, Tindara Addabbo (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, UNIMORE) from LeTSGEPs and Anita Thaler (IFZ Graz) from CHANGE started with an engaged and inspiring discussion about the framework conditions necessary to boost gender equality across Europe. Reflecting on whether national and organisational culture actually eats strategy, i.e. the GEP, for breakfast, the panelists agreed that culture and structure needed to work together for GEP implementation to yield desired outcomes. Furthermore, for sustainable change to happen, gender equality and, more specifically, GEP work needed a focus shift towards intersectional gender perspective and diversity. Finally, graphic recorder Franziska Ruflair presented her illustration about the day’s impressions that she had been drawing during the presentations and the panel discussion.

Katharina Scharrer, expert in Diversity and Gender Equality at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in Munich, was the first speaker of the second conference day. Giving an overview of equal opportunity measures implemented at her organisation, she explained six pillars of gender equality actions at Fraunhofer: recruitment, career promotion, cultural development, framework conditions, monitoring, and communication. She continued by presenting the results of an internal study on “Equal Opportunities at Fraunhofer” and an e-learning module to raise awareness and reduce unconscious bias, which was of particular interest to the conference audience.

In her subsequent lecture, Ulla Weber, Central Gender Equality Officer at Max Planck Society, elaborated on synergies and transfers between temporary EU-funded gender equality projects and long-term institutional gender equality work. The challenge was how to transfer knowledge gained within such projects into the local context of the institution. Drawing on her extensive experience as Gender Equality Officer and partner in various EU-gender equality projects, Ulla presented six good practice examples: 1) broad internal communication, 2) addressing relevant target groups, 3) involving local gender equality networks and agents, 4) developing the GEP closely with key actors from the implementing institutions to meet their needs, 5) integrating a gender budgeting approach, and 6) showing respect to local agents by appreciating their experience and achievements.

Maren A. Jochimsen, Managing Director at the Essen College of Gender Research (EKfG), rounded up the series of lectures with her presentation on key elements for sustainable change towards a gender-sensitive scientific culture. Outlining two separate but complementing conceptual approaches towards gender equality in research, "fix the numbers; fix the institutions" and "fix the knowledge", i.e. the gender dimension in research, she emphasised the cross-cutting nature of gender research as well as the importance and the process of integrating sex and gender in the research cycle and content. In the following, she elaborated on sex and gender in H2020 and Horizon Europe and explained the positive contribution of a gender-sensitive scientific culture to the third mission of universities, namely ‘Social Responsibility through Transfer and Cooperation’, concluding that ‘Content and method feed Culture feed Strategy’.

Following the presentations, participants had the opportunity to discuss the effects of informal networks and academic housekeeping on scientific career paths in the frame of two interactive workshops. Andrea Wolffram and Jennifer Dahmen-Adkins (RWTH, CHANGE project) led the first workshop on “Informal career mechanisms as obstacles for gender-equal careers”. Based on the results of the BMBF (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) project “GenderNetz”, they invited workshop participants to jointly develop gender equality policy ideas on how gatekeepers, e.g. professors, can be made aware of the influence of informal networks on career progression, especially of post-docs, by applying the Six Thinking Hats creativity workshop method by de Bono (1986). Giovanna Badalassi (UNIMORE) and Corinna Pusch (Max Planck Society) from LeTSGEPs, together with Madlen Baumert and Janne Haack (both Fraunhofer IFAM) from CHANGE, led the second workshop discussing "Time is money! How career trap academic housekeeping reflects on gender budgeting". They explained the relationships between gender budgeting and academic housekeeping and shared recent study results to support participants in their understanding of their effect mechanisms. In role-plays, participants experienced the dynamics of unequal distribution of academic housekeeping in everyday academic life. Eventually, Giovanna presented the concept of integrating academic housekeeping in a comprehensive gender budgeting approach, as put into practice by the LeTSGEPs project. The second day concluded with workshop reports and conclusions by moderator Sandra Karner (IFZ Graz), emphasising that effective gender equality measures combine cultural and structural interventions, just as discrimination is an effect of cultural and structural mechanisms. 

To sum up, the conference identified fundamental prerequisites for successful local GEP work initiated within EU-funded gender equality projects and answered the initial questions of whether culture ate strategy for breakfast and whether structure ate culture for lunch with yes and no. Cultural and structural aspects of gender equality work need to work together to achieve sustainable change. Lastly, fostering exchange and collaboration were important goals of the conference. Thus, we hope that creating the space for experience sharing and networking among international and national gender equality practitioners will further promote GEP implementation in European RPOs.



Bernal, V. and Grewal, I., ed. (2014): Theorizing NGOs. States, Feminisms, and Neoliberalism, Duke University Press.

de Bono, E. (1986): Six thinking hats. Viking. 


*With kind contributions by Madlen Baumert, Janne Haack, Ramona Liedtke, Ralitsa Petrova-Stoyanov and Andrea Wolffram