Gender equality contributes to diversity, excellence and quality in research outcomes and makes research more responsive to social and societal challenges. The HRB is committed to mainstreaming gender equality in the access to its research funding, within its decision-making processes; and into the design and analysis of its funded-research. HRB’s Gender Equality Plan (2022-2024), which is a requirement of beneficiaries under HORIZON EUROPE, outlines our current work in the area of gender equality and sets out the actions we are committed to progressing in the coming years.

In June 2016 the HRB welcomed the publication of the HEA Expert Group National Review of Gender Quality in Irish Higher Education Institutions and committed to work in partnership with the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and other Irish Funding Agencies on an implementation plan for the broader policy recommendations. The HRB is a member of the Ireland Athena SWAN National Committee,  endorsing the Athena SWAN Charter as a useful tool in assisting institutions in changing their organisational culture and viewing the award status as an important indicator of progress towards gender equality.

In line with the HRB Gender policy, we working to address unconscious bias in peer-review processes, develop our monitoring of gender equality and improve our grant management practices through independent observation study. We strive to ensure gender balance on our international expert panels. This is not always straightforward depending on the subject matter; in some research areas one gender is much more represented than the other.

In 2017 we underwent independent observation to spot potential for unconscious bias in our peer-review processes and are implementing the recommendations arising from this process.

Gender of applicants (all versus successful)

Year Female applicants Female successful applicants Male applicants Male successful applicants
2013 54% 33% 46% 27%
2015 52% 35% 48% 34%
2016 62% 36% 38% 30%
2017 60% 29% 41% 28%
2018 60% 38% 40% 31%

Gender of panel members

Year Female panel members Male panel members
2013 39% 61%
2014 38% 62%
2015 53% 47%
2016 63% 37%
2017 53% 47%
2018 51% 49%

Independent observation regarding unconscious bias

In 2017 the HRB worked with Pearn Kandola to carry out an external review of decision making in the allocation of research funding. Pearn Kandola is a business psychology firm who has worked with several research funding organisations in the area of diversity and inclusion. Their report did not uncover bias from a gender perspective but identified issues where improvements could be made to further minimise unconscious bias in HRB funding review processes. The issues were grouped into three themes, which are typical for research funders that Pearn Kandola has worked with

  1. Clarifying the role and selection of panel Chairs and panel members
  2. Improving the assessment mechanisms of grant applications
  3. Empowering HRB staff to identify and challenge bias in grant reviews and panels. 

We are in the process of implementing changes in light of the recommendations. For example we now request all peer reviewers and panel members to consider unconscious bias in their decision making and ask them to watch a short video (3 minutes) from the Royal Society, UK, explaining unconscious bias (with permission from the Royal Society).