Western woke trends have arrived in Czechia’s scientific institutions. Now, for those applying for grants from or undergoing internal evaluations at the Academy of Sciences institutes, they are faced with questions about the gender composition of teams, the number of women in leadership positions, and methods for ensuring appropriate language. According to the supporters of such measures, it is about improving the working environment and scientific results, but according to some scientists, it is an ideologically driven policy that often illogically interferes with their work. Now, concerned scientists are beginning to sharply criticize the new measures.
One of the most contentious areas is the issue of grants, which are a vital matter for scientific research. New requirements have begun to be added to applications by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, the institution that distributes money to scientific projects.
Starting this year, institutions applying for grants under the European subsidy program Horizon Europe must have a so-called gender equality plan. The requirement to reflect on gender equality will thus potentially play a role in the way money is allocated to scientific projects.
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“The ratio of male to female researchers is 4:2, whereas technical staff are all women. It is unknown whether the group is taking any steps to optimize age, gender balance, etc. It should therefore be a task for the next period,” reads one assessment from the Biological Center of the Academy of Sciences.
“Gender-neutral language is an important part of gender balance, equality, and diversity,” the evaluators state, for example, in one of the grant applications submitted by the Institute of Nuclear Physics.
They mention the word manpower, which could be replaced by the neutral word workforce. However, this causes disillusionment among some scientists, regardless of gender. They argue that from their point of view, it is an ideology that does not belong in science and, specifically, when it comes to grants and research funding, it can be rather harmful.
“As a woman, paradoxically, I have other women on the team, basically no men,” a professor at a prominent Czech university who wishes to remain anonymous told Echo24. “There are several reasons: the focus of our research; professional competence, which I place the greatest emphasis on; financial aspects; and also the fact that men usually make their way into leadership positions and run research more on paper. This does not apply in all cases, but this has been my experience. Paradoxically, when submitting the project, I will be looking for men, artificially and forcibly, regardless of their professional qualifications. And that worries me,” she added.
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There is also concern about whether fields with a great disproportion between the sexes will be “punished.” According to Professor Jiří Žák, it is wrong to appoint people to positions based on any criteria other than expertise or competence.
“”If you are the team leader, you want to choose people based on their expertise and how they fit into your team, not based on their gender,” Žák wrote criticizing the new rules.
Like other critics, he fears it is a “seed” that will lead to much more pressure in the future.
“Some foreign advertisements for grants state that in the case of two equally qualified candidates, the woman will be given preference. That is absolute nonsense. I have sat through several evaluations, and there are never two identical candidates. Someone always has more publications, better publications, more citation responses, different teaching activities, or other parameters. It is about as likely as two people having the same fingerprints,” explains Žák.
“Introducing a gender equality plan is a controversial step,” said geochemist Jan Borovička about the new rules, according to which institutions are forced to sign up for “left-wing political doctrine.”
“The scientific task is to find out the truth about this world, not to reshape and change it according to this or that ideology. It is political activism that belongs in party secretariats, not on campus,” Borovička added.
NKC – Gender & Science, which is part of the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences, is a liaison office that assists Czech institutions with implementation and advice. Although the institute tries to reassure scientists in some respects, in others it can be said to confirm their fears.
“Nobody expects 50/50 representation from day to day. The point is that if there are two equally qualified and capable people applying for one position, it should be taken into account which group has less representation in that team,” said Jana Gabrielová, an NKC spokeswoman.
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“It is often a problem in institutions to allocate sufficient personnel capacities. We, therefore, understand the criticism that some scientist is given responsibility for the gender equality plan without this person having sufficient support from management, on the one hand for training and building expertise and on the other hand for the implementation of the measures themselves. But it is not supposed to work that way,” Gabrielová added.
For example, in the case of the new obligation to take gender equality into account when submitting grants to the European Horizon program, according to Gabrielová, it is not an evaluation of equality within the institution but concerns specific project teams.
“With plans for gender equality, we are not talking about ideology but data-based systemic measures. These will set the conditions in science so that there is room for all talented and capable people, so that science can be so-called ‘excellent,'” Gabrielová said.
In the case of gender disproportion in the fields themselves, according to NKC, it is crucial to ensure that so-called perspective female students do not go to the private sector or leave science altogether.
“So, we are once again at the point where it is necessary to discover the obstacles in the careers of women scientists and offer them support, for example, in the form of mentoring or by improving the conditions for reconciling work and child care,” said Gabrielová.
But critics of the new rules remain. “We are only motivated by our love of science and teaching. This is not how a competitive environment that attracts quality scientists is created,” added a scientist, who wished to remain anonymous.