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The guidelines for a certain funding source ask me to address gender aspects. This call is open to all scientist, but I work with pen, paper and computers and I see no gender aspects in my work (only that usually in the institute there are clearly more men than women, but this is not something I could fix in the project). I wouldn't like just to ignore the comment, as it might make my reviewer unhappy. What might this mean for mathematicians/informaticians/physicists?

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    Did the context of the term suggest whether it was more likely gender aspects of your research or of your team? If unclear, what related guidelines were around the area where the term "gender aspects" appeared? – Nat Oct 14 '17 at 16:57
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    Have you tried asking the organization that awards the grants? – David Richerby Oct 14 '17 at 19:28
  • Is the guideline written in English, or are you supplying us with a translation? “Gender aspects” doesn’t sound like typical English phrasing in this context. – Noah Snyder Apr 19 at 14:24
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It's unclear to me what "gender aspects" means. It sounds like you're assuming it's asking about handling gender in your research, which is a great question since a lot of studies (especially psych and medical) have been done on all-male participants. Some of these fail to replicate in mixed-gender or all-woman experiments. There's also a pretty interesting (and depressing) history of abuse of women in scientific research as research subjects that has gained greater attention recently, which is wonderful. In that aspect it seems like it won't relate to your work at all, since you don't have test subjects. Even amongst research program without the kinds of testing issues, some projects in philosophy, social theory, or medicine are plagued by sexism in their experimental design or theoretical conceit. Here the issue is less the treatment of test subjects as inherent issues and assumptions in the underlying theories. This would also not apply to mathematics, physics, or computer science as they don't develop theories about humans.

However it could also mean to ask about more administrative things, like discrimination against women and transgender people in the project. If this is a small project it might not relate to you, but in a larger project and especially a in a lab this is important.

To clarify, by "small" I mean "me and two of my grad students and we know each other well." Even a working group of 5-10 people can run into gender discrimination issues. Do you know how you'd respond if a woman working under you came to you and said that she was being harassed or her ideas were being discounted because she's a woman? Do you know how you'd respond if a new grad student was to join and tell you that they were transgender? Or how you'd respond if they were rejected by other people in the project because they are transgender? If you haven't thought about these things, you definitely should. Even if this isn't what they meant, you should have an answer to these questions.

I would recommend reaching out and asking for clarification as to which of these interpretations is meant. Definitely don't say "I don't think it matters to my work" because that can come across really poorly, especially if they mean the second interpretation I gave. Simply say that you were unsure if the question was asking about gender as a topic inside of the research or about discrimination within the group of researchers.

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    +1: Especially for the part about asking for clarification. – Pete L. Clark Oct 14 '17 at 22:16
  • It could also include issues such as whether the researchers are going to use gender-neutral language in their publications. In any case, it needs clarifying. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 15 '17 at 2:33
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    +1: "Definitely don't say "I don't think it matters to my work" – Fomite Oct 15 '17 at 20:49
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You can try, as others suggest, "ask for clarification", but in my experience it is likely to result in a loss of time. Large funding organizations are extremely bureaucratic, and the application guidelines have likely been designed by committee consisting e. g. of a physicist, psychologist and a professor of art and letters. That committee will not convene to answer your questions, and may have nothing to do with the panel that will evaluate your proposal. So, the question "what do they mean" may not even have a well-defined answer, and even if you receive an answer, there is no guarantee that the panel evaluating your proposal will be bound to use the same interpretation.

What I would write in this case is that there is no gender issues pertaining to the research program, and then pledge to adhere to best practices in hiring and in everyday life of the research group.

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    I' cant agree with this. I just called my university's grant-application services on a similar matter, asking how to interpret a certain section of the grant guidelines. Then I also called the funding agency, just to be sure. Both gave me (congruent) answers within minutes. It's not the first time they get these questions. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 18 at 14:48
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So the first, and most important suggestion is one echoed by many: Ask them what they mean. Because at the moment, it's fairly ambiguous.

Here are a couple potential examples of what they could mean, somewhat building off @StellaBiderman 's list.

  1. The inclusion of female subjects in the study. This is now something that basically has to be included in NIH/HHS proposals, and includes both the idea that female study subjects should be included in research - including in animal studies, and also that pregnant women are a protected category for IRBs.
  2. Will this project benefit women in the field? This goes somewhat beyond "Institution X is an equal-opportunity employer". For example, one might discuss that the lab being funded, or the institution it's in, has active programs to recruit and retain women that will impact, or be impacted by, the project. For example, a recent proposal we submitted that was to support a large number of graduate students noted that the recruiting department was fairly gender balanced - suggesting that the applicant pool would be as well.
  3. Will this project impact a particular gender? Clearly, a project examining the evolution of men's social networks over their lifetime will primarily focus on men, and the findings of the study will primarily impact them. But more subtly, one might recognize that a study modeling disease interventions to prevent school closure, or improve farming practices in certain parts of Africa may have gendered impacts because the burden of domestic and farming work falls on women.

I'd also echo @StellaBiderman's advice not to just say "It doesn't matter", at least until you get clarification.

Even then, I would try for a more fleshed out version of "It doesn't matter" that shows that you put thought and care into the answer. For example, "only that usually in the institute there are clearly more men than women, but this is not something I could fix in the project" isn't true if you have any funding for students or postdocs - that funding could, at least, help address the problem. If that is indeed what the funder is asking about.

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