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The Gender in STEM Research Initiative: Advancing gender analysis and women’s leadership in STEM fields. Call for Expressions of Interest


Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is pleased to announce a new funding opportunity to advance gender analysis and women’s leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields through the Gender in STEM Research Initiative.

In the last decade, pioneering work by a number of scholars and organizations around the world has increased awareness of the importance of a more inclusive approach to science, in particular one that integrates women as scientists and users of science, and that recognizes gender analysis as integral to high-quality research and innovation. Several initiatives have been launched in response, and some advances have been made. Nonetheless we continue to observe twin deficits in women’s representation as leaders in science - notably, in natural sciences, and engineering and maths - and in the integration of gender analysis[1] in these fields. This requires a redoubling of efforts to deepen understanding about the twin gender deficits in STEM and propose evidence-based strategies for how higher education and science systems can respond.

This initiative, therefore, will support university-led consortia to expand and deepen scholarship in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly in Africa, on the challenges and opportunities that women scientists experience in STEM fields and on the importance of gender analysis in STEM research. The initiative will increase localized evidence on the key factors that constrain or support women scientists and gender analysis in STEM at different levels and in different STEM domains, on actual or potential strategies (structures, programs and policies) to address these, and on lessons learned at the level of universities and responsible ministries, nationally and regionally. Through research, consortia will be expected to identify innovative approaches that increase the capacity of universities and other higher-education institutions to be more inclusive of women and gender analysis in STEM. The ultimate objective is to increase the contribution of science to gender equality.

Expressions of interest (EoIs) are invited from research consortia that bring together the range of multi-disciplinary and sectoral perspectives, capacities, and contributions needed to undertake gender in STEM research in line with the objectives, outcomes, and themes of this funding opportunity, as set out below.

Eligibility considerations

Applications are eligible from consortia involving at least two public universities based in at least two eligible LMICs. Consortia may also involve researchers based at other institutions in these and other countries, and other stakeholders, as appropriate. Consistent with the focus of the call, we expect women scientists to play a leading role in the consortia as established and emerging researchers.  

Geographic focus: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Up to eight consortia may be funded, half being in Africa.

Duration of research grants: 36 months

Budget: CA$1 million to CA$1.25 million per research consortium; a total of CA$8 million is available for this call.

Contact email:

Deadline for submission: Monday May 10, 2021 (17:00 Eastern Daylight Time)

Background and rationale

While the proportion of women in tertiary education has been growing around the world, STEM programs are still lagging behind in their inclusion of women. The United Nation’s 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report noted that for STEM globally, women make up only 35% of students - and, typically, their representation in STEM faculties is considerably lower. This is especially true at more senior levels, which is also reflected in the membership of national science academies. In LMICs, women’s share as tertiary graduates and as researchers is often considerably lower in natural sciences - especially engineering and technology - than in arts and humanities, as 2018 data from UNESCO’s Science Report 2021 suggest. The under-representation of women (and girls) in STEM presents a serious barrier to their empowerment and the contributions they can make to strengthening tertiary education and science and innovation systems in ways that are necessary to drive economic and societal transformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the structural barriers that women face in advancing in STEM fields; many are experiencing disruptions in research and publication as they take on additional teaching and caregiving duties for students and family members relative to their male counterparts.

In parallel with the importance of women’s active participation as scientists, in many disciplines gender analysis is now recognized as integral to high-quality research. In natural sciences and engineering, however, gender analysis remains underdeveloped, limiting the scope and potential impact of research in these fields. 

In the past decade, there have been many pioneering efforts to document and address these twin deficits - the unequal participation of women in science, and the limited gender analysis in STEM research. Particularly notable has been the work of UNESCO, supported by Sweden, as well as UN Women and the Global Research Council, which have documented the gaps and initiatives to advance gender equality in science, technology, and innovation in different regions and countries. A number of programs in LMICs have involved support for individual women scientists. Others have addressed institutional policies and practices of universities and research funding agencies and the extent to which they have created an enabling environment for women scientists. One issue attracting considerable attention across universities has been gender-based harassment and sexual violence and how these affect women and other groups - though with less attention to the specific risks that women face as scientists. In Canada and other higher-income countries, as well as many LMICs, science granting councils have introduced policies on gender analysis as part of efforts to ensure research and its applications address equity, diversity, and inclusivity.

The data show that there are still gaps in knowledge about the challenges that women scientists face, the difficulties in introducing gender analysis in STEM, and the policies and practices to effectively respond. It is here that additional research and outreach have a role to play. For example, what policy and institutional initiatives - particularly in the physical sciences, engineering, and maths - might help to advance the integration of gender analysis into research questions and designs? Where agencies have begun to focus on increasing gender diversity in research teams, have there been constraints? For instance, have underlying gender gaps and dynamics in disciplines, research organizations, and society at large been adequately addressed? Do campuses, and specifically science labs, offer just, safe, and conducive environments for women to learn and work as scientists? What larger systemic contexts, in which research teams and research projects are embedded, may need to be considered to fully realize gender equality as well as the potential of gender diversity in science?

The objective of the IDRC’s Gender in STEM Research Initiative is to increase the contribution of science to gender equality. Specifically, it seeks to advance women’s leadership and participation in STEM, and to increase gender analysis in STEM research.

The intended outcomes of the research consortia’s work are that:

  • Higher education and other science research institutions are transformed by policies and practices that advance women in science and entrepreneurship.
  • Academic norms for high-quality STEM teaching and research are revised to mainstream gender analysis.

Research consortia will contribute to these outcomes by developing scholarship (research capacity and papers) and networks that inform policies and practices to advance gender equality and gender analysis in STEM.

The call aims for comparative cross-country work. This includes the sharing of experiences among lower-income countries as well as between lower- and middle-income countries. In the latter case, we are particularly interested in comparisons that aim for impact in lower-income countries.

The value that the Gender in STEM Research Initiative adds is action-research and community of practice-oriented programming at scale, building on earlier IDRC pilot initiatives such as Breaking Barriers to Women in STEM and Gendered Design in STEAM. The initiative will strengthen LMIC researchers’ scholarship on gender in STEM, in parallel with their peers in OECD countries. It will support research teams in which women scholars play a leading role, working with stakeholders to examine and intervene on context-specific challenges at institutional, sectoral, and national levels.

It proposes a path-breaking research agenda to advance actionable knowledge on specific challenges and opportunities, namely: including gender analysis in STEM research beyond life sciences; integrating arts, design, humanities and social sciences perspectives in STEM; advancing institutional policies to promote gender equality in STEM; and safeguarding women scientists from gender-based violence.

Scope of the call

Expressions of interest (EoIs) must contribute to the above objectives by proposing research that will address at least one of the following four themes. These themes are not mutually exclusive. By addressing the various themes, the research consortia will contribute to an enabling environment for gender equality and excellence in STEM research. Attention should be given to gender transformative, intersectional, inclusive, and ethical approaches to inform, enable, monitor, and learn from current or new policies and practices that promote gender in STEM. We encourage applicants to integrate action-research methodology if it fits their research questions and objectives. For further examples of previous work that inspired the selection of these themes, please see Annex C.

Theme 1: Including gender analysis in STEM research - There are significant gaps in the integration of gender analysis in specific STEM disciplinary fields (e.g., technology, engineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, artificial intelligence). This theme provides an opportunity for consortia to do STEM research that integrates gender analysis as well as research on the integration of gender analysis in STEM. Some questions to consider may include:

What evidence is there that STEM research that integrates gender analysis is more impactful than research which does not? Does such research address problems that are neglected by the mainstream of STEM? What research designs and methodologies have improved the integration of gender analysis and to what effect? What are innovative ways to tackle the constraints to advancing the integration of gender considerations? How do these vary across fields/disciplines, types of institutions and sectoral or national contexts?

Theme 2: Exploring STEA+M - There have been efforts in a number of OECD countries to achieve responsible, relevant, and inclusive STEM higher education by integrating the arts, design, humanities and social sciences (or A+) into STEM. This has focused in particular on the ways that STEM is taught in post-secondary education (universities, technical colleges). While some countries outside the OECD also have begun to experiment with STEA+M, there is less evidence on how A+ perspectives, concepts and methods are, or might be, used to transform STEM teaching as well as R&D in LMICs. Some questions to consider may include:

What has been the effect in LMICs where A+ elements have been integrated into STEM pedagogies? What have been the constraints? What new approaches to STEM curriculum development and pedagogy involve the integration of A+ and other elements in specific STEM fields? What impacts have STEA+M approaches had on the participation of women and other groups that are less well represented in science? Has STEA+M helped to increase gender analysis in STEM research?

Theme 3: Advancing institutional policies to promote gender equality in STEM - There has been an array of policy interventions in LMICs to promote gender equality in STEM by strengthening the capacity of educational, scientific, and industry-based organizations and sectors to eliminate gender biases and stereotypes. But data suggest such policy interventions have been inadequate, as women remain under-represented in particular STEM fields, especially at more senior levels in universities and research institutions in the public and private sectors. Consortia can undertake research to inform the institutional transformation and broader enabling environments essential to achieve gender equality in STEM. Some questions to consider might be:

What specific types of interventions exist to increase participation and create an enabling environment to retain women in STEM? What factors explain which initiatives have achieved impact - i.e., have increased women’s leadership in STEM research? How can public and private STEM higher education and research institutions overcome gender biases and negative stereotypes, and promote gender equality and inclusive principles? How can initiatives with impact at an organizational level be brought to scale at sectoral, national, or regional levels?

Theme 4: Safeguarding women scientists - A requirement for gender equality in STEM is the creation of environments in universities, research labs, industry, and other science organizations where women scientists, and those from vulnerable minorities, feel secure. Gender-based harassment and sexual violence present women scientists, as other minorities in STEM, with particular risks that remain under-reported in many countries, including LMICs. Some questions to consider are:

How do these risks present themselves for women in STEM (how do they compare with risks that are faced by women in other disciplines)? What strategies are needed to generate data and other evidence on these problems? Are there policies and practices, which could be informed by research and networking, that would help to end harassment and sexual violence, and thus safeguard women and other scientists in STEM institutions? Are some interventions more effective than others? What is needed to improve, monitor and evaluate progress resulting from these interventions?

Eligibility considerations

Geographic focus

Research consortia must be led by public universities based in two or more LMICs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (list of eligible countries). Up to eight consortia may be funded, half of these being in Africa.

Team composition

Consortia must consist of at least two university-based research teams that integrate complementary knowledge and expertise, and the lead applicant team must have experience in leading or working within consortia or networks of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

In addition to researchers, consortia may involve practitioners and policy actors who will work jointly towards achieving defined research objectives, assess progress of work, and evaluate project results. Established women scientists will be expected to have leading roles in the research consortia, which should also provide opportunities for emerging women scientists.

Grant structure and funding conditions

Eligible research consortia must identify a lead applicant organization that will assume responsibility for managing grant funds, including developing and administering funding arrangements with the other organizations in the consortium.

For proposals selected for funding, IDRC will enter into a funding agreement only with the identified lead applicant organization. The lead applicant organization must have legal corporate registration in an LMIC in the list of eligible countries and must be able to administer foreign funds and manage funding arrangements with other organizations in the consortium.

A member of the research team with a primary work affiliation at the lead applicant organization must serve as the project leader (normally also as a co-principal investigator). The project leader and all co-principal investigators should be citizens or permanent residents of an LMIC found in the OECD DAC list for 2021. (Note that this list is broader than the country list provided above.) Please see Annex B for more information on minimum requirements to receive an IDRC grant. 

Other organizations within the research consortium should serve as co-applicant organizations or third-party organizations.

Co-applicant organizations are direct partners in the research and jointly share with the lead applicant organization the intellectual responsibility and ownership for the knowledge and outputs produced.

International organizations, including United Nations organizations and CGIAR members, are eligible to join as consortium members provided that they meet their own costs.

Third-party organizations may support a consortium by providing expert advice or consultancy services. All proposals that involve third-party organizations must clearly justify their involvement and explain their role(s). There is a cap of 10% of funding requested per consortium for co-applicant and third-party organizations in high-income countries. For more details, including budget restrictions for third-party organizations, please see our frequently asked questions.

Budget and duration of research grants

Research grants will have a duration of 36 months and budgets of between CA$1 million and CA$1.25 million per consortium.

Evaluation Process

Proposals submitted to this competitive call will be evaluated through a two-stage selection process.

Stage 1

In the first stage, applicants must submit an expression of interest (EoI) by the first deadline (see Key dates section). EoIs will be reviewed by IDRC to determine if the application meets eligibility criteria (specified above), is relevant to the call themes, and meets quality standards for IDRC-funded research projects (review criteria are spelled out below).

All EoIs should be submitted in English or French, using the online system. The components of the online application form are outlined below:

  • Project title
  • Selected theme(s)
  • Name and full address of the consortium lead applicant organization, names of other members
  • Name, title, work affiliation, and email addresses of the consortium’s project leader and co-principal investigator(s)
  • High-level budget
  • Brief CVs of key research team members

EoIs are expected to address the following:  

Plain language project summary, including project objectives (300 words)

  • Summarize the project that is being proposed, avoiding use of unnecessary jargon where possible and focusing on the salient features and objectives of the project.
  • Lay out what the project aims to achieve during the course of its implementation.

Problem identification and key challenge (300 words)

  • Clearly state the problem or opportunity to be addressed in your project, making appropriate linkages to the development context, and indicating what hypotheses will guide your work.
  • Provide a justification for the importance of tackling the selected problem at this time.

Project design (400 words, plus up to five key references)

  • Identify central research hypotheses that will guide your work and indicate general methodology and key methods/techniques to be used throughout the project.
  • Identify the theoretical framework to guide your project.
  • Indicate how this methodological and theoretical approach can contribute to filling existing knowledge gaps and generating novel results.
  • Indicate, at a high level, the activities this project would support.

Expected outcomes (200 words)

  • Identify specific and measurable outputs and outcomes from this project, and the timescales for achieving them, ideally connecting immediate to longer-term outcomes of the project.

NB: You may complement this with a one-page Theory of Change diagram (outside the word limit). You will be offered the opportunity to upload this as a special task later in the application process.

Description of consortium (500 words, plus three key references)

  • Briefly describe and justify the roles and responsibilities of the main participating organizations and lead researchers. Explain how women scientists will pay lead roles in the consortium.
  • Briefly explain opportunities the consortium will provide to build scholarship on gender in STEM amongst emerging scholars, particularly women.
  • Indicate experience within the lead institution for managing a project of this scale and type.
  • List three recent and relevant publications (reports, peer-reviewed papers, policy briefs, etc.) written by consortium members.

NB: Brief CVs (two pages each) of key research team members are to be uploaded when prompted in the online application tasks.

Estimated budget — total amount with brief notes and justification

Internal review

EoIs will be reviewed for eligibility, then their quality will be assessed by an IDRC internal review committee based on three criteria:


  • Are the ideas presented in the EoI relevant to the topic selected and well-grounded in current policy debates and scientific literature, including needs?
  • Is the proposed approach, including the use of funds, plausible given the chosen thematic?
  • Does the planned approach position the research to advance change in policy or practice?
  • Does the planned research align to the call outcomes?

Clarity and novelty

  • Does the proposal provide new and original ideas in the context of the selected theme(s)?
  • Are these ideas articulated in a sufficiently clear and structured manner?

Consortium capacity

  • Do the key researchers have the multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral expertise for tackling the proposed issues and an ability to collaborate?
  • Do they have a track record of strong research leadership in LMICs and demonstrated knowledge of gender analysis in STEM?
  • Are the roles of consortium members clearly articulated in the EoI and the budget?
  • Does the team reflect principles of equity, diversity and inclusion appropriate for “Advancing Gender in STEM”?
  • What role is proposed for women scientists in the consortium?
  • Are there opportunities to build capacity for emerging scholars, particularly women?

Other considerations:

  • Additional considerations for selection will include geographic and thematic diversity, in order to ensure there is adequate representation of a range of project types and of regions invited to submit full proposals.

No comments or feedback will be provided to the applicants at this stage.

IDRC reserves the right to cancel the process at any time without prior notice and/or at its discretion to grant all or none of the awards under this call. Moreover, grants will be awarded only subject to the availability of funding.

Stage 2

Invited applicants will be required to submit a full proposal by the second deadline (see Key dates section). Note that an invitation to submit a full proposal is not a guarantee of funding.

An external scientific review committee composed of international and multi-disciplinary experts will evaluate and score full proposals for scientific and technical merit. Guidelines on preparing full proposals and evaluation criteria will be provided to applicants invited to submit a full proposal.

Following their individual reviews, the scientific review committee will meet to discuss their reviews of each proposal, agree on a score for each proposal, and prepare a ranked list of proposals recommended for IDRC funding.

Final selection

A final funding decision will then be taken by IDRC after applying the following considerations:

  • overall merit of applications as informed by the scientific review committee
  • distribution of priority research themes among applications deemed of high merit
  • geographic distribution
  • availability of funds
  • IDRC granting guidelines (e.g., institutional and country risks)

Applying for the call

Expressions of interest (Stage 1) to this call must be submitted online through the Survey Monkey application platform here by the deadline (see Key dates section). Applications must be submitted in English or French.

Key dates

Deadline for submitting expressions of interest:

May 10, 2021

Successful applicants will be invited to develop full proposals:

May 28, 2021

Deadline for submitting full proposals:

June 29, 2021

Unless otherwise advised, applicants will be notified of funding decisions by:

July 30, 2021

Granting details with IDRC will be finalized:

September 2021

Contact details

Any inquiries related to the GIST Research Initiative Call and application process should be sent to

Signing a grant agreement with each selected consortium:

October/November 2021

Annex A - IDRC’s Equality Statement

IDRC strives for equality in all aspects of its work. We support the generation of knowledge - including by individuals from diverse genders, communities, histories, and experiences - that tackles the systems that perpetuate inequalities on the basis of identity.

Inequalities exist across multiple and intersecting categories of identity, including, but not limited to: gender, sexuality, age, class, race, caste, ethnicity, citizenship status, religion, and ability. Taking an intersectional approach to equality recognizes these differences and understands diversity as central to advancing equality. Given that gender inequality is a significant barrier across all dimensions of diversity, IDRC invests in specific efforts to ensure its work promotes gender equality.

IDRC recognizes that the strength and credibility of its work rests on a two-pronged approach: first, diversity and inclusion are integrated into our internal systems, policies, and practices; second, our research programming considers diversity and inclusion as fundamental dimensions of research quality and aims to advance equality and inclusion in the world.

We recognize and acknowledge:

  • Gender refers to the socially constructed differences attributed to being male and female and is non-binary and diverse. Differences are rooted in power dynamics between people of different genders, and gender norms and stereotypes that cause and reinforce inequalities of opportunities and resources between and among genders. This manifests as discrimination and exclusion of persons of genders with less social power, often girls, women, and people who identify as LGBTIQ2+.
  • Women, girls, LGBTIQ2+, and other marginalized groups experience persistent structural barriers to equality in the developing world and have a right to equality.
  • Achieving equality varies by place and must be situated within the socio-cultural, political, and economic contexts in the different regions where IDRC works; similarly, inequalities are not static and can vary and change over time.


  1. Respect for people, engagement, and transparency: Treating all people with respect, dignity, and fairness is fundamental to achieving our mandate and maintaining strong relationships with stakeholders; it contributes to a safe and healthy work environment that promotes engagement, openness, and transparency.
  2. Global resonance and relevance: Research supported by IDRC aligns with globally agreed principles, including UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and other systemic frameworks and goals surrounding gender equality and inclusion.
  3. Coherence: Achieving equality and inclusion outcomes through research requires IDRC to walk the talk; that is, that our internal policies and practice must be coherent with our mandate and strategy. This means that IDRC fosters a workplace culture — through its code of conduct, policies, and collective agreement — that promotes respect, diversity, and inclusion and that aligns with our strategy and goals. The inclusion of all people and the ideas they generate are a great source of our innovation.
  4. Equitable partnerships: IDRC promotes and encourages diversity and inclusion considerations in the partnerships that it builds with grantees, funders, and other stakeholders in Canada and globally.
  5. Engage stakeholders in conduct of research for change: IDRC supports research in partnership with expert researchers and advocates knowledgeable about their specific context, and who work to transform harmful norms, stereotypes, and inequalities in their countries and communities. 
  6. Research quality: Attention to diversity and inclusion is a fundamental dimension of research quality.
  7. Foundational to strategy: IDRC treats diversity and inclusion as an explicit and key part of strategy development and execution.
  8. Accountability: Accountability for monitoring, evaluation, and learning as a means of improving its work on diversity and inclusion is of primary importance for IDRC.

Annex B - Authorization Requirements

The applicant institution may be required to obtain approval from the host country in accordance with these agreements prior to receiving funding from IDRC. This requirement applies only for selected applications. IDRC reserves the right not to pursue the funding of a selected project if the country approval is not secured within six months after IDRC officially announces approval of the project, as this would jeopardize the timely completion of the Gender in STEM Research Initiative.

Applicants must meet minimum requirements to receive an IDRC grant. Any selected proponents shall be required to sign IDRC’s standard Grant Agreement, as amended by IDRC from time to time. Furthermore, IDRC reserves the right to cancel the granting process at any time without prior notice and/or reserves the right to grant - at its discretion - all or none of the awards under this process. The grant agreement will provide a schedule for submitting interim and final technical and financial reports.

Annex C: Background to Gender in STEM Research Initiative Themes

The themes identified in this call document emerge from the literature on mainstreaming gender analysis in STEM for high-quality research and supporting institutional transformation to advance gender equality and women’s leadership in STEM.[i] We have identified four themes, which are not mutually exclusive, but which overlap and are interlinked. It is by addressing the various themes that an enabling environment for gender equality and excellence in STEM research can be strengthened.  

The first two themes focus on including gender analysis in STEM research and integrating arts, design, humanities, and social sciences (or A+) perspectives into STEM higher education (and research). Gender diversity is critical to high-quality science, discovery, and innovation for development,[ii] though more is likely needed to increase the integration of gender analysis into STEM. In digital information technology, computing, physics, mathematics, and engineering, which are fields driving the next industrial revolution and many of the jobs for tomorrow, women remain a minority.[iii] New approaches to STEM higher education, notably through the integration of A+, may prove more inclusive.

Advancing institutional policies to promote gender equality in STEM and safeguarding women scientists from gender-based violence are the other two themes. These consider the importance of building and strengthening institutional capacity and supporting systemic transformation to allow women (and girls) from different backgrounds to participate and succeed in STEM. The question of creating a just, safe, and conducive environment for women in university campuses may have specific dimensions for women scientists. UNESCO’s Science Report 2021 notes that women are leaving tech fields in academia and industry in response to unjust workplace conditions, lack of access to creative roles, and stalled careers.[iv] It underscores that institutional transformation is critical for enabling environments that promote gender equality in STEM. Some specific policy measures are outlined in the Global Research Council’s Statement of Principles and Actions Promoting the Equality and Status of Women in Research.[v]

Theme 1: Including gender analysis in STEM research

Despite much policy-level support to the principle of integrating sex and gender considerations in STEM, evidence of progress in actual research varies greatly across STEM fields, and generally appears weaker than in the life and agricultural sciences.[vi] It seems that more attention has been given to the make-up of research teams than to including gender analysis in research design.[vii] Progress on increasing diversity on teams may help to improve the quality of science, but additional measures are likely needed to increase the integration of gender analysis.[viii]

Under this theme, LMIC-based consortia may want to experiment in the use of gender analysis in specific STEM disciplines - and compare results with research that is gender-blind. Research could also address the specific types of incentives or constraints to advancing the integration of gender analysis in different STEM fields or disciplines, and variations observable across institutions and national contexts. Some countries may have policy initiatives to encourage greater use of gender analysis in STEM as in other fields.[ix]

The research proposed under this theme seeks not only to generate knowledge, but also inform, implement, and learn from new approaches and interventions to advance the integration of gender analysis in STEM. Thus, it is important to understand how new research designs and methodologies might improve the integration of gender considerations in specific STEM research fields, disciplines, institutions, and countries.

Theme 2: Exploring STEA+M - integrating arts, design, humanities and social sciences (A+) into STEM higher education and research

The introduction of A+ perspectives, concepts and methods into STEM higher education and research to produce more responsible, relevant, and inclusive outcomes[x] is relatively new to most LMIC contexts. STEA+M is an umbrella concept covering a wide range of approaches aimed at:

  • making pedagogical methods more hands-on, integrated with other disciplines, societally relevant, creative (problem solving) and fun
  • reaching out to a more diverse range of student groups and making in-class dynamics more inclusive
  • improving the attractiveness of studies and a career in mathematics, physics and engineering
  • strengthening the employability of STEM graduates, including design, communications and team-management skills
  • challenging the values underpinning science and technology

A growing number of research-funding agencies in advanced economies now support transdisciplinary approaches that bring A+ perspectives to bear on STEM-led research.[xi] Several universities have also experimented with STEA+M approaches to pedagogy as a way to engage greater numbers of students in science fields and to develop skills in scientists that address 21st century problems through research and in the workplace.[xii] In parallel, universities in many high-income countries have developed degree programs in STEA+M pedagogy for high school teachers.

With the rising complexity of development challenges and the required mix of competencies in fast-growth sectors of R&D (such as food, energy, climate adaptation, AI and machine learning, and bio and nanotechnologies),[xiii] the potential of STEA+M approaches is gaining currency across other regions. Some universities in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador have experimented with curriculum/ pedagogical innovation in STEM. [xiv] But there is limited evidence of similar efforts, and those specifically involving STEA+M, across most LMICs. And even less knowledge exists of results where integration of A+ elements into STEM teaching and R&D has occurred.  

Research could help our understanding of the specific conditions under which STEA+M approaches have helped or could help train a broader range of people (in particular women) to be scientists equipped to address national and regional sectoral priorities. What institutional or sectoral policy initiatives enabled STEA+M pedagogies to be introduced? (Have there been differences between technical colleges and universities?) And to what effect? What challenges or constraints did departments or institutions encounter and how were they addressed? Similarly, was the introduction of these new pedagogies accompanied by STEA+M approaches to research? And to what effect?  

The research proposed under this theme can aim to inform, implement, and learn from new approaches and interventions to integrate A+ perspectives, and consortia may propose piloting new curriculum, pedagogies, and research designs to improve the integration of A+ elements in specific STEM fields in particular institutions/countries. Consideration of STEA+M’s impact on research - whether and under what conditions it generates results that are more responsive, relevant, and inclusive; whether and how this differs from the impact of other transdisciplinary approaches - links to issues under Theme 1.

Theme 3: Advancing institutional policies to promote gender equality in STEM

It is well established that girls, women, and some marginalized groups face multiple challenges and barriers throughout their lives to engage in many STEM disciplinary fields in education, research, and other STEM-related occupations across the globe.[xv] Recent UN global and regional reports[xvi] underscore the broad and persistent set of obstacles at various levels (field/sector, institutional, societal) that continue to affect women’s interests and capabilities to engage, persist, advance, and benefit from STEM education and science. In response to these challenges, governments, higher-education and research institutions, and the private sector have introduced a range of policies and practices to increase the representation and participation of women (and girls) in STEM disciplines. Several examples of national interventions to support women in STEM are summarized in the report produced by Global Research Council, which includes data provided by funding councils from LMICs and many others.[xvii] 

A question that arises concerns the coherence and comprehensiveness of these policies and practices. Are they sufficiently ambitious, coordinated, and effectively implemented to achieve the institutional transformation and contribute to the broader sectoral and societal changes needed to enable gender equality in science systems? What do they tell us about bottlenecks or gaps in the pipeline for women scientists in higher education and research? For instance, some initiatives have targeted doctoral and early-career women scientists.[xviii] But there may be a need in some disciplines for programming to strengthen capacities at the post-doctoral level. What about issues of intersectionality and gender relations experienced by women scientists in STEM education and research organizations, including in the private sector? How have these been addressed? What measures have been taken by national, regional, and international research funding agencies to address gender and diversity in their funding processes, and with what results?[xix] What is specific to the STEM field that might lead to particular policies and practices that provide an enabling environment for women scientists? What lessons can be learned from the roles that women scientists have assumed during the COVID-19 pandemic at work, home, and elsewhere? What can interventions in one region learn from experiences in another?

This funding opportunity will support scholars in STEM fields in LMICs to undertake research and networking to address some of these questions, which are also the subject of research by their peers elsewhere. For example, one UK study is examining the reasons for lower rates of international collaboration amongst women engineers.[xx] This is an issue also identified in recent research on the next generation of scientists (across all fields) in Africa.[xxi] Action-research could help to identify, categorize, and assess both the challenges and specific types of intervention for increased participation of women in STEM higher education and research. Such analysis, evidence from other countries, and even pilot interventions could be used by consortia to inform policies and practices to promote gender equality in STEM in their countries and regions.

Theme 4: Safeguarding women scientists

The incidence of gender-based harassment and sexual violence in academic and research institutions remains greatly under-reported officially in all world regions. Against low numbers of officially reported incidents, science institutions may perceive that justice and safety are not major issues for them, hence arguing that they do not require concerted institutional responses. With a few exceptions,[xxii] most of the evidence has focused on the scale of the problems of harassment and sexual violence across universities, and the inadequacy of institutional responses. In Latin America, for example, a 2019 survey of 100 universities in 16 countries found that 60% lacked policies for handling sexual harassment complaints, while in Africa, where many universities have gender policies and policies against sexual harassment, sexual manipulation of women and youth is reported to be widespread.[xxiii] There are some signs of progress, including in the number of universities adopting policies on sexual misconduct in Latin America, pressed by campus-based movements.[xxiv] Several scholars are conducting research on sexual violence in universities in Africa[xxv] and Asia.[xxvi] However, more research is needed to understand and address specific issues that arise in science teaching and research, and about how to make environments more just, safe, and conducive for women to learn and work as scientists. How do experiences of women scientists, and particularly those in STEM, compare with peers in other disciplines? University-wide interventions may address some of their concerns, but others may be needed to address variations across groups of individuals affected, types of institutions, and national and cultural contexts.

This research theme is important to generate knowledge as well as better inform the design and implementation of policies to safeguard women scientists. Proponents are encouraged to think of innovative and relevant interventions that can help reduce gender-based harassment and sexual violence in their specific institutions and communities as well as consider specific population groups and research disciplines that will be addressed through their research.

[1] We use the term “gender analysis” here to include “sex and gender-based analysis”, which is an approach that systematically examines sex-based (biological) and gender-based (socio-cultural) differences.

[i] Examples include Charlesworth, Tessa E.S., & Mahzarin R. Banaji. (2019). Gender in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: Issues, Causes, Solutions. J Neurosci. Sep 11; 39(37): 7228–7243.;

Cheryan, S., Ziegler, S. A., Montoya, A. K., & Jiang, L. (2017). Why are some STEM fields more gender balanced than others? Psychological Bulletin, 143(1), 1-35.;

Eaton, A.A., Saunders, J.F., Jacobson, R.K., and West, K. (2020). How Gender and Race Stereotypes Impact the Advancement of Scholars in STEM: Professors' Biased Evaluations of Physics and Biology Post-Doctoral Candidates. Sex Roles.

[ii] Nielson, M. W., Bloch, C. W. & Schiebinger, L. (2018). Making gender diversity work for scientific discovery and innovation. Nature Human Behaviour, 2, 726-734.

[iii] For instance, an analysis of nearly 3 million computer science papers published between 1970 and 2018 concluded that gender parity would not be reached in this field until at least 2100, even under a scenario in which women authored 90% of all publications in the coming years. Quoted by Bello, Alessandro, Blowers, Tonya, Shneegans, Susan, Straza, & Tiffany. (2021). To be smart, the digital revolution will need to be inclusive: excerpt from the UNESCO Science Report.

[iv] Just 2.3% of venture capital is being channelled towards start-ups led by women, according to a 2020 global survey of 700 firms by Trustradius. Bello, Alessandro, Blowers, Tonya, Shneegans, Susan, Straza, & Tiffany. (2021). To be smart, the digital revolution will need to be inclusive: excerpt from the UNESCO science report.

[v] Global Research Council. (2016). Statement of Principles and Actions Promoting the Equality and Status of Women in Research.

[vi] For instance, see Tannenbaum, C., Ellis, R. P., Eyssel F., Zou, J., & Schiebinger, L. (2019). Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering. Nature. Volume 575, pp. 137–146.

[vii] For instance, the European Commission’s GENDER-NET Plus European Research Area Network, a consortium bringing together 17 partners from 13 countries, had several projects reviewing the integration of the gender dimension in STEM teaching, research content, and knowledge and technology transfer. This and a number of other recent EU initiatives gave more attention to structural and policy changes for greater gender balance in research teams and gender in teaching curricula, and very little to engendering the design of research and technological innovation.

[viii] The term “gender analysis” here includes “sex and gender-based analysis”, which is an approach that systematically examines sex-based (biological) and gender-based (socio-cultural) differences. For further discussion of sex and gender-based analysis please see page 2 of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s current Guide for Applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application at

[ix] See, for instance, Bello, A. (2020). Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Latin America and the Caribbean, UN Women.

[x] Wajngurt, C., & Sloan, P. J. (2019). Overcoming Gender Bias in STEM: The Effect of Adding the Arts (STEAM). InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching. 14, 13-28.

[xi] For example, Canada’s Ingenium-NSERC’s STEAM Horizon Awards promote the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and design, and mathematics to the next generation of scientists and engineers. IDRC has collaborated with Carleton University to develop a network of Canadian and LMIC researchers who are linking gendered design to STEAM.

[xii] Colucci-Gray, L., Burnard, P., Cooke, C., Davies, R., Gray, D., & Trowsdale, J. (2017). Reviewing the potential and challenges of developing STEAM education through creative pedagogies for 21st learning: how can school curricula be broadened towards a more responsive, dynamic, and inclusive form of education?

[xiii] On the growing demand for hybrid job profiles, see:

Bersin, J. (2017). Catch the wave: The 21st-century career. Deloitte Review (21):;

Orange, E., Weiner, E., & Ranasinghe, E. (2018). 10 Trends to Watch in 2018 & Beyond. Omidyar Network ON-Strategy-Exploration-Trends-Report.pdf (

Aoun, J.E. (2016). Hybrid Jobs Call for Hybrid Education. Harvard Business Review;

On Argentina, see Tecnología y Arte: la combinación perfecta para tu future laboral.

[xiv] Han, X., Appelbaum, R.P. (2018). China’s science, technology, engineering, and methematics (STEM) research environment: A snapshot.;

Musa, A., Mohammed, D. S. (2016). A framework for the integration of steam in electrical technology education curriculum in Nigerian universities.;

Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil. Pedagogía.

[xv] Okeke, Iruka N., Chinedum P. Babalola, Denis K. Byarugaba, Abdoulaye Djimde, & Omolaja R. Osoniyi. (2017). Broadening Participation in the Sciences within and from Africa: Purpose, Challenges, and Prospects. CBE—Life Sciences Education. 16(2). doi: 10.1187/cbe.15-12-0265.;

UNESCO. (2018). Measuring Gender Equality in Science and Engineering: The SAGA Survey of Drivers and Barriers to Careers in Science and Engineering. Working Paper 4.;

Wang, M. T. & Degol, J. L. (2017). Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Directions. Educational Psychology Review. 29(1), 119–140.;

Leslie J., Rissle R., Hale, Katherine L., Joffe, Nina R., Caruso, Nicholas M. (2020). Gender Differences in Grant Submissions across Science and Engineering Fields at the NSF. BioScience. Volume 70, Issue 9, September 2020, 814–820.;

West, S. M., Whittaker, M., & Crawford, K. (2019). Discriminating Systems. Gender, Race, and Power in AI. AI Now Institute

[xvi] UNESCO Science Report. (2021). UNESCO research shows women career scientists still face gender bias.;

UNESCO. (2020). UN Women, Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the Latin America and the Caribbean Region.;

UNESCO. (2015). Bangkok Office and Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI). (2015). A Complex Formula: Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Asia.;

UNESCO. (2020). STEM education for girls and women: breaking barriers and exploring gender inequality in Asia.

[xvii] Global Research Council. (2019). Supporting Women in Research: Policies, Programs and Initiatives Undertaken by Public Research Funding Agencies. 

[xviii] See, for example, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World.

[xix] See, for example, efforts by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences research council to address gender and other diversity dimensions in their governance, application, and design of peer review processes.

[xx] The School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow is examining the transition of women engineers from post-docs, when rates of attrition appear to be higher for women than for men, and the lower rates of international research collaboration involving women. See

[xxi] Prozesky, H. and C. Beaudry (2019) Mobility, gender and career development in higher education: Results of a multi-country survey of African academic scientists. Social Sciences, 8(6): 188. DOI: 10.3390/socsci8060188 This found larger differences between men and women engineers on a number of mobility and collaboration indicators than in other disciplines.

[xxii] For example, see: Wessel, L. and R. P. Ortega (2020). “The spark has ignited - Latin American scientists intensify fight against sexual harassment.” Science

[xxiii] See Dranzoa, C. (2018). “Sexual Harrassment at African Higher Education Institutions.” International Higher Education 94. 4-5.

[xxiv] For example, on Chile, see: Maldonado-Maldonado, A., and F. Acosta (2018). “Women are increasingly challenging campus machismo.” University World News

[xxv] On Ethiopia, see Sendo E. G. and M. Meleku. (2015). Prevalence and factors associated with sexual violence among female students of Hawassa University in Ethiopia. Science Postprint 1, no. 2. 1-10.;

On Nigeria, see Mezie-Okoye, MMI., & Alamina, F. (2014). Sexual Violence among Female Undergraduates in a Tertiary Institution in Port Harcourt: Prevalence, Pattern, Determinants and Health Consequences. African Journal of Reproductive Health 18, no. 4. 79-85.;

On South Africa, see: Helen Oni T., Takalani Tshitangano G., & Henry Akinsola A. (2019). Sexual harassment and victimization of students: a case study of a higher education institution in South Africa. African Health Sciences 19, no. 1. 1478-1485.

[xxvi] Kamimura A., Trinh H. N., Nguyen H., Yamawaki N., Bhattacharya H., Mo W., Birkholz R., Makomenaw A., & Olson L. M. (2016). Bystander Attitudes to Prevent Sexual Assault: A Study of College Students in the United States, Japan, India, Vietnam, and China. J Sex Res 53, no. 9. 1131-1138.;

Kousar, H. (2019). Sexual Violence in the University Campuses of Delhi, India, and Therapeutic Jurisprudence for Justice to Victims: A Qualitative Study. Social Issues Surrounding Harassment and Assault: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice. Edited by Information Resources Management Association. 175-190. IGI Global, USA.