Transformative potential of Gender Budgeting in HEIs

This blog is an expanded version of a presentation by Angela O’Hagan (Glasgow Caledonian University) at the recent LeTGEPS seminar, reflecting on gender budgeting and the supporting evidence emerging from GenBudget.

For those of us working in the GenBudget project we are working within a definition of gender budgeting that characterises it as “a strategy to advance gender equality and efficiency of policy making. It acknowledges that financial decisions, procedures, and processes are not gender neutral or objective technical procedures, but political instruments with gendered implications and consequences. It aims to raise awareness of the different impact of policy and resource allocation and change mechanisms to improve gender biased outcomes.”

That is a highly useful definition for a project focused on Gender Budgeting in Research Organisations because it takes us as researchers, and hopefully administrators and managers within HEIS, straight to “processes and procedures”, framing these structural norms and impediments as requiring attention and action, and not problematizing women in some kind of deficit model.  Through this analytical approach, across our community of practice within the GenBudget project, alongside sister projects on gender equality planning and organisational change (LeTGEPS) and gender budgeting in Northern Ireland with a focus on publicly funded training programmes, we are using gender budgeting tools to investigate how institutional processes and procedures reinforce or seek to transform entrenched gendered inequalities and through an examination of resource allocation, consider how HEIs are actively advancing gender equality.

We consider gender budgeting to be a transformative concept with the potential through its practical application of range of analytical tools to achieve a transformation of organisational processes and outcomes.  This transformative character is formed by the underlying intent of feminist theory and practice to transform the status quo and disrupt established practices that entrench and sustain gendered inequalities. Many of us have argued over the years that gender budgeting operationalises gender equality plans and supports compliance with gender equality legislation, including the positive duties contained in national gender equality laws. Examining processes, procedures, including those around the allocation of and support for accessing research funding supports organisational change programmes such as Athena Swan, by strengthening the focus on structural interventions and resources necessary to create and sustain systemic change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the social and economic impacts of entrenched gendered inequalities globally.  The general and global factors of occupational segregation, unequal time use, economic precarity and inequality, unequal division of household labour and imbalance in division of caring roles are societal and institutional realities for women academics, administrators, cleaners, catering and security staff in HEIs.

For many of us working as academic researchers there is a significant level of pressure to maintain research activity and outputs in addition to teaching, community engagement, policy impact, and academic administration.  These expectations have continued during the pandemic at the same time as domestic and working arrangements have been wholly disrupted for many, and especially women.

As the rapid switch to on-line learning snapped on, and publicly provided education and childcare services were switched off in lockdowns, domestic and professional worlds not only collided but were condensed for many into the reduced space of ‘home’Data throughout 2020 and into 2021 has repeatedly demonstrated that women continue to carry the load in homeschooling, domestic work, caring and provisioning with much of the harshest impacts have been on low income women

Women in academia – which also includes low paid and precarious work – have seen their research time and outputs fall significantly.  In May 2020, Smith and Watchorn surveyed over 3,200 academics in 80 countries on the gendered impacts of changes to working conditions.

              “Around half of respondents to our research said they had ‘no time at all’ or ‘less time’ for research and writing than they had before lockdown – but female scholars reported far greater time pressures than their male colleagues. We also found that the majority (66%) of researchers said they could only continue with their writing and research with ‘significant limitations’ on both their time and capacity – and again, there was a gender divide.” (Smith and Watchorn, 2020)


This evidence and the data from our Gen Budget projects, including the presentations at our most recent webinar reveal

  • Persistent inequalities in the numbers and distribution of women in senior academic roles and across academic subjects;
  • Imbalances in research resource allocations from institutional budgets and external funding sources;
  • Undervaluing of gender related research and teaching;
  • Unequal experiences of employment and recruitment of women PhD graduates.

Previous webinars have revealed further inequalities produced and reproduced through organisational processes including Work Allocation Models, and the gendered distribution of workloads, and enduring inequality in pay systems,

All of this data, showing depressingly limited progress in advancing gender equality, reinforce the necessity of our focus on the processes and procedures within HEIs, including those relating to the allocation and support for accessing research funds.  Findings from GenBudget colleagues are consistently exposing gendered inequalities and institutional resistances, all of which reaffirms the transformative potential of applying gender budgeting.  In practice that means taking action to

  • Gather and use data on the distribution of women and men across occupations and organisational hierarchies to identify gaps, deficiencies and orientate action;
  • Capture data on ECRs, PGRs and others, mainly women, at risk of precarious employment;
  • Analyse research outputs, bids, and institutional support to academics by gender;
  • Ensure research communications, calls for submissions, ease of application, and internal processes all recognise the significant time requirement for research funding bids (many of which are repetitive);
  • Funding support for academics, PGRs, and ECRs, should reflect the intersecting lived effects of gender, parental status, disability and time use – and not the “one size DOESN’T fit all” approach;
  • Take time to identify and understand the structural ‘problems’ and their causes;
  • Examine how institutional resources are directed and how/if they are driving change;
  • Re-orientate policy and supporting resource to drive change and the advancement of gender equality.

Specific actions to remedy the impacts of Covid-19 should include

  • Designate specific funds to support academics, mainly women, who have lost time to Covid-19

All the actions suggested above are consistent with gender budgeting analysis of institutional processes, procedures, and resource decision making.  Applying and auctioning these institutional changes also requires addressing the issues emerging from a growing international literature on gender budgeting in HEIs.  Current challenges to be met include

  • The need for executive engagement and leadership
  • Ensuring linkages between university corporate strategies, gender equality plans and gender equality analysis in budgets and revenue/spending plans;
  • Ensuring management processes, including Key Performance Indicators and other management tools actively consider gender equality objectives and outcomes.


Our exchanges, local research, and ongoing deliberations reinforce our commitment in GenBudget to gender budgeting as the process of integrating analysis of policy and spend.  That gender budgeting is a whole-systems approach that requires the integration of gender analysis across all operational and strategic policies and processes.  Taking such an approach in HEIs has the transformative potential to activate gender mainstreaming which supports and drives transformation through creating more gender equal institutions.