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Photo: Melina Granberg
Ylva Fältholm, Professor of Human Work Science and Åsa Wikberg Nilsson, Senior Lecturer in Industrial Design. Photo: Melina Granberg View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Toolkit for gender equality in academia

Published: 21 November 2016

Recent studies show that Swedish universities still lack many women in higher positions. Now researchers at Luleå University of Technology have developed a toolkit that will help create a more gender equal academy.

The project involves integration of gender perspective in processes, working methods and decision-making in academia. Our guide can be used in any contexts, in innovation systems and in groups at different levels, says Ylva Fältholm, Professor of Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology.

– Traditionally, universities have tried to support women to better survive in academia, for example through mentoring programs. But we can no longer make the women responsible. If they have to engage in gender equality initiatives in parallel with their regular jobs, while men keep on improving their academic careers without having to get involved – it makes women fall behind even more. If we are to achieve sustainable change, all need to be involved. Therefore, we need to take a step further and let the gender perspective permeate the entire organisation, says Ylva Fältholm.

Value-creating methods

The toolkit is based on a number of established methods that researchers have compiled, given a gender dimension and tested on stakeholders. The researchers have also used many of the tools in their previous projects.

– One example is an evaluation exercise where participants choose to stand in different corners of a room, depending on the claim that they identify most with. In this way it can provide a better understanding of what people in a workgroup think, while prejudices can be raised and discussed. But it can also be tough when things come to the surface. Therefore, it is good to have an experienced facilitator with gender expertise, who can handle common critique and the situation, says Åsa Wikberg Nilsson, Senior Lecturer of Industrial Design at Luleå University of Technology.

Attitude change starts in the discussions

The researchers point out the discussions as important, since the goal is changed attitudes. By creating gender awareness in people  with any form of leadership and decision-making responsibilities, sustainable change within academia can be achieved. This can include recruitment and management groups, department heads, faculty boards or how salaries and conflicts are handled.

– The toolkit has an academic focus, but the methods can also be applied to other organizations, innovation systems, products or services, concludes Wikberg Åsa Nilsson.