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Important steps towards an equal university

Published: 20 November 2017

The academic world has fewer women at higher positions compared with other companies and organisations. Despite the meritocratic ideal in the academic context, the conditions are not equal for women and men. The results are now presented in a doctoral dissertation at Luleå University of Technology.

– There is a general idea that qualifications are governing the academy and that gender therefore does not play a decisive role. Visibility of inequal structures has been important in raising awareness that these are issues we need to work with to achieve change, says Eva Källhammer, researcher in Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology.

Despite recent years of efforts to fight the gender gap at universities, these workplaces are still gender segregated, something that is particularly clear at higher positions. According to the Swedish Higher Education Authority, 27 percent of the professors in Sweden are women, while the corresponding figure at Luleå University of Technology is 19 percent.

Eva Källhammer has analysed how context, methodology and gender theory can be used to understand the prerequisites for gender equality efforts in the academy.

– We have to work with gender equality in our context. It's impossible to reproduce someone else's work, she says.

Structures are rewarding men

The design method Persona, often used in product development, has been further developed in the dissertation to be used as a method of change in gender equality efforts. With the help of fictional ideal persons, based on interviews and valuation exercises, it was made clear that women and men do not have the same conditions and expectations.

– Women are expected to take the majority of the parental leave, while men are only expected to take a shorter leave when appropriate in their research or teaching. They find it difficult to get acceptance for longer parental leave. When women choose to stay home only one week, they are questioned as women and also their suitability, such as leaders.

The conditions are also more favorable within the research areas of excellence at Luleå University of Technology, since these are within the male-dominated field technology. There is a lot of money to apply for research here, which rewards men's career, says Eva Källhammer.

Subconsciously behaviour

Eva Källhammer believes that there is a picture both in society and in the academy that we are already equal, but through campaigns like #Metoo where women worldwide have raised awareness of sexual harassments, it becomes clear that gender inequality exists everywhere.

– Working with fictional characters allows you to address sensitive issues without pointing out and blame the affected persons. The persona method can be used as a way of visualising sexual harassment at a structural level, she says.

According to Eva Källhammer, it is not a conscious strategy behind persistant gender patterns in academia, it is because we tend to do like we have always done. 

– When recruiting to the academy, the professors, who are mostly men, are often unconsciously choosing a young man who reminds them of themselves. There are examples of women who did not come into question despite more qualifications, she says.

Gender balance among the professors of the year

In the research projects, so-called gender stage gates, checklists, manuals and a mobile application have been developed and implemented in both research projects and in the business of the university, for example by the Human Resources Department.

According to Eva Källhammer, it is a strength when research is conducted in close collaboration with those affected, which also makes the results a practical part of the business.

– I was happy to hear that there was a gender balance among the 20 professors installed last weekend at the Academic Ceremony. The efforts at the university gives results, and the gender patterns change, even if it does not happen as quickly as we want. I hope that gender equality will be part of all decisions taken in the future. 

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