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We must have a culture where it is clear that harassment is not accepted

Published: 20 May 2022

For the first time, Swedish higher education institutions have conducted a joint national survey on the prevalence of gender-based and sexual harassment in the academic sector. The responses show that doctoral students who are women are particularly at risk.

In total, almost 39,000 employees, doctoral students and students at 38 different higher education institutions – including Luleå University of Technology – responded to the survey conducted within the national research study on gender-based violence and sexual harassment in academia. The study (first of its kind in Sweden) is part of The Research and Collaboration Programme run by Karolinska Institutet, KTH, Malmö University and the University of Gothenburg. The hope is that the results will contribute to an academic field free from sexual harassment.

The results are not reported att university level, but around four percent of staff and students at 38 Swedish higher education institutions claim to have been specifically subjected to “unwanted sexual attention in the work/study environment” over the past 12 months. The extent differs, however, among different groups. Six percent of female students report that they were exposed during this period, as opposed to two percent of male staff. 
To address the nature of gender-based and sexual harassment from a situational perspective over a longer period of time, eleven questions were asked describing different forms of undesired sexual behaviours. A total of 38 percent of respondents answered that they had experienced such behaviour at least once during their time as an employee or student. By this measure, female doctoral students reported the highest rate: 53 percent.

Women's exposure to harassment and violence, in general, is well documented, and doctoral students are a group of employees where the average age is low and employment conditions can be uncertain.
All of us employees have a great responsibility to behave professionally and act if we see inappropriate behavior, among colleagues or students.

Thanks to the power of the Metoo movement, all industries and sectors must take this issue seriously. An issue that it turned out that many employers has not prioritized despite the fact that there were plenty of signals of sexual harassment.

At Luleå University of Technology, we have general instruments (employee surveys, student surveys, doctoral student representatives and digital registration function) to identify these problems. To get a deeper knowledge, we were positive early on to a national study focusing on the prevalence of gender-based and sexual harassment in the academic sector. It is by making problems visible that we create consensus about a situation and together can work focused to improve it.

Ensure a good working environment

Luleå University of Technology has systematically worked with gender equality in various ways for over 30 years. In the last two years, we have included exams on gender equality in all our educational programs and we have selected seven educational programs with an unequal gender distribution that we will review to make them more attractive for students of all gender and thus more equal.

To ensure a good working environment for all, free from harassment, it is important that proactive gender equality work is combined with efforts and activities to counteract gender-based vulnerability and sexual harassment.
One step in this work is that one of our students has begun an in-depth analysis of the material from the national survey, which we hope will lead to proposals for improvement work.

It is important that we never step back and believe that our work is done in the area of gender equality.
From the management's point of view, we must make it clear that we do not accept harassment of any kind. We will keep the discussion alive at the university and managers will work together with employees and students on issues related to gender-based vulnerability and sexual harassment. In short – we must have a culture where it is clear that harassment is not accepted, where everyone dares to signal when something is wrong and where violations result in action.

Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Vice-Chancellor of Luleå University of Technology

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