Gender in many subjects
“We are now putting more emphasis on the gender perspective in research and education,” says Vice Rector Curt Rice. After several years of working with gender equality in the personnel area, the University of Tromsø is directing its gender equality efforts towards the research itself.
“We received the award for one project; now we will use the prize money on another project. We will never be done working for gender equality: When we have made progress in one area, there are other areas that still need work,” says Curt Rice, Vice Rector at the University of Tromsø (UiT).
Last year UiT received the Gender Equality Award totalling NOK 2 million. The award has now been announced for the sixth consecutive year, and Norwegian universities, university colleges and research institutes are encouraged to apply.
UiT was one of only three institutions that applied for the Gender Equality Award for 2011, which was presented by the Ministry of Education and Research. However, the small number of applicants did not undermine the quality of the winner, according to the Committee for Gender Balance in Research (the KIF Committee) which assessed the applicants and recommended the prize winner.
The KIF Committee stated the following about its assessment of UiT’s efforts to promote gender equality:
By virtue of its robust efforts to improve the gender balance in high-level positions, the University of Tromsø has distinguished itself as one of Norway’s key players in the field of gender equality.
Rice says that UiT’s work to improve the gender balance has been a long-term process. Before launching the new measures – such as the “promotion project” which helps women in associate professor and senior lecturer positions to qualify for full professorships – UiT did not fare well in national statistics on gender distribution at the universities.
In 2001, the university was the worst in the class with about nine percent of women in professor positions. Now UiT is close to achieving a gender distribution among full professors of 70 percent men and 30 percent women – the largest percentage of women among Norway’s eight universities.
“The Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (KVINNFORSK) is also a part of UiT’s initiative on gender equality, and part of its mandate is to increase awareness about gender. KVINNFORSK has achieved this,” says Rice.
“And the prize money has given us the opportunity to take our gender equality efforts a step further,” he says.
New project for the money
The new initiative at UiT focuses on the gender perspective in research and education. Rice believes that the gender perspective can involve everything from taking account of biological differences in subjects such as medicine to gender issues arising from cultural differences.
“One example is research on public transport systems. If a system is designed according to men’s daily travel patterns, it could look different than if the researchers and engineers have studied women’s travel patterns,” he explains.
“We have looked at gender equality in the personnel area for many years, based on the idea of a connection between equality and quality. But the gender perspective in research and education is just as important and also deals with the equality/quality issue”, says Rice.
UiT will use the money from the Gender Equality Award to hold a kick-off event for the new project in November. Rice hopes that researchers and other interested parties from around Norway will register for the seminar, which will be headed by Professor Londa Schiebinger of Stanford University who serves as project manager for Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering. Schiebinger will present the project and its website, and provide training in the tools she has developed. The participants will also look for good examples of gender perspectives in their own research projects.
A competitive advantage
Rice is concerned about what he thinks is the “smart thing to do” and the “right thing to do”, and one of the reasons to launch the new project is that he thinks it is “smart” in addition to being “right”.
“Both the Research Council’s funding announcements and the EU’s new framework programme, Horizon 2020, will require research projects to incorporate a gender perspective. This is crucial regardless of the subject area, and it will be a competitive advantage in applications for research funding,” he believes.
“UiT has gained a reputation for being concerned about gender equality, which has also reached the international media. The Gender Equality Award has contributed to this good reputation,” says Rice.
More should apply
According to the Vice Rector, this positioning is important for UiT. But how do we get more institutions to apply for the Gender Equality Award?
“Why have there not been plenty of applicants for the two million kroner allocated as part of the Gender Equality Award?”
“In my view, the institutions in the research sector are well aware of the award. However, I think it can be difficult to apply for an award on your own behalf because there seems to be a contradiction between the concept of an ‘award’ and having to ‘apply’ for it. It feels more fitting that an award is something you are nominated for,” he says.
“Maybe a solution is that the KIF Committee would nominate potential candidates for the Gender Equality Award,” suggests Rice.
Translated by Connie Stultz.