Individual measures not enough

In order to achieve gender equality, we must change the structures in academia. This requires a systematic effort in which the top-level administration at each institution takes active part, according to Linda Marie Rustad, Senior Adviser for the Committee for Gender Balance in Research (KIF).

It is much easier to establish individual measures than to change an entire culture, says Linda M. Rustad. (Photo: Anne Winsnes Rødland)

“The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences is a shining example of how gender equality efforts should be conducted. Since its establishment in 1968, the school has worked systematically to achieve gender balance among its students and staff. The Rector chairs the gender equality committee, which bases its activities on concrete target figures, and the committee has effective routines for reporting to the board on the action plan for gender equality,” says Rustad.

As a result, the top-level administration is clear about the major gender-equality challenges facing the school, and they can work in a more systematic manner, she believes.

“The school has also made an effort to focus on the connection between gender perspectives in research and the recruitment of women. They now have a large percentage of female professors and considerable expertise in gender research in their discipline.”

The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences received the Gender Equality Award in 2009 from the Ministry of Education and Research. The award is given to an institution in the research sector that has introduced active, targeted, systematic activities to promote gender equality and that has taken significant steps to increase the percentage of women in academic positions.

“The institutions need leaders who demand results in addition to those who do the handson work. An effective internal organisation is required in order to successfully implement gender equality activities,” says Rustad.

Players at all levels

The Committee for Gender Balance in Research (KIF) is appointed by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and is charged with the task of supporting the efforts to achieve gender equality in the research sector. The committee’s mandate is to mainstream the topic and raise the level of knowledge about what gender equality entails.

“We work on three different levels: vis-à-vis national strategies and national stakeholders, vis-à-vis the top-level administration at the individual institutions and vis-à-vis those responsible for the gender equality activities at the institutions. For instance, we look at whether the rectors adopt the Government’s recommendations and whether they actually implement their own action plans. We also organise meeting places, such as seminars, conferences and networks, that bring together these various levels,” says Rustad.

The committee’s activities clearly reflect a desire to reach out to the actors at various levels. Since 2005, the committee has administered this website (Gender Balance in Research – Norway), which targets practitioners in the field.

The KIF Committee has also implemented measures targeted directly towards female researchers. In spring 2009, the committee allocated NOK 600 000 in funding for network-building and networking activities for female researchers throughout Norway. Out of 58 applicants, 15 received various forms of network support. Reports from the recipients show that these measures have been highly successful. The committee has also provided input on the Government’s national measures and strategies for research and has been a driving force behind the Research Council of Norway’s efforts to enhance its focus on gender equality. The results have been positive: Everyone involved is now working more systematically with gender equality issues.

A specialised field of knowledge

Rustad reminds us that promoting gender equality is a specialised field of knowledge.

“There are two important things to be aware of in this regard. Firstly, we have managed to compile reliable statistics, but we still lack knowledge about the academic culture and about academia as an organisation. We need more studies on these topics. Secondly, the situation with regard to gender equality is relatively similar in many places. Knowledge from other countries is therefore relevant to us in Norway. It is crucial that the leaders at the various institutions have access to the knowledge available and that they benefit from the experience of other countries.”

“The institutions must ensure that their gender equality efforts are based on knowledge,” she emphasises.

“By enhancing the expertise within their own organisations, they can more precisely target their gender equality activities and more easily steer clear of the gender stereotypes that in many contexts have a deterrent effect on gender equality.”

Rustad would also like to see a closer link between research quality and gender equality.

“Although a great deal is being done to improve the gender balance in the research sector, it remains difficult to achieve the general integration of gender equality perspectives into national strategies, research programmes and funding systems. Instead, gender equality is often more of an added entity. I think this is because we still do not view gender equality as an important component of the quality of research,” she says.

“We know that women can document excellent results both as students and as research fellows and that their numbers are large, so it is a serious matter for the institutions if they are unable to access this quality through their recruitment process. Quality in research entails not only recruitment of the best talent, but also innovation and creativity – recruiting from a diverse pool is therefore essential.”

Making an impact

“What have you learned after several years as Senior Adviser for the KIF Committee?”

“One very positive experience is that many people who used to resist the efforts to promote gender equality have gradually changed their minds and become interested. I believe that the top administrators in the Norwegian research sector today generally realise that responsibility for gender equality lies with the leadership. This gives us a good starting point for further mainstreaming. Feedback on the Norwegian version of this handbook shows that many people who have not worked with gender equality as a topic before find it to be interesting reading.”

Rustad also believes that the KIF Committee has been successful in pushing for more thorough and more extensive gender equality efforts.

“It is much easier to establish individual measures than to change an entire culture. During the years the committee has been in existence, we have nonetheless managed to convince the administrators at the various institutions that cultural and structural changes are needed and that individual measures for achieving gender equality in the workplace are not sufficient. We are very satisfied with the progress we have made,” she concludes.

Translated by Connie Stultz and Carol B. Eckmann.

Talent at stake

You can read this interview in the booklet Talent at stake. Changing the culture of research - gender-sensitive leadership.

Here you will also find interviews with leaders at various institutions and in a variety of research communities who have confronted the gender-equality challenge and made a difference.

The publication has received a warm welcome throughout Europe.