Planning for a generation shift

New thinking on gender equality is taking place at Norwegian universities. In recent years the burden of responsibility has been moved, equal opportunities budgets have been increased by millions of Norwegian kroner and new initiatives have been put in place. We have checked the progress at two of the country’s universities.

March 13, 2006
Inga Bostad, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oslo recommends that other institutions follow their approach to gender equality issues (photo: Marte Ericsson Ryste).

“The hard work had already been done before I started,” Inga Bostad smiles.

She is the Vice-Chancellor of the new regime that took over at the helm of the University of Oslo in January of this year. With her job comes responsibility for equal opportunities efforts. It looks like she is very happy about this. And despite her thinking that a lot could be done better she has faith in the process that the university has begun.

“The new equal opportunities plan from 2004 has reorganised equal opportunities work. We introduced an economic incentives model, where departments that are effective in their equal opportunities efforts are rewarded, and we replaced the previous equal opportunities commission with a coordination group from the highest level of the administration.”

A recommendation

Inga Bostad is currently the chair of the latter group. The coordination group consists of leading representatives from the administrations of the various faculties and it will ensure that the equal opportunities plan is rooted in the running of the faculties.

It is a good model, Bostad says. “It means that equal opportunities work is integrated within the organisation. It’s not handed to an external panel,” she explains.

“The group members are committed as administrators to work on equal opportunities measures. In the group we will develop our strategies and share our experiences. The faculties will report on what they are doing and what they require. This process encourages a greater level of commitment.”

The Vice-Chancellor explains that she enthusiastically recommends other institutions to follow the example of the University of Oslo. “Replace traditional equal opportunities committees with groups of people from the various levels of the organisation’s leadership.”

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) takes up the baton

This idea is catching on. In Trondheim equal opportunities adviser Svandis Benediktsdottir at NTNU is very satisfied with the decision by the University’s leadership to establish a new equal opportunites committee at the university. It will be chaired by the university’s vice-president Astrid Lægreid and will, as at Oslo, comprise senior members of the adminstration of each faculty.

“I believe that this is a step forward for equal opportunities,” says the adviser.

She explains that the previous equal opportunities panel lacked authority and she agrees wholeheartedly with Bostad that equal opportunities work needs to be the responsibility of those in charge of institutions. She has noticed a number of positive effects of NTNU’s allocation of 3.4 million Norwegian kroner to equal opportunities work each year since 2004.

“Administering this money is the responsibility of the leadership. These resources represent a commitment to equality from the leadership. Gender equality thus becomes a topic within the budget process, which is mainly discussed by men. Since this change I have noticed changes in the attitude of the organisation. It’s easier to talk to people about gender equality now,” Benediktsdottir explains.

Praise, blame or advice?

But which measure is the right one to correct the gender balance in the top academic jobs? Opinions are divided.

“Targets function very well. I think it’s primitive to coerce, using carrot and stick methods, but setting targets and rewarding departments that achieve them seems to work,” ascertains Bostad.

The University of Oslo has set itself goals for the percentage of women among new appointments in academic positions. These goals will be monitored at faculty level, and the faculties that are most successful at achieving the required figures will be financially rewarded. Whether this incentive model works as hoped the university doesn’t really know – since the scheme has not been running very long. In the first evaluation of the targets the university has summarized that the targets have been achieved for full professors and the heads of departments, but not for associate professors and adjunct professors (see box).

Despite the University of Oslo recommending target figures Benediktsdottir at NTNU is sceptical.

“I have more faith in the work being done on changing attitudes. We must be clear that gender equality work can have the effect of stigmatizing women in an organisation. We must therefore be very conscious of which strategies we employ. Discussion and openness are important now. The departments know what is expected of them, and they know that we hold them responsible. However, we must set realistic targets that we can achieve, and we must get the individual departments to think long-term in their recruitment at all levels. Besides, under the new strategy gender equality will be a concrete goal in the departments’ plans of action.”

The adviser goes on tour

Benediktsdottir has decided to meet the administration at every one of the university’s fifty departments to discuss the coming generation shift in senior academic positions.

“This is an offensive, but I am confident that the coming generation shift presents us with a golden opportunity to get women into senior positions, and it’s therefore very important to talk to everybody about what they can do to recruit women,” she explains.

For each department the adviser has an outline of how the institution is divided by sex and age as well as a proposal for how they can work systematically to ensure the recruitment of women at all levels. And she is starting with the most male-dominated departments. With its technology and science oriented profile NTNU is struggling with a uneven balance of the sexes among both students and academic staff in several departments. At the Faculty of Engineering and Technology (IVT) only 5 per cent of academic staff and 27 per cent of the students are women. In 4 of the 10 departments at the faculty there are no women at all in academic jobs.

Money in the right place?

Millions of Norwegian kroner have been allotted to gender equality strategies at both universities. Most of the money has gone towards specific strategies aimed at helping women at the universities. At NTNU women in male-dominated areas are offered start packages and female associate professors are offered qualification grants. At the University of Oslo measures specifically for women include the ability to apply for sabbaticals from lecturing duties, an extra research period or funding for research assistance and research trips abroad.

Svandís Benediktsdóttir, equal opportunities adviser at NTNU, will meet with all 50 of the university’s departments.

So isn’t there a danger that these measures may help some women advance closer to the top of the ladder but without changing the structures that reproduce the gender imbalance in academia? What happens if the resources dry up?

“That is an important point, but it’s important to remember that these measures are only part of the picture – they will be used together with other means that we have introduced,” Bostad underlines.

“I believe that all these means for stimulating change affect the academic milieu. When a woman is given research sabbatical and then becomes qualified to be a professor the whole academic milieu in which she works is aware of it. Colleagues will notice her and she will become a role model for others. This will influence the culture within the community and have a positive effect beyond the advancement of the individual in question.”

“We have also had some criticism by male PhD students, who say that it is wrong to prioritize women who are already employed at the university by allocating them resources when they the PhD students do not even have permanent jobs. However, it is important to have female professors. Professors have different roles from associate professors, they sit on different boards and committees. And they are important role models.”

Focus: The recruitment process

Both Bostad and Benediktsdóttir are of the opinion that something needs to be done about the recruitment process in academia.

“Women are getting the top grades, but on their journey towards the top in academia they fall by the wayside. Clearly we need to look more closely at the selection mechanism,” says Bostad.

The adviser at NTNU backs her up. “It’s in the recruitment process that it happens. We are, therefore, going to start registering applicants for academic positions by gender, and follow the whole recruitment process – those who are nominated, those who are called in for an interview and those who are recruited. The aim is to kill off the self-sustaining myth that there are no qualified women, or no women apply,” she explains.

The Vice-Chancellor at Oslo wonders whether it might be a good idea to elect a gender equality officer who would be present when candidates are interviewed for a vacancy, in order to look after gender considerations in the recruitment process.

“The officer would mostly sit discreetly in the background, and just this would be important for how the interviews proceed. They would then be able to intervene with a question if necessary.”

Bostad wonders also whether the focus on academic merit in the ranking of candidates is good for women.

“If one looks at everything a candidate has done and produced in the course of their career when ranking the candidates, then this will favour the old men, those who have been there the longest and have had fewest interruptions. One idea can be to follow the example of USA where the candidate’s best five articles are selected for evaluation.”

According to both women, however, it’s not only about the number of articles that are evaluated. Deeper structures are also influential.

“Women are evaluated differently than men. Their qualifications are described differently and are assigned a different meaning and quality than men’s. The question is how to do something about this, not just in the departments but also in national and international committees. It will be necessary to work on attitudes and to enlighten people,” says the equal opportunities officer at NTNU.

Bostad agrees. “I am always suspicious when I hear someone say that we must have ‘the best brains’. Who is it that does the evaluating? There are unconscious judgements at the bottom of this. I believe that women and gender research can play an important role in what is behind these judgements.”

The loss of earmarked vacancies

It is the top jobs in academia that attract the most attention on the gender equality front. In Norway 16 per cent of professors are women, but many people now see a chance to increase this figure considerably as ageing male professors retire. In the course of the next few years a large number of professors in Norway will reach retirement age, and the question is, who will replace them. With this in mind the Chancellor of the University of Bergen, Sigmund Gr¿nmo, wishes to increase the resources available for post-doctoral researchers and hopes for a change in the law that will make it possible to have joint occupation of a professorship, so that women do not leave the university while they wait for a position to become vacant.

This proposal is also being looked at closely at both Oslo and Trondheim.

“We will focus on quality, and we will advertise vacant positions in order to attract the best candidates. The problem is, however, that so many capable and qualified women disappear from the system. Consequently, we need to focus on strategies for retaining the best candidates,” says Bostad. She agrees with the Chancellor at Bergen that we in Norway lost an important tool when it became illegal to earmark positions for women.

Bostad agrees that it can be a good idea to set a target figure for the number of women working in the various departments (photo: Marte Ericsson Ryste).

“The advantage of earmarking positions for women is that these positions are advertised and applications are encouraged. The problem with using a nomination scheme as a tool for gender equality is that it is not an open process, and involves headhunting individual candidates.”

The equal opportunities adviser at Trondheim is, however, not so certain that the loss of earmarking matters all that much.

“The earmarking of positions was an effective tool, but it was only used minimally,” she says. “Nevertheless there was an outcry when the option was lost. The point is that the options that are available are not used nearly enough, and therefore progress is slow.”

She is also sceptical about the focus on nominations. At the University of Tromsø departments that nominate women into adjunct professor positions can receive financial compensation from the central gender equality purse.

“Yes, we do encourage departments to use nomination. But we do not give any financial compensation to units that appoint women in this manner. I must say that I am fed up with the frequent focus on money when we are discussing women, almost as if they are an item of expenditure. I doubt that it’s as important when a man is recruited,” she says, and adds: “But I am well aware that many of our departments should have greater means at their disposal.”

At national level

The equal opportunities adviser at NTNU does not believe that the economic favouring of departments that are achieving results in their equal opportunities efforts is the right way to go. But she is open to the idea that this can be a good tool at national level.

“I believe an effective strategy would be for the Department to introduce an incentive model, where universities and university colleges will become economically disadvantaged if they do not make an effort on equal opportunities. We are working on attitudes here, and we are seeing results, but it takes a long time. With the approaching generation shift equal opportunities work is more urgent. Perhaps coercion should be used to solve what is an artificial situation?”

Bostad agrees that it can be a good idea for the Department to establish target figures for all academic departments. But she is not equally confident that a financial model with incentives is a good idea.

“The problem is that the work we’re doing here is complex, so it can be difficult to put in place reliable measures for everything. In this respect we can’t simply punish departments financially for not meeting their targets.”

The big challenge being faced, in Bostad’s opinion, is to improve the level of expertise in equal opportunities work.

“We need to know more about what measures work, and when they work. We are therefore planning an external evaluation of our equal opportunities work, so that we can critically assess our various strategies. We need fresh analyses of the local conditions – in just a short time great changes can take place both in the student body and in the academic community. And to work on equal opportunities in astrophysics and in pharmaceutics are two quite different things.”

Benediktsdóttir, on the other hand, is of the opinion that we have enough knowledge about the challenges facing equal opportunities efforts and about what we must do. In her opinion the challenge is how to ‘sell’ the work that needs to be done without fomenting resistance.

“We face a difficult marketing campaign. We meet with resistance from many people, both women and men. This can be due to previous experiences they have had, men who believe that they have been passed over to the advantage of women, or because they see us as interference from the university’s administration. I say to the men I meet that they need to think of their daughters and their grandchildren, that this is about their future – what kind of university would they like them to experience if they become students at NTNU? It gives them something to think about.”

Targets at the University of Oslo

Target figures have been achieved for the number of female professors appointed in the period 2002-2005, but since this is so soon after the start of the programme it is unlikely to be the measures taken that have contributed to the achieving of the targets. A greater number of women became professors through the university’s promotion programme than through standard appointment. But we have a long way to go before we achieve a balance between the sexes in senior academic positions. Out of all the professors at the University of Oslo the percentage of women has increased from 21.3 per cent in 2004 to 21,6 per cent in 2005.

The target figure of 50 per cent women in new appointments at associate professor level and 25 per cent at adjunct professor level has not been achieved. The percentage of women in newly appointed associate professor positions is only 35 per cent in the period 2002-2005, and it looks as if the recruitment of women to mid-range academic positions is one of the greatest challenges for the immediate future. The goal of 20 per cent women in newly filled positions in the academic administration has been achieved.

Source: Handlingsplan for likestilling 2004-2006 – status i arbeidet og fordeling av midler for 2006 (Plan of action for gender equality 2004-2006 – the current status and apportioning of resources for 2006).

Equality ombud

At NTNU the gender equality ombud at each faculty is sent the paperwork for the application process for academic vacancies. They are responsible for ensuring that the gender equality perspective is considered, in addition to seeing that the moderate gender quotas are kept to, and that women are preferred over men when their qualifications are otherwise equal. Additionally, the ombud is the contact person for applicants and they should promote gender equality at the faculty. The ombud may change the ranking of candidates, so that a woman is hired.

Mentor programmes

Both Oslo and Trondheim run a mentor programme for women, and work with building networks between women in diverse fields

Inga Bostad is concerned that the university should become better at monitoring the women.

- I’ve experienced it myself, as have other women: you get a certain amount of support in your career, but when you approach the top you become a competitor, and then the support suddenly stops. Currently it happens all too often that those who get jobs then lose all support and have to get by by themselves.

- I want department heads who think about the individual’s career in relation to recruiting post-doc researchers and PhD students. This can be important for women’s career paths.

At NTNU there is a lot of focus on building networks, mentor programmes and putting in place measures that can give women extra support. The equal opportunities adviser says that this is her most important work.