Equality and diversity

Oversiktsbilde av flere studenter eller forskere som sitter og jobber i grupper og en mann som går opp en trapp

(Illustration: iStockphoto)

Work on equality and diversity is changing in the research sector. One such change is expanding equality efforts from focusing primarily on gender to include more grounds for discrimination. Inclusion, diversity and intersectionality are on the agenda.

In recent years, the concept of equality has evolved from having an emphasis on gender to including more grounds for discrimination – and diversity has become a key concept. The changes are expressed in, among other things, national laws and regulations for the sector, European guidelines in the field and the expansion of the KIF Committee’s mandate.

In Norway, all public institutions are required by law to actively promote equality and diversity as employers and as sources of authority. Under the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act from 2018 and due to the strengthening of the activity duty and duty to issue a statement, the research sector is obliged to map risk, analyse causes, implement measures and assess results to promote equality and prevent discrimination.

Norwegian developments in the field are influenced by EU research policy. Equality work in Europe has also gone from focusing on gender to including more grounds for discrimination with an emphasis on inclusion, diversity and intersectionality. In 2022, the European Union and the Research Council introduced a requirement that everyone who is awarded research funding must have an action plan for gender equality

Read: At the start line for a broad understanding of equality

The expanded mandate of the KIF Committee

National and international developments in the field are also highlighted in the KIF Committee’s mandate. In 2022, the mandate was expanded to include gender as well as ethnic and social background. The KIF Committee has worked on both gender balance and ethnic diversity since 2014, but the inclusion of social background had made it even more relevant to see these three dimensions in context.

Les: From gender equality to inclusion

Towards intersectional perspectives?

One method employed in equality work is to work on several dimensions and several grounds for discrimination at the same time. Another is to try to see possible connections between, for example, gender and social and ethnic background – what is often referred to as intersectionality.

Over the past 30 years, intersectionality has become increasingly influential as a way of understanding discrimination. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. She believed that the factors that lead to discrimination should not be considered individually, but must be understood based on how they intersect and together create a greater negative effect than each individual factor alone.

This perspective shows that the intersecting grounds for discrimination affect an individual’s identity and opportunities differently based on how privilege and power are linked to the factors in a given context. This enables us to understand how people with diverse backgrounds can have varying opportunities for a career in academia.

“By looking at different dimensions together, we obtain better information that enables us to identify particular challenges for the different groups and find good measures for change.” says Heidi H. Zachariassen from the KIF Secretariat in this article: At the start line for a broad understanding of equality

Read also: Equality is about more than just gender

Intersectionality in European research

The policy brief A new ERA of inclusion and intersectionality is based on the Benchmarking report on terminology and policy on intersectionality, as part of the EU project GENDERACTIONplus.

The aim of the study was to map which European countries had implemented national requirements to work with more dimensions than gender in laws and policies for the higher education sector. Furthermore, the study was to examine whether countries that had introduced such requirements also applied an intersectional approach in equality efforts. In February 2024, the recommendations were summarised in a policy brief.

One of the most important findings is that intersectional perspectives in research policy are at an early stage. This contrasts with the fact that more grounds for discrimination are clearly in place in many of the countries' legislation and policies.

The report, which was published in 2023, was written by Heidi Holt Zachariassen and Ella Ghosh from the KIF Committee Secretariat and Ross Woods from the Ireland Higher Education Authority.