Sweden is often regarded as one of the paradises of gender equality. If you live in this country, it is not usual to find yourself explaining to those who are just visiting – or simply curious – one thing: that yes, Sweden does stand out for its successful efforts towards gender equality but… it is still a work in progress. It is not yet the time when gender issues have been solved and left behind. Far from dwelling on its success, Sweden continues to look at what else can be done. Notice that I do not say “Swedes”. I rather refer to those of us working in Sweden, regardless of the nationality.
So I was not surprised when I learned that our Department of IT at Uppsala University has a Gender Equality Group (GEqG), which counts with the support of the Head of Department. It becomes harder to stay nonchalant when one learns that the group counts with a significant budget. This includes the funding of 10% of the time of a senior researcher who acts as Gender Equality Officer. Since Åsa Cajander took this role and started leading the group, the success of the GEqG has skyrocketed. This has been a team effort, with excellent contributions from many! Here I describe my experience as a member of this group and what I believe has been key to the positive impact of the GEqG.
The GEqG is led by the Gender Equality Officer and includes representatives of different sectors of the department. There is one representative for each of the research divisions, the Technical and Administrative (TA) Personnel, the PhD students at the department (which has been my role from this September), and the student body. The Head of Department appoints the Secretary. Throughout the academic year, the GEqG meets once a month with a theme for each meeting. We also have informal meetings in the coffee room, sometimes also with a theme, e.g., the trigger warnings phenomenon.
The group meetings are open to everyone interested, so we often count with students and employees from both our and other departments. They come to discuss their projects and ideas. Some of these are the result of the GEqG’s calls for funding in different areas: visiting female researcher, gender and transgender related education, organizing events related to gender equality, and development projects related to gender equality. Everyone at the department, staff and students alike, are encouraged to apply.
We also count with researchers such as Nina Almgren, Minna Salminen-Karlsson and Ulrike Schnaas who have collaborated with us to broaden our knowledge on gender equality. This has been possible thanks to the support of the FESTA project, that ran between the years 2013-2016. We have had seminars on topics such as research excellence and gender, inclusive supervision, and resistance to change when working on gender equality.
The planning and execution of all this work heavily relies on an initiative introduced when Åsa Cajander took over the leadership of the group: the organization of a retreat in the fall (one in 2015 and one in 2016) at Krusenberg Herrgård, Uppsala.
This retreat, as I see it, has two main goals. It is for the GEqG to:
- plan our strategy for 2016 or 2017 (explicit goal)
- strengthen the existing team and facilitate the integration of new members (implicit goal)
It is clear for our group that the latter is essential for the former. So this is what our Gender Equality Officer has in mind when designing the agenda for these meetings.
The retreat starts with a lunch where we can informally meet other members. After that, we use affinity diagrams to discuss what could be improved about the work in the year ending, and what we should keep and work towards to for the coming year. The use of this technique made it possible for everyone to voice (or rather, initially “write”) their opinions. All participants read and discuss where they think the efforts of the group should focus, and how to make use of the previous year’s experience. I am a firm believer that here relies the strength of this group: everyone has plenty of opportunities to express their opinions and concerns, and work in whichever areas suit their interests and motivation best (more of that below!).
After using affinity diagrams to analyze the current ending year, we look at actions for the next one. Both of these processes involve looking at our Gender Equality Plan (for 2016 or, in this case, 2017). Our 2016 and 2017 plans have the following focus areas:
- A Better Understanding of the Gender Situation of Technical and Administrative (TA) Personnel
- Gender Equality Aware Education that Creates a Better Learning Environment for All
- Better PhD Student Education for All
- Supporting Women in Post Doc-, Associate Senior Lecturers- or Senior Lecturers positions.
- Enhance Capacity of the Gender Equality Group to Work as Change Agents
Each member of the GEqG volunteers for one of the tasks included in these areas. In my case, this year I will be involved in activities regarding 3). We have sessions planned on harassment and gender issues awareness, mental health, etc. These sessions will be part of events that already gather a significant number of PhD students, such as the annual ski trip organized by the department. I believe it is also important to notice how these 5 areas comprise the different kinds of employees and students that we have at the department. It was thanks to having such diversity within the GEqG that the need to address concerns from all these different groups was pointed out.
As for 5), a great example was the presentation that Nina Almgren gave at our latest retreat. She discussed their work at the FESTA project dealing with resistance, both active and passive. We had the chance to analyze different scenarios were resistance was being offered by different stakeholders, and we discussed how we could proceed if we found ourselves in this kind of situation. If you have worked with gender equality, you know this is bound to happen! She also explained how the new Swedish law related to discrimination would affect our work.
I firmly believe that the model that the GEqG represents is a successful one that should be implemented in more departments of IT in universities. You can read more about the group here. If you would like to further discuss my experience to consider how this could be done in your institution, you are very welcome to contact me!