Equality in research environments
Equality, diversity, and inclusion. These three concepts capture the breadth of work in our workplaces to address discrimination, including programmes that promote gender. This is reflected in the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically gender equality (Goal #5) and reduced inequalities (Goal #10). While some countries, sectors, and organisations have worked deeply with these issues, the academic system is not typically seen as a leader in this area.
As part of its vision to foster a sustainable organisation, Lund University sets the goal “to be free from discrimination and obstacles blocking equal rights and opportunities at the organisation” (Lund University: Sustainability Plan 2020-2026, p. 11). Yet, women account for only 29% of professorships at Lund University. So, how do we promote equality, diversity, and inclusion to ensure a supportive and sustainable research environment?
On Monday 7 November, Lund University staff participated in a hybrid workshop, with the aim to provide attendees with information on how equality and inclusion are addressed at Lund University at different levels. In addition, the workshop sought to discuss strategies to work with equality within collaborations, research environments, and the workplace, generally.
The hybrid workshop is one of a series of workshops, arranged by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University, aimed at creating a venue to share experiences, discuss collaboration, and foster deeper reflection on sustainability.
Work with equality at Lund University
Employers – such as Lund University – are obligated by law to address discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion or other belief, sexual orientation, and transgender identity or expression. Beyond its legal obligations, Lund University is working extensively with these issues, and has received the HR Excellence in Research certification, meaning that it fulfils many of the stringent EU requirements for a responsible and professional employer. As part of this effort, Lund University has a procedure to increase gender equality in recruitment of professors, including steps to attract and track the number of qualified applicants of all genders.
Beyond this, equality work at Lund University spans departments, faculties, and management. Organisationally, at a University-level, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Communication, Integrity, and Character Jimmie Kristensson works together with the Council on Gender Equality and Equal Opportunity. Their work is supported by an expert group as well as two working groups on sexual harrassment and LGBTQ+ issues. Much of this work is implemented by a network of administrators and coordinators at the University- and Faculty-level.
The University has identified five areas of continued work against discrimination: working conditions, salary setting, recruitment and promotion, bias training, and parental leave. This is reflected in the Lund University Equality Plan (2022 - 2027), which stipulates four goals:
- Recruitment processes and career paths free from discrimination
- High level of knowledge among staff and students
- Systematic preventative approaches to be active and dynamic
- Working at a management level with harassment to be professional
This work is ongoing, but Vice-Chancellor Kristensson provided an overview of existing steps being taken now. For example, management is working to ensure recruitment and career progression is based on the objective assessment of a candidate's qualifications. The University wishes to continue its focus on reporting sexual harassment, as well as provide LGBTQ+ support. But, this work is challenging as experiences are subjective, and it is difficult to ethically collect information about the various grounds of discrimination.
Lund University is also involved in several national and international projects that contribute to and advance work on equality in the workplace, for example, Gender for Excellence in Research (GenderEx), Gender Equality Network in the European Research Area (GENERA), and The League of European Research Universities (LERU).
Speaker and practitioner Tomas Brage presented these projects, as well as evidence of bias in the workplace as human nature. Brage is a Professor at Mathematical Physics as well as member of the Council on Gender Equality and Equal Opportunity. He suggests that bias threatens the values of academic freedom, meritocracy, and excellence. He warned against microaggressions (i.e. indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group) and non-events (i.e. missed opportunities to confront discrimination or enhance inclusivity). Finally, he shares the LERU policy paper with eight steps to counter bias and discrimination, including monitoring and accountability, bias training, closing the pay gap, among other suggestions.
Suggestions to enhance equality in research environments
In breakout discussions, participants shared their experience with equality, diversity, and inclusion at Lund University. The breakout sessions were facilitated by speakers Jimmie Kristensson & Tomas Brage, as well as Melina Bergström (The Yes Way) and Lina Eliasson (Member of the Council for Gender Equality and Equal Opportunity - Faculty of Medicine). Combining this with the content presented during the workshop, participants shared their expectations and suggestions for Lund University and individuals within research environments to take this work forward.
For Lund University
- Participants agreed that gender (including non-binary) is of utmost importance, but suggest work with equality should reflect all legally-protected grounds for discrimination, including age, ethnicity, disability, religion or other belief, sexual orientation, and transgender identity or expression.
- Improve transparency in recruitment and funding processes, for example, articulating objective merit-based selection criteria from the beginning, informing selection committees about the hazards of bias, and considering external observers to monitor the selection and evaluation process.
- Improve communication for staff about equality initiatives, for example, by providing greater information on governance and processes, identifying and celebrating role models, and ensuring accountability for those that egregiously discriminate or harass others. Greater communication conveys importance and helps colleagues prioritise this work in their research environments.
- Participants share they want to foster an inclusive work environment, but feel it's difficult to navigate sensitive topics without adequate organisational support or training. Thus, participants request sufficient support, including time to participate in trainings, workshops, and other resources.
- Equality work is not only structural, but requires effort to enhance the relational and community aspects of the work environment, for example, support for grassroots and community initiatives within the workplace with participation from senior staff and management.
For individuals within research environments
- Seek to understand how diversity shapes the experiences of colleagues
- Be open to and aware of visible and non-visible differences
- Check-in, ask questions, and offer support to colleagues
- Investigate and experiment with more inclusive approaches to interacting in the workplace, for example, during meetings, events, supervision, and teaching
- Examine and adapt one’s language as much as possible to avoid gendered and historically-problematic vocabulary
- Challenge discrimination or microaggressions as they happen even if you are not the target
This workshop was an initiative by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University, co-organised by StemTherapy (Claire McKay, Diahann Atacho, Abigail Altman, Vivien Horvath), BECC (Lina Nikoleris), LUCC (Pia Berntsson), and EXODIAB (Jacqueline Postma).