Main Discussion Thread: Gender Balance in Decision-Making

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3. Main discussion is scheduled for Tuesday 23rd of February 2017 from 10:00 to 12:00 Central European Time. However, posts are welcome after that date as well.

4. Please introduce yourself shortly in your first post.


lhusu's picture

Welcome to this GenPORT e-discussion on gender balance in decision-making in research organisations. We will focus today both on research performing organisations: universities and research institutions and centres, and research funding organisations. My name is Liisa Husu, I am Professor of Gender Studies at Örebro University, Sweden, and leader of the GenPORT Swedish team. We have several experts joining our discussion, highlighting the topic based on either their research expertise or their expertise and involvement in gender equality policies and activities in funding organisations. The experts will introduce themselves during the discussion.

Women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making globally as well as in European societies, not only in research organisations we are focusing today, but in most sectors of society. Equality in decision-making was one of the five key areas of action in the European 2010-2015 strategy for equality between women and men, and continues to be one of the priorities in the Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019 of the European Commission.

In European research organisations the slow change from male dominance in decision-making has been amply demonstrated by the She Figures data on gender and science: even if women currently account for nearly half of European Ph.D. recipients, only a fifth of grade A, top-level academics, are women. Currently 85% of heads of institutions with the capacity to deliver PhDs are men in EU-28, an improvement from 90% of male heads in 2010. Variations across Europe is noteworthy, from no female heads of institutions in Luxembourg, with under 10% in Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Romania, to 50% in Sweden. Important decision-making positions include national scientific boards, most of them boards of national funding bodies. Within the EU-28, women currently make up 28 % of scientific and administrative board members, and only 22 % of board leaders.

In the first part of the e-discussion we would like to have a closer critical look at the concepts used when addressing the issue of gender in decision-making. This state of the art has been described in various ways in research, in policy and in equality interventions: as women’s underrepresentation, as lack of gender balance, as a diversity issue, as male dominance in decision-making, as gender inequality. It would be interesting to hear views on the implications and problems using these different concepts, for research, policy and action. What do we mean when we speak about gender balance? In the second part of discussion, we will address issues related to implementation, and resistance encountered when raising the issue of gender in decision-making and implementation in different contexts. You are welcome to share your views and experiences and comment on these topics or related issues. I am looking forward to a lively discussion! 

Our discussion will start at 10:00 Central European Time.  


Jeff Hearn's picture

I will start with an introduction. I’m Jeff Hearn, Professor Emeritus, Management and Organisation, Hanken School of Economics, Finland; Senior Professor, Gender Studies, Örebro University, Sweden, and part of the Örebro team in the GenPORT project; and Professor of Sociology, University of Huddersfield, UK. I’ve been involved in these issues a long time, and especially interested in men and masculinities in work, organisations and science, and how men can contribute to greater gender equality and gender justice.

So, what is gender balance? Well, several things immediately come to mind. First, in general greater gender balance in decision-making in science is certainly to be aimed for, in terms of bringing together more collective knowledge and expertise, putting women’s and feminist concerns more fully on scientific agendas, developing more democratic processes, and so on. Focusing on gender balance is a way of thinking and acting to counteract the huge problem, more or less across countries, of men’s domination of science, technology and innovation, R&D, universities, professoriates and rectorates, research leadership, funding and research performing and research funding organisations. In this situation, the 40% rule in most Nordic countries on the representation of women and men on the boards of research councils and other public bodies and committees would be a good start.

But, is ‘gender balance’ really so simple, and is it the complete answer? As far as I can see, at the same time as agreeing with and promoting gender balance, the term ‘gender balance’ in decision-making is perhaps not really quite right; it can suggest a natural, heterosexual complementarity between women and men. Gender balance may also suggest that all we need is counting the numbers of women and men. It may even play down other differences both among women, men and further genders (queer, intersex, transgender, non-binary), and also differences other than gender, such as age, class, racialisation and ethnicity. It would be a mistake to see greater gender balance in the numbers of women automatically producing better decisions in every situation. The evidence on this is more diverse. And moreover, in some situations it may be women who are much better qualified to decide than adding in a few men who are not knowledgeable on the issue. I would prefer to think and act on ‘gender equality’ or ‘gender equity’ or better still ‘gender quality’ or even ‘gender excellence’ in decision-making. These policy and practice questions are partly about the fair representation of women, men and further genders, but also about knowledge, expertise and awareness on gender issues and gender power.'s picture

I'm not a native English speaker, but how about something referring to "inclusivity"? Or would it make men the norm and women something that are "included"? "Diversity inclusivity" is too cumbersome... it would be good to have a better term to substitute the gender balance.

Charlotta Niemistö's picture

Many excellent points here. I fully agree on what a 'gender balance' might, and often is, accounted for, playing down both differences between genders and also the very existence of different genders. Also, other differences than gender, such as age, class, racialisation and ethnicity - and also the role of positions combined with all this.
I want to comment on the term decision-making, as we might reduce it to what happens in board rooms and official meetings. Even if it is so much more. And all this is what really counts in the process, I think, who you are (what representations do you have) and do you have access to information, networks and so on.'s picture

I think Charlotta makes a good point in stressing the importance of information. In two ways: Information that you might have before making a decision, for example, if working in a formal body, but having access to less information than the other members because you are not part of their networks. But also the information about decisions. That is very much what we worked on in the FESTA informal decision making package: Let be that some decisions are informal, everything in a day-to-day running of an institution cannot be decided in boards. But information about what decisions have been made should be readily available - and there several partners made improvements. Also, information of which informal paths do exist, for example what issues are negotiable, if you appraoch the right person. That kind of information seemed to be distributed unevenly gender-wise, and yet it has a big impact in the daily working conditions of (especially junior) researchers.'s picture

<p>I am a researcher of gender in organizations at Uppsala University, and the coordinator of the FP7 GERI Project FESTA, which just came to its end. We had two work packages, one on formal and one on informal decision making. The informal one was by far the most interesting - and showing the most diversity of how differently things are perceived in different European countries. The attitude to etworks and informa decision making varied hugely, and that would also influence the way in which gender bias in networks, institutional micro-politics etc is dealt with. Gender balance in decision making bodies, meaning a reasonably even split between women and men is in no way a guarantee of gender balance in decision making, for several reasons. However, it is an important starting point in contexts where there is a huge male dominance, just to start shaking the structures that are taken for granted. But that is just the first step. I would also make an alert on decision makers that we as academics tend to forget: in the increasingly managerialistic structures in some European coutries there are a number of people who are not part of the academic hierarchy (professors,deans etc), but still may have a huge impact on how research is done.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

lhusu's picture

Let’s start our e-discussion! Welcome all to share your views and experiences!

Thank you, Jeff Hearn, for opening up with the critical question on the term gender balance, and the potentially problematic implications of using the term. I can see that several of our experts are now online, and I would like to invite them to introduce themselves and send their comments.

Charlotta Niemistö's picture

Hello everyone, I’m Charlotta Niemistö and I currently work as project leader at Hanken School of Economics, department of Management and Organisation. My research interests are around work and non-work, work and family, gender, age/generations, management and inequalities/privilege. My PhD thesis (2011) was about family policies, gender equality and corporate level policies for reconciling work and family in Finland. Since then, I have worked around questions of work wellbeing, family and gender. My current work in the Academy of Finland (Council for Strategic Research) funded project Social and Economic Sustainability of Future Working Life (WeAll) focuses on managing boundaries between work and non-work, coping at work, inequalities and intersectionalities in work organisations.
I am a member of the Secretariat in GODESS Research institute, a research and development collaboration between Hanken School of Economics; Jyväskylä University, School of Business and Economics, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, School of Industrial Engineering and Management, Stockholm, Sweden; The Gender, Leadership and Social Sustainability Research Unit, GLASS, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; and Sobey School of Business doctoral program, St Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada.
I am also a member of the Board at Hanken School of Economics, this is my second term. In the Hanken Board, we actually have female majority.

lhusu's picture

Welcome to our expert Minna Salminen from Uppsala University! The issue of informal decision-making and different roles it plays in different European contexts is highly relevant for our discussion. 


Annecharlott's picture

Good morning everybody! My name is Anne-Charlott Callerstig and I currently work as a postdoc researcher at the Centre for feminist social studies (CFS), Örebro University. I am very pleased to be participating in this e-discussion with all of you and will give you some information on my previous experiences to start with followed by some input to the discussion!

About me
I have a PhD in gender studies and my background is within political science. I also have a background as an equality practitioner, one example being that I was employed by the Swedish Equality Ombudsman for ten years. I am very interested in policy implementation issues and in particular in connection to equality policies (in its broadest sense). I have been studying implementation of different equality strategies, and in particular the strategy of gender mainstreaming, in different types of organizations, both public and private, and within, and through the lens of different policy fields/business areas/professions examples being within areas such as education, rescue services, innovation policy and social services. During the autumn of 2016 I was engaged by Linköping University to conduct a preliminary study in order to prepare the work with gender mainstreaming within the university with focus on its core activities according to the Government mission to enhance the work with gender mainstreaming at all Swedish Universities 2016-2019. I work most of the times with an interactive research approach, i.e. studying together with participants and not on them and have in particular focused on and used different dilemmas that arise in the implementation of equality policies as a base for learning and developing the practical work.

My current research
Currently I am engaged in three different research projects, one H2020-financed project – GEDII (Gender and Diversity Impact – Improving research and innovation through gender diversity)– that, to put it simply, studies the relation between gender diversity in research team and research output. The second one is a newly started project financed by VINNOVA in Sweden where we study the pre-requisites for “norm critical” innovation processes from an organizational perspective in and together with Volvo Trucks in Gothenburg Sweden. The third is also a new project were I together with prof Liisa Husu will study the research grant funding process within in one large funding organization in Sweden

Discussion input
From an implementation perspective and in relation to the topics of this discussion, I am currently (and always) very interested in how the implementation process regarding equality polices, within research organizations, differs or are similar, compared to other organisations/policy fields, why there are differences and what the policy implications for such differences are. I have found some interesting previous research raising organizational aspects such as an example the importance of informal power structures in academia that make personal relationships and networks important for success, and the existence of "veto-culture" which means that control mechanisms that is not seen as legitimate can be opposed. Also, strong local autonomy principle has been highlighted where both faculties, departments and individual researchers stand strong against the management and that top-down initiatives are doomed to fail if they do not have local support (Maurer 2010). In particular, the conceived connection between gender mainstreaming and neoliberal governance principles or as a political goal has been highlighted as a particular challenge for gender mainstreaming work within the Academy where also gender researchers and equality officers can oppose the work (Keisu and Carbine 2014). Another point is the existing, and seemingly huge!, gap between high flying standards/self image/what is said to be done (formal rules) and what is actually going on (rules in practice) (eg Ahmed 2012).

Concerning gender balance or ie promoting equal participation of women and men in decision-making positions. I think it is interesting to discuss how we can (can we?) measure or define “gender balance” or “equality” and in connection - what do we understand as gender balance? In Gedii and in order to expand the notion from simply counting heads, we work with a threefold definition of gender diversity; 1) Disparity- differences in power/social stratification/equality, 2) Separation – differences in opinion/position/beliefs and 3) Variety- differences in knowledge/competence/experiences ie (Harrison & Klein, 2007)

But the whole topic of “measuring diversity” and “increasing diversity” as a goal opens up to a wider discussion on the practice and research carried out within the field of equality or diversity management and perhaps that what Garford and Kerr (2009) has called “an uncomfortable juxtaposition of economistic and democratic goals within Gender and Science politics” or “pain-free politics” ( where the focus easily becomes upon removing “hinders” or “barriers” but where the underlying norm is left unquestioned . We have discussed the problems inherent in diversity management such as the sometimes uncritical usage of diversity categories or attributes that are seen as something existing a priori/fixed/stable (rather than as relational or processes) and that can be studied or managed in order to produce desirable outcomes for organizations in one of the research reviews we have made in Gedii but the tension or dilemmas that arise in equality policies and in particular how to handle them in policy development/application is something I would like to discuss further.

lhusu's picture

Welcome to our expert Charlotta Niemistö from Hanken School of Economics. In addition to your research on gender, you look at this topic also from the perspective of a university Board member, in a school which has a female Vice Chancellor.

Jeff Hearn's picture

I think Minna Salminen makes 2 really important points: the formal is not the same as the informal. The two aspects can work in harmony or in contradiction, often, though not always, in reaffirming current gender arrangements and hierarchies.

The second key point, especially in the current (neoliberal, managerialist) climate, is the increasingly important place of non-academics in these processes; this can also be extended to the development of a group of academics who fairly early in their career (sometimes not a very illustrious research career) switch to become managers. This is also linked to some universities adopting processes for senior appointments, such as Deans and the Rectorate, for much longer terms or even for life, rather than on a short-term basis or by election. Also, with moves to so-called university autonomy in many countries, rectors often have much greater power to decide/direct research priorities and other matters, sometimes through quite unscientific/unilateral decision processes. For those who are interested in these developments, the Czech Gender Studies journal,  Gender, rovné přiležitotosti, výzkum [Gender, Equal Opportunities, Research], is publishing in the summer this year a special issue on universities in neoliberal times, following the RINGS conference in Prague 2015.'s picture

The tension between formal and informal is a key aspect, I think, also taken up by Anne-Charlott. And when it comes to working with gender in informal decision-making, I don't believe in a Euroepan model. Generally, in our Swedish material there was an awareness of the negative aspects of old boys' networks for gender equality (not among all, but among many) and an interest in making things more transparent. It was not at all the case in Turkey - there our partner thought that women were quite clever in using informal paths, but needed to be more visible in the formal bodies. In Italy the existence of informal networks in decision making was not even acknowledged, until the FESTA work made it explicit. In Bulgaria, with the post-communist context, informal decision making was seen as what makes things move, while the formal is more bureaucratic - and women are in neither sphere. So gender "balance" i decision making needs to be approached differently in all different contexts - and the model of making informal decisions more transparent, is not the ony way forward.

Vasia Madesi's picture

Dear all,

I am very happy to participate in this discussion and it is very nice to e-meet you! This is Vasia Madesi from Greece, I have a major degree in Political Science with a MSc degree in Political Theory and Philosophy at the faculty of Political Sciences of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I have worked as a Research Assistant at the University and I am now communication manager at the EQUAL-IST project which aims at introducing structural changes to enhance gender equality in Information Sciences and Technology (IST) research institutions.I have a particular interest in European studies, populism, discourse theory, comparative politics, political communications and contemporary political theory. Interested in cross-cultural dialogue, I am in the Soliya training program to obtain the United Nations Advanced Facilitation Training Certification to empower young adults to engage with difference constructively.

At EQUAL-IST project, we are in a starting point where we design Gender Equality Plans and we are very much interested in gender balance in decision making. I hope that I will read very interesting views, today and I will report them back to the team!

Thank you!

lhusu's picture

Welcome to our expert Anne-Charlott Callerstig from Örebro University, and thank you for sharing your insights on dilemmas of "measuring" gender balance.

lhusu's picture

Now we have two of our experts with long experience in research funding organisations online, Dr. Maya Widmer, previously from Swiss National Science Foundation, and Dr. Carl Jacobsson, from the Swedish Research Council. Both have also participated in European reviews on gender challenges in research funding. I invite you to share your views on gender balance in decision-making in the funding body landscape.


Carl Jacobsson's picture

Hello everyone, I'm a senior advisor at the Swedish Research Council. I work with gender equality questions and gender equality monitoring as well as with other analyses of research financing, research personnel and research output (e.g. bibliometric analyses).
I agree with Minna (I believe) that you have to consider gender balance in top positions as well, typically the Grade A professors. In Sweden we have more than 50% women among HEI vice-chancellors, but the women are only 25% of the Grade A professors.

We should strive for at least 40% women in top positions.
Or at least, strive for the same share of women professors as the share of women in the field overall (there are 40% women on positions requiring a PhD in Swedish HEIs. Outside of Natural Sciences and Engineering the share of women is 49%).'s picture

Carl's comment inspires a note on my managerialist government thread: The fact that Sweden has som many female vice-chancellors is based on the fact that vice-chancellors in a way go outside the academic meritocracy: they are elected (well, suggested by) the University boards which in Sweden consist of a majority of non-academics (society and industry representatives). So, the fact that the academy is not autonomous in this sense, definitely has increased gender equality. Should we endorse this? Should we, in that case, let similar initiatives - bypassing the strictly academic meritocracy - further down the system? Or should we say that this is an anomaly, and really says nothing about gender equality in the Swedish academic system? And say that what we have is a low percentage of female professors and we need to work with the system to change that?

Maya Widmer's picture

At the SNSF it was relatively easy to introduce a target of 30% ( 40% in 2019) of the underrepresented gender (women) as member of the Foundation Council. The members are representatives of organizations (i.e. universities, federal government, students, etc.). Introducing a target/quota in the Research Council where meritocracy counts was not accepted but everyone agreed that the participation of women should increase. What helped was that the Gender Equality Committee of the SNSF gave presentations on gender bias in the Research Council on a regular annual basis.

lhusu's picture

Welcome Carl Jacobsson to our e-discussion. Indeed, the Swedish case is very particular, with highest proportion of women among Vice Chancellors (50%) in Europe, but only EU-average level of women at the full professor level.

lhusu's picture

Several of the comments in this discussion highlight the need to unpack, reflect on and complicate the notions of "gender balance" and "decision making". A very useful excercise.


Maya Widmer's picture

My name is Maya Widmer. Until September 2016 I worked as Head of Gender Equality in Research at the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF. Since 2004 I have been a member of the Helsinki Group HG. The HG works now in subgroups. One of this subgroup is engaged in guidance to facilitate the implementation of targets to promote gender equality in research and innovation.
After leaving the SNSF for early retirement I work now as an independent senior advisor.

From my experience in the SNSF:
Gender balance in decision-making bodies at the SNSF has been an issue for years, not an easy one, even if only counting heads of two sexes. Since 2010 the proportion of women in the Research Council did not raise over 23%. Last year for the first time the SNSF’s Presiding Board of RC was gender balanced (50/50%).

I am still trying to catch up with the ongoing discussion.

lhusu's picture

Welcome our expert Maya Widmer to the e-discussion. Both your organisation and Carl Jacobsson's organisation have actively been engaged in gender equality promotion for years. Now we have all our experts online. Welcome also all other participants to join and pose questions and comments.

Ella Ghosh's picture

Good morning, everyone!
Let me introduce myself first - I work as a senior adviser in the secretariat of the Committee for Gender Balance and Diversity in Research. As a polical scientist with a long background trying to promote good implementation of anti-discrimination and equality legislation, I find the subject today of great interest. The Committee I work for is appointed every four years by the Ministry of Education and Research. Our mandate concerns both the representation of women and ethnic minorities in top academic positions - but also the integration of gender and ethnic diversity in research (most of you are familiar with Integrating Gender Analysis into Research). Our committee meets several institutions every year to discuss how universities, colleges and research institutions are actually working with gender balance and the other issues I mentioned above. We also have seminars and workshops where leaders in our field participate. This gives us a good overview over how gender and ethnic diversity are discussed. This year, we have seen how gender issues are often put aside in times of transition and restructuring. Most institutions are aware of the challenges regarding the low amount of women in science and at professor levels. But in the day to day decision-making processes regarding innovation, publication, internationalisation or long term strategies for research, gender/diversity issues rarely are broached. Gender is in its own little box, brought out when gender balance among professors, the action plan for equality or the annual report figures are on the agenda. It should be noted that there are exceptions, though.

lhusu's picture

Welcome Ella Ghosh and thanks for opening up the Norwegian context for us. Gender balance is mentioned already in the name of your Committee.

Jeff Hearn's picture

a couple of things, inclusivity, like diversity, has become a popular term, and both can be useful, even if they have limitations - as Minna Salminen noted, inclusion into what? a male norm?? So you can have inclusion and diversity without equality and with inequality. Equity, both gender equity and equity more generally, is used a lot in some parts of the world, for example, South Africa. It conveys fairness, and so incorporates aspects of equality, inclusion and diversity. But, to repeat, we have to consider all these terms and their uses in their context and also the current climate, which as noted in some important ways is facilitating gender and other inequalities and exclusions.  

On the question of decision-making itself, as well as the formal and informal distinction, I think there may be some differences to consider around the decision-making seen in terms of appropriate processes (e.g. fair representation, how representation is decided, reasonable time schdules, proper ethical behaviour in evaluation, the giving of full and proper scientific feedback), and in terms of content (e.g. who has the expertise to know about an area of science, to decide priorities in a field). I often say to colleagues one shouldn't try to be 'too clever' in research proposals, as if you do there is a good chance that at least one person in the decision processes will not understand the proposal, and so you are thus rejected. Sometimes in research funding organisations these two aspects of process and content are somewhat separated, so that some people make decisions in their scientific evaluations, and then others, who may have little specialist knowledge, have oversight and make the final decisions on funding. Gender is obviously relevant in both arenas.

These issues get even more complex in multinational decision-making processes, such at the European or Nordic level, where, for example, there may be different gender hierarchies within and between countries, or not all (gendered) national representatives have equal power, and some countries tend to dominate decision-making.


Charlotta Niemistö's picture

I would like to continue on the question of decision-making in terms of processes, both formal and informal ones, and I draw from my experiences on the board.
There are some aspects of the formal process that also would be good to include but not always are. The question of fair representation is an important one, as it has a strong impact on the whole mandate period of e.g. a board. But another important issue is, which issues and questions will be raised on the agenda and how these ‘selection processes’ look like. And then a third one, how these issues and questions are dealt with in the decision making process, when they enter there. Here, sufficient information and transparent information channels are extremely important, and as Jeff raised, reasonable time schedules to enable that members of the board have time to learn enough. But here we enter the more informal parts of the decision making processes: depending on the (more informal) networks you are in, the amount of information might vary substantially, as the ‘formal information’ is only part of the story. I guess in most institutions, more complex and ‘complete’(?) information is accessible as long as you can pose the right questions to the right people. But how can we ensure that this happens equally?
So, my point is, I guess, that representation in itself is not enough.
EDIT: only now I saw that Minna Salminen had had commented on my previous post under a topic Decisions and Information, so I maybe should have replied to that instead. However, we seem to have written similar things and at the same time, so I hope you can find and combine these bits even if they are in different places!

Ella Ghosh's picture

Concepts are interesting per se, but the choice of terminology is highly charged in practice.

Some concepts trigger overt or covert hostility or resistance. One reason may be that equality policies are not seen as fair by some members of the academic community, or are seen as a breach of the central idea of meritocracy and academic neutrality. "Positive action" to combat gender imbalances in Science is seen (or rephrased) as negative discrimination by some.

Diversity is a difficult concept because it is ambiguous and used in a number of settings - gender, ethnic minorities, disability, sexual orientation, theoretical perspectives...

Inclusion in the Norwegian setting is now associated with including employees with chronic health issues, older employees, and employees with disabilities due to a tripartite agreement called Inclusive working life.

I assume this varies from country to country, and not least, from language to language. Egalité in France is associated with more than gender and has long historical roots, likestilling in Norway is associated with the gender equality struggle of the seventies.

Ella Ghosh's picture

I wonder if others have seen this short article that Nielsen, Schiebinger et al have written recently.

Even though the main thrust of the article is about diverse research teams, it also is about how to create an institutional framework to allow such diversity to produce the dividends of a heterogenous set of researchers. This is very much the responsibility of all leaders in the chain - research leaders, institute (or other unit) leaders, deans etc. Here is a quote:
Recruiting women is not enough: Carefully designed policies and dedicated leadership allow scientific organizations
to harness the power of gender diversity for collective innovations and discoveries. Since Kif works with ethnic diversity as well, its worth mentioning that these arguments are transferrable to ethnic minorities - whether international scholars, migrants or other minorities.

This is confirmed by research on implicit bias. Leaders need to be educated and aware to actively promote equality and create a climate that allows a diverse team to work at its best. But the process of recruitment to achieve gender balance at the top is slow, and that means women at the top are often in a minority.

My question to the others is - do you think the primary focus should be on increasing numbers or building leaders competence as a strategy to increase gender balance in decision-making in research?

Annecharlott's picture

Thank you for sharing the article. This is exactly the question we currently dwell on in the Gedii project, a project focusing exactly on the team level/team processes. In a way the authors answers you question in the quote you share. But the problem as I see it is how to design such strategies without risking an essensialising and static view of diversity, ie it may suppose the notion of difference/the other which might very well become a policy "Catch22". Working to strengthen the structural conditions that foster the possibility to participate in academic life on more equal terms in the long run would avoid such focus on individuals. But as Jeff Hearn said above, it is important to focus on underlying norms and not just removing “hinders” or “barriers” or “strengthen/equip” women strategies. Yet numbers do matter in so many ways. Representation is crucial but not enough. I once thought about writing a article "Does counting heads still matter or is it all in our heads...?" :-D

arroyo_lidia's picture

Great article, Ella. You are very welcome to upload this on GenPORT. This is an excellence resource on gender and science.'s picture

It was nice to be with you. I'm not tired of the discussion, just leaving for another meeting. Have a good discussion!

lhusu's picture

Thank you, Minna, for your insights and contributions!

lhusu's picture

Ella Gosh posed an important question that would be interesting to hear your views on -  should the focus be on increasing numbers of women in decision-making, or building leaders competence, as a strategy to increase gender balance in decision-making in research?

Alexandra Bitusikova's picture

Good morning everyone. My name is Alexandra Bitusikova and I am a member of the GenPORT consortium. I am an associate professor in social anthropology and Vice-Rector for Research at Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. Since last year I am a Slovak member of the Helsinki Group. The HG now works (among other things) on Guidance to facilitate the implementation of guiding targets - and gender balance in decision-making positions is a crucial part of the guidance. In addition, in May 2017 a kick-off meeting of a new H2020 project GENDERACTION will take place in Prague (coordinated by the Centre for Gender and Science, Prague) in which the topic of gender balance in leadership will be addressed, too. Thank you for your inspiring ideas and views – very useful for our work.

SUpton's picture

Good morning. As a researcher (not of the issues under discussion today) working in a British university, I’m particularly struck by Anne-Charlott’s earlier comments on the gap between formal rules and practice, and on instances where underlying norms remain unchallenged, even as attempts are made to remove barriers.

I’d very much welcome others’ thoughts on the need for those of us working within research organisations – as individuals? under the banner of a (semi-)formal group of some kind? – to challenge instances where practice diverges from policy/best practice.

Could a scrutiny role, operating at the local level, prove useful? And if so, what should it look like? Do examples already exist that might provide inspiration for others?

Jeff Hearn's picture

I have had experience of several attempts to do this, with varying success (I guess this also links with implementation and resistance):

the first was when I was at Bradford University in the UK in the 80s and early 90s in the Department of Applied Social Studies where I worked; two Standing Committees of staff and students were created: one on Gender and Sexuality, the other on Race, Racism and Anti-Racism. These had a watching briefs on these issues, including curricular issues. Also at Bradford around the mid-late 80s the Board of Studies in Social Sciences agreed to do a review of the curricula in terms of coverage of, I think, it was framed in terms of coverage of gender and race. Almost all departments took part apart, with varying commitment, from the Management Centre.

Another example was at Hanken School of Economics, in Finland, where in the 2000s the Department of Management instigated a Gender Excel working group which undertook an internal survey and took up various issues around gender; this also included staff and students and continued for a few years, but was voluntarily disbanded for several reasons, partly the difficulty of influencing appointments.

A third example is going on now in Sweden, where the government has directed all universities to do gender mainstreaming throughout their activities (not just recruitment). Universities seem to be varying in how seriously they are taking this; some, for example, KTH in Stockholm and Linköping, have invested rather a lot of time, resources and expertise in putting this into effect, including reviewing curricula in terms of gender issues. Ann-Charlott Callerstig can probably say more on this; I can also provide links if anyone is interested in this re KTH. It remains to be seen what reaction the government may have for those universities that do not take this gender mainstreaming task seriously and do not carry this out with due and proper thoroughness.

The combination of support at the top, as Maya Widmer pointed to, and developing local, dynamic, perhaps short-term and changing, lower and mid-level support structures is very important.

Jeff Hearn's picture

here are two extracts I copied down last night from the article:

“Following 60 interdisciplinary teams of more than 500 scientists and engineers across a variety of disciplines, Aparna Joshi shows that women more often than men accurately recognize the expertise of fellow team members. Based on two surveys—one gathering data about the participants’ work-related and educational background, the other asking participants to evaluate fellow team members’ research expertise—Joshi finds that women are more likely to emphasize educational qualifications when evaluating expertise, whereas men tend to be distracted by irrelevant cues, such as gender.” (Joshi A 2014. By whom and when is women’s expertise recognized? The interactive effects of gender and education in science and engineering teams. Adm Sci Q 25(2):202–239.)

“Based on career information of more than 2,000 United States life scientists, Laurel Smith-Doerr (9), for example, finds that women are nearly eight times more likely to lead research projects in biotech firms with flat job-ladders than in more hierarchical academic and pharmaceutical settings.” (Smith-Doerr L 2004. Women’s Work: Gender Equality vs. Hierarchy in the Life Sciences, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, CO.)

Reducing hierarchies is a good idea re gender equity. The question of flatter hierarchies and gender equality policy also came up in some research I conducted with Anne Kovalainen and Teemu Tallberg on the largest Finnish companies some while ago; I think this is a very fruitful angle:

Gender Divisions and Gender Policies in Top Finnish Corporations, Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration, Helsinki, 2002. Available at:



Maya Widmer's picture

In my experience increasing gender balance is only possible if you have a policy and strategy which is supported by the leaders. The easiest way of course is to have a respective regulation on national level (i.e. Spain, Austria).

Alexandra Bitusikova's picture

A very good question: Should the focus be on increasing numbers of women in decision-making, or building leaders competence, as a strategy to increase gender balance in decision-making in research?

In my opinion, the second option is even more important. I work(ed) with many rectors or vice-rectors - both male and female - and they did not differ (at least in Central Europe) in their approach towards gender equality. If a woman becomes a rector, that does not necessarily mean she is aware of gender equality - on the contrary, these female leaders are often more hostile to the topic than men. Building leaders competences (including gender awareness) seems to be very important.

lhusu's picture

There are several topics opened up in the discussion, please feel free to continue to comment on these (note you can comment a post directly with using reply at the bottom of the post). The issue of how do we understand gender balance in decision making, and what terms to use, is very important and not simple, as highlighted by this discussion.

Now I would also like to open up the second main topic of our e-discussion - and invite you to address and comment on the topic of implementation and resistance encountered when trying to promote gender balance/equal representation in research organisations.

lhusu's picture

Resistance against implementation of equal representation/gender balance in decision-making is sometimes voiced from women scientists in very male-dominated disciplinary areas. They argue that equal representation demands at different decision-making bodies put a heavier burden on them than their male colleagues, time away from their research and teaching. Would be interesting if you have comments on how this dilemma is handled in different contexts.

Jeff Hearn's picture

one way is to give proper time and other credit for such work as part of workloads (there's another relavant issue for 'gender balance' in decision-making; it is obviously important that such work is actually done, and not seen as part of bolstering CVs but that's another story; I recall one man academic with little or no interest in gender equality being keen to get on a relevant committee for that purpose.

Carl Jacobsson's picture

I think I run a great risk of "preaching to the choir" in the following comment, but anyway:

Right now, I think a great challenge to gender balance in top positions is the perception of meritocracy existing in the HEIs. (That is: the appointment procedures are objective and fair already, since meritocracy reigns.)
The work for gender equality is then seen as something which is promoting of less qualified women over more qualified men.

arroyo_lidia's picture

Dear all,

I am Lidia Arroyo, researcher at Open University of Catalonia and a member of the GenPORT team.

This is a really great e-discussion and it is very enriching to go in depth on the concept of gender balance and their implications.

With regard to the issue that Liisa has raised on the strategies and obstacles when implementing gender balance, I think that this is connected with the issue that Ella Ghosh has introduced about whether increase the number of women or compenteces of leaders.

As Maya Widmer I consider that the main goal is to assure that the leader positions integrate a gender perspective in the decision with regard to both in the strategic decision on the contents of the researcha and in the organisation of work. And this issue could be carried out by both men and women.

I think when a gender-sensitive person is the top leader of an organisation the obstacles to achieve gender balance and gender equality are reduced. But when there a manager or a few workers wants to implement gender equality measures but they do not have the support of the top manager positions, they have difficulties to be achieve this. To prevent this practices, is important to count on a critic mass of women and men with this gender inclusive perspective in organisations.

The main question is how can we promote that top leader positions include this gender perspective?

Ella Ghosh's picture

Dear colleagues,
I left the discussion involuntarily - my machine shut down!
I agree with Lidia on leaders and the need for a critical mass.

Makings sure leaders have necessary competence is the responsibility of the top leader. Here is an example of the rector in Trondheim University (NTNU) demanding that new recruits to top positions should have equality competence; We hope others will follow his good example, since NTNU is a leading research university with high status.

Goodbye for now!

See Kifinfo in English for more information on our work.

Carl Jacobsson's picture

Thank you!

Vasia Madesi's picture

Thank you very much for the interesting insights.

lhusu's picture

Our time is up and I would like to thank our experts and all of you for an interesting discussion, it certainly should continue at different forums! We are going to use the input from the discussion in updating the GenPORT policy briefs, and hopefully you all can benefit from the ideas, insights and resources mentioned in the discussion in your own work. All the best from GenPORT and Örebro University!



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