Feminist project management in Covid-19 crisis

By Paula de Dios Ruiz, Universidad Complutense de Madrid and SUPERA project manager

One of the main challenges of the SUPERA project has been grappling with Covid-19 crisis. At the beginning of the project, we were planning to implement several activities with the conviction that face to face discussions were crucial to change mindsets and policies. Suddenly, in March 2020 the Covid-19 crisis led to emptiness of campuses and the imminent shift toward remote work.

SUPERA partners were used to working online among our international Consortium, thus we rapidly transferred our local activities to online formats, using new online tools to continue our co-creation processes of GEPs design, however new challenges emerged that so far no one had experienced before. 

During the tough lockdown period, the main problem was to balance personal and professional life; as a consequence of that, gender inequalities in research and academia were aggravated, as the surveys conducted by our institutions revealed. However, this has not been the only consequence of Covid-19 crisis.

In the following list, I would like to highlight some lessons learnt during the last two years of project management in times of Covid-19 crisis. 

  • If someone is not answering my emails or complying with deadlines, I should address the situation with flexibility and understanding, because there is a wide range of particularities affecting every person in these times, especially women with care responsibilities. 
  • Online tools are not user-friendly for everybody, so it is important to be patient and supportive and avoid awkward situations. Feeling clumsy in online meetings could lead to lack of participation and, due to gender and age technology gaps, we can infer who will be less involved.  
  • Online meetings, as well as face-to-face ones, require facilitation and time management. Since the Covid crisis started, a lot of meetings have been set up with no clear aim, just because it’s easy and convenient to arrange one. However, without a clear agenda and goal, meetings easily become time consuming and frustrating, so it’s crucial to prepare them in advance and avoid overtime and online fatigue. Taking into account that at certain moments it’s highly likely that participants (especially women) are simultaneously at the meeting and taking care of someone at home. Thus, every time a meeting is held, have a clear objective, agenda and stick to the time allotted.
  • Additionally, it’s important to facilitate meetings in which we guarantee attendees´ total participation. It goes without saying that it’s pretty easier to be mute in a virtual meeting than in a face-to-face one. Women tend not to speak out as often as men do. In view of this fact, I strongly recommend putting into practice participatory techniques. A good example of this would be to let participants know in advance that a round of opinions will be asked for. Another tip would be to use the chat box instead of giving the floor, which will make participation more inclusive. 
  • Mental health problems have always existed, however since the outbreak of Covid-19 there has been a dramatic surge of these cases of anxiety, stress and depression. Consequently, medical leaves have kept soaring drastically. Therefore, we should be aware of this reality and treat it respectfully, with confidentiality and avoid stigmatizing.
  • Sexual harassment and gender based violence has been still ocurring eventhough we are all telecommuting. Therefore, as always, we must be sensitive, act in those cases where we have clear evidence and be supportive to women at risk of violence
  • This crisis has been experienced in different ways by each of us, depending on each one’s family situations, health conditions, place where we live, loss of close relatives due to Covid, hospitalization due to Covid… As a consequence, each one has different perceptions of risks, concerns, vaccination status and willingness to establish higher or lower prevention measures. If we are planning a presence event we must deal with this diversity, discuss it openly and not put anybody in an uncomfortable situation, or expose anyone to risks without previous agreement. 

All in all, a feminist approach in project management is a must when we are working on gender equality projects which, in my opinion, means that we must understand and boost diversity, give value and visibility to all types of knowledge and put care responsibilities and live needs at the center of our managament, because feminist theory must be put into practice also in management practices.

2022-03-31T11:51:55+02:00March 31st, 2022|Tags: , , , , |

Mutual learning & exchange between RFOs to foster institutional change: webinar recording available

Date: Thursday, 21 April 2022 at 10.00 – 11.30 Central European Summer Time.  

This webinar will take the format of a facilitated exchange between less advanced and advanced organisations, where the first will pose questions related to setting up and implementing a GEP (e.g. how to start, how to set up a team, how to decide on priorities, resources to foresee, how to mobilise internally, etc.) and the second will try to address the questions presenting their experience.  The duration will be approximately an hour with the participation of four RFOs. The session will be offered to the SUPERA GEP implementing partners and it will be opened to interested RFOs across Europe.

Learning objectives: 

  • Mutual learning and exchange: getting inspiration from others with examples of promising practices
  • Present the pitfalls and strengths of applying institutional change in RFOs
  • Inspire about possible benefits and interventions

Invited speakers:  

  • Laurence Guyard, Responsible for relations with scientific communities, ANR (Gender-SMART project)
  • Donia Lasinger Deputy Managing Director & Programme Manager, Vienna Science and Technology Fund, WWTF
  • Nadège Ricaud, MSCA National Contact Point, Contact Person for Gender Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique, FNRS
  • Elena Simion, International Projects Expert, Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding UEFISCDI (CALIPER project)

10.00-10.10 Welcome / Expectations about the webinar
10.10-10.40 4 RFOs presenting their journey
10.40-11.00 Facilitated Q&A between the RFOs
11.00-11.30 Q&A and wrap-up

The webinar recording is accessible via this link on the SUPERA YouTube channel.

2022-04-27T08:55:01+02:00March 28th, 2022|Tags: , , , |

Engaging with external stakeholders and innovation ecosystems: recording and presentations available

Friday, 8 April 2022 at 11.00 – 12.30 CET

This webinar aims at presenting the experiences of working with external stakeholders and the innovation ecosystem while implementing a Gender Equality Plan. Capitalising on the knowledge gained from our sister projects, Gender-SMART and CALIPER, the webinar will present the benefits of this collaborative approach which could be structurally built into the GEPs process to foster institutional change.

The session will be offered to the SUPERA GEP implementing partners and will be open to sister projects. The webinar will take the format of two presentations of approximately 20 minutes each, followed by a question-and-answer session facilitated by two facilitators.

Learning objectives: 

  • Provide examples of promising applied solutions and familiarise with existing promising practices
  • Inspire about possible benefits in institutional change from working with external stakeholders
  • Inspire about possible interventions with current and new partnerships

Invited speakers:


  •  Lut Mergaert & Vasia Madesi (Yellow Window)  

11.00-11.10 Welcome / Expectations about the webinar
11.10-11.30 Presentation: Working with external stakeholders at CUT
11.30-11.50 Presentation: The quadruple helix innovation ecosystem of CALIPER project
11.50-12.20 Q&A
12.20-12.30 Wrap-up and evaluation

The webinar recording is accessible via this link on the SUPERA YouTube channel.

2022-04-22T10:45:27+02:00March 28th, 2022|Tags: , |

How do we deal with resistances to structural change in gender equality in higher education?

By Lucy Ferguson, Yellow Window

We know that resistances are a normal and necessary aspect of structural change for gender equality. As Fiona Mackay argues:

We should celebrate as a success cases where the status quo has to start to work hard to reproduce itself and has to invest resources and energy in resisting gender change. The need for visible resistance to positive change is a success. It is evidence of the chipping away of patriarchy; it might be chipping away really slowly, but it is changing.[i]

However, for many of us, the daily practice of dealing with resistances is challenging, and often exhausting or demotivating. The recently published Toolkit: Resistances to structural change in gender equality – co-authored with Lut Mergaert – was developed in order to support for those implementing structural change in higher education institutions to deal with resistances in their work. While reading the Toolkit, we invite you to reflect on a couple of key questions: How do you currently deal with resistances? How could you deal with resistances differently?

The Toolkit draws on the collaborative efforts of a range of H2020 structural change projects – particularly SUPERA, GE Academy, Gender-SMART and GEARING-Roles. It incorporates the learnings and reflections from three in-person and two online workshops on dealing with resistances, as well as a SUPERA project webinar which followed up on the resistances toolkits developed during the in-person workshop. Following these workshops, the majority of participants reframed their thinking by acknowledging that resistances are a normal and necessary part of change. They also agreed that resistances are something which can be managed, and felt encouraged to be subversive and strategic, often within unfavourable or challenging political circumstances. The Toolkit is organised in three sections: Categorising and theorising resistances; Common guidelines for dealing with resistances; Resistances Action Plan.

Categorising resistances – why, how, who?

Building on previous work developed by the FESTA project[ii] as well as other research, the toolkit presents a set of examples and questions to help readers understand how to categorise the resistances they are experiencing when implementing their Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) and structural change programmes. Reasons why resistances are being experienced include a wide range of aspects, such as, for example: limited human and financial resources; conflicting interests and priorities for funding; lack of capability; not knowing how to do it or uncertainty on how to start; gender blindness; and a perception that gender equality has already been achieved. As shown here, resistances are not always specifically about gender equality per se. Indeed, as discussed during the workshops, our assumptions regarding what is behind resistances may at times be arbitrary and not necessarily reflect the actual reasons for resistance.

Resistances to structural change can be manifested in a number of different ways – which can largely be categorised into active/explicit and passive/implicit. Active or explicit resistances tend to be easier to identify, such as: hostility, sexist humour, devaluation and disparaging women’s accomplishments or professional commitment, interrupting, denial of access to resources, etc. Further expressions of explicit resistances include: “essentialist” discourses about gender inequalities; depoliticising and marginalising gender inequality arguments and data as a matter of contrasting opinions, rather than “facts”. In contrast, passive or implicit resistances can be more difficult to identify and address. These include: making procedures more difficult, limiting access to institutional resources, providing mere lip-service support but nothing else, etc.

In terms of who is creating resistance to structural change, individual resistances come from a single person, more often from men, although not exclusively. Group resistances can also be identified, such as a specific department or group of colleagues within a department. As discussed in the workshops, institutional – as opposed to individual or group – resistances are more difficult to address, as they tend to be a product of institutional culture or an institution’s legal or administrative procedures. Moreover, the superficial or preliminary manifestation of resistances may be seen differently as the implementation process develops. It should be noted that in some workshops, participants found it more difficult to identify institutional resistances compared to individual.

Common guidelines for dealing with resistances

The Toolkit presents the collective work of participants in the resistances workshops. In terms of caring for the “core team”, an emerging theme in structural change projects is the lack of recognition of “academic care work”. In order to acknowledge this, the Toolkit develops the “Four Ss (for us)” approach:

  • Success – celebrate small wins to help motivation
  • Sanity – use energies where they can have most impact
  • Self-care – look after each other’s well-being
  • Sustainability – bear in mind this is a long-term process

Within the ‘For Us’ approach, participants developed the Anticipate – Prepare – Rehearse strategy. Rehearsal involves practising arguments and counter-arguments and learning to communicate politically – for example, use of role plays has been particularly useful. As set out in the Toolkit, role plays can be used by the core team to practice particularly challenging or stressful situations in advance, managing reactions and preparing strategies. More broadly, in order to tackling resistances to implementation, the Toolkit discusses the following aspects: develop tactics and strategies; build networks and alliances; learn to deal with bureaucracy; and improve arguments and communication.

Resistances Action Plan   

Finally, the Toolkit presents an Action Plan, composed of five stages: Identify and Categorise; Prioritise; Conduct a Follow-up Session; Revise.

Stage 1 – Identify and Categorise

Stage 2 – Prioritise

Stage 3 – Follow up Session

Stage 4 – Revision of Action Plans 

We invite you to use the Toolkit to support your ongoing efforts in structural change for gender equality. The full document can be found here at this link.

[i] Fiona Mackay, quoted in Aruna Rao, Joanne Sandler, David Kelleher, Carol Miller (2016), Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations, Routledge

[ii] Saglamer et al. (2006), Handbook on Resistance to Gender Equality in Academia, available at: https://www.festa-europa.eu/public/handbook-resistance-gender-equality-academia

2022-03-07T15:37:20+02:00March 7th, 2022|

From training the trainers to training the community: the experience at CES-UC

By Cláudia Araújo, Universidade de Coimbra

Throughout the duration of SUPERA, all Consortium members devoted significant efforts to training and capacity building, as, from the beginning, our project was about improvement: improving our institutions, improving the wellbeing of our communities, but also improving ourselves, as academics and as human beings. Our starting point at CES-UC was one of general lack of awareness and expertise on gender equality in academia by key stakeholders, as well as absence of institutional action or mandate in pursuing gender equality, so we were aware that our work would necessarily include training and capacity building.
The participatory approach to these activities developed in the Consortium was a fundamental step in pursuing this multifaceted improvement.

Training the trainers
Although the core team at CES-UC was well versed in gender equality in higher education institutions, and experienced in delivering training, participation in the first training sessions organised within the Consortium constituted a much-valued opportunity for obtaining new skills and gaining new insights. We appreciated the hands-on approach to acquiring knowledge, the experienced gained on working with an array of participatory techniques that we then applied in our own university, and enjoyed mobilising our creativity to design collective outcomes that could be adapted to our own institutional context. It was also an opportunity to engage partners from the University’s central services that would be able to multiply efforts across our organisation: for example, the HR Officer, selected with the purpose of fostering her ability to incorporate GE in her work, as well as her engagement with GEP implementation or the Head of the Planning Division, whose in-depth practical knowledge about the structures and procedures of the institution made him a valuable asset for foreseeing and navigating resistances.

These training sessions were also excellent opportunities to build a more personal relationship with the teams from the other universities, research funding organisations and expert partners. The added value of the personal interconnections built during these sessions cannot be understated: as we faced challenges, resistances and difficulties during the implementation of the project, we knew we could benefit, from the start, from a strong inter-institutional support network that we could rely upon – even in such unprecedented pandemic times.

We also took part in training sessions promoted by sister projects, such as the GE Academy, that were also valuable in enriching our experiences and building our capacities to pass on valuable knowledge to our own community at CES-UC, but also to network and expand our horizons.

Training the community
The Supera team at CES-UC run multiple training sessions, workshops and co-creation actions since Supera’s inception. We chose to articulate traditional exposition-based training with co-creation techniques, as that stood as the most appropriate path for our institution. That allowed us to provide innovative spaces of knowledge creation, with the participation of multiple members of the academic community: students, research and teaching staff, technical and administrative staff, and institutional leaders. We were thus able to create participatory venues where they were lacking, and support participants’ efforts in co-designing solutions for complicated gendered problems, that we then streamlined to decision-makers in the university, in the form of specific recommendations/ guidelines/ checklists. This practice also created a much valued avenue of engagement and open discussion, enabling further networking for gender equality across the institution.

This alliance-building and stakeholders empowering work was rewarding for both trainers and trainees, and the multiplying effects of the sessions cannot be diminished. We received very good feedback from our participants, who often returned for subsequent sessions with different topics and recruited colleagues and friends to join them. But these sessions also constituted a great opportunity for the Core team to reflect on its own ability to create impact, and to find support and encouragement in the interpersonal connections that were built during these encounters.

In lieu of a conclusion: training and capacity building for GEP design, implementation and monitoring
Training and capacity building are fundamental for structural change, and efforts devoted to these activities were crucial in all steps of GEP creation and implementation at CES-UC. In GEP design, there was, firstly, a need for relevant stakeholders to embrace the pursuit of gender equality as essential for a fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable institution; secondly, ownership of the GEP would be deeper if said stakeholders were involved in its design. It was to these two dimensions that the team at CES-UC firstly devoted its training efforts, which were continued through the inclusion in the GEP itself of a number of training and capacity building actions encompassing all publics that make up the academic community, devoted to a variety of themes that stood up as particularly relevant during the initial assessment (i.e., inclusive communication, recruitment and promotion, integration of the gender perspective in research and teaching content). What is more, the importance of gender analysis in monitoring and reporting were also part of the general capacity building for gender equality promoted by the Core team at the University of Coimbra.

In addition, the sessions were also an important avenue for members of the Gender Equality Hub and other interested parties to gather – in person or online – in a safe environment, and discuss how they could enhance their own work towards gender equality, often in connection to actions included in the GEP that they could pursue in their faculties or units/divisions. Training, then, was a catalyst for networking, lobbying, finding collective answers to institutional resistances, and support for initiatives taken. Human connections were built and, we like to believe, friendships were created. In that sense, SUPERA training sessions became community-building moments, with a focus on the promotion of Gender Equality.

As we move towards the end of SUPERA, we build on those connections as an essential takeaway from our hard work, and are certain our experience does not differ dramatically from that of other members of the consortium. As our final conference approaches, we look forward for another valuable moment of learning and sharing with the people who accompanied us through this journey, in the certainty that it will not be our last encounter.

2022-03-02T10:52:14+02:00March 2nd, 2022|Tags: , , , |