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: , , , , |

The impact of the pandemic on gender equality in Academia: three case studies

On June 9th 2021, the online event “How COVID-19 impacted on gender equality in research and academia” provided the SUPERA core teams from the University of Coimbra, the University of Cagliari and the Complutense University of Madrid with the opportunity to present the preliminary results of three studies on the gendered impact of the pandemic on the academic and research communities

The research focused on working conditions, time usage and academic production of the academic staff at UC, UNICA and UCM during the COVID-19 health emergency. The reports containing the preliminary results of the surveys have been released between February and March on the SUPERA website: see here for more details.  

The official presentation of the research results has been introduced and commented by two components of SUPERA’s international advisory board: Jörg Muller, expert in concepts and methods for researching the impact of gender diversity on research performance (Open University of Catalonia), and Nicole Huyghe, expert in data analytics from a gender perspective, CEO and founder of Boobook

Mónica Lopes, researcher at the Center for Social Studies, opened the following presentations with the results from the UC; Barbara Barbieri, Associate Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences, illustrated the evidences from UNICA; María Bustelo, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration – and SUPERA coordinator -, closed the session with the presentation from UCM.

The slides used during the event are online on Slideshare with a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license:

The recording of the event, including the final session with the Q&A by the participants, is available on the SUPERA’s YouTube channel at this link.

2021-07-22T11:12:27+02:00July 20th, 2021|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

COVID-19 impact on gender equality in academia: on 9/06 an online event to present the surveys’ results

Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle, Unsplash

On June 9, 2021 from 4.00 to 5.30 pm CET, the SUPERA core teams from the University of Coimbra, the University of Cagliari and the Complutense University of Madrid will present the results of the study on the gendered impact of COVID-19 carried out in the three respective European universities.

The presentation will be introduced by Jörg Muller, expert in concepts and methods for researching the impact of gender diversity on research performance (Open University of Catalonia), and Nicole Huyghe, an expert in data analytics from a gender perspective (Boobook) will comment on the results; a final session will be devoted to the Q&A by the participants.

The participation to the event is open to everyone but registration is required through the link available here: a Zoom link to join the meeting will be sent a few hours before the start of the event.

For any question or information, please contact us at superaprojectoffice@ucm.es.

Agenda 

  • Welcome by Lut Mergaert, Yellow Window
  • Introduction by Jörg Muller, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
  • Presentations of Results 
    • CES-UC: Mónica Lopes, researcher at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra 
    • UniCA: Barbara Barbieri, Associate Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari
    • UCM: María Bustelo, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM)
  • Comments on the results by Nicole Huyghe, CEO and founder of Boobook
  • Questions & Answers session by participants
  • Closing

Psychological dimensions of the impact of Covid-19 emergency

By Cristina Cabras, Silvia De Simone, Barbara Barbieri and Mirian Agus, University of Cagliari

How did the pandemic scenario affect the performance of the academic staff? In order to answer to this question, in the context of the SUPERA project the University of Cagliari developed a survey with the aim to explore the impact of psychological, sociological, economics and communicative dimensions on the productivity of the academic staff during the Covid-19 crisis. This report anticipates the preliminary results concerning the psychological dimensions.

The survey was administered to 968 participants between September and October 2020 with a response rate of about 25%; the participation was completely voluntary, and the questionnaire ensured anonymity. A total of 243 participants (researchers, associate and full professors), 50% men and 50% women, ranging from 30 to 70 years old, completed the questionnaire. Ot them, almost 56% of participants have children.

We investigated the relation among perceived stress, work-family interface, workload, perceveid organizational support, work engagement, workplace social isolation, scientific productivity and satisfaction. To measure these variables, we administered standardized scales.

Multivariate analysis

We performed the multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to determine if there were significant differences between gender, academic position, presence/absence of children, scientific productivity and productivity satisfaction on the variables studied. The multivariate analysis of variance has age as a covariate.

While the results show a significant effect regarding gender, academic position, presence/absence children, productivity satisfaction, no significant effect was found on scientific productivity.

The results show that women feel more negative stress. A possible interpretation is that they feel to have less control over the most important aspects of their life and also to face too many difficulties in working environments.

Moreover, women perceive greater organizational support. In other words, they feel that their contributions and their efforts are appreciated, believing that the organization cares about their well-being and their job satisfaction. In addition to that, we found a significant effect regarding the academic position in relation to the negative interface of the family at work. In particular, the results show that full and associate professors have the highest levels of negative interface from family to work. This could mean that they have more problems with family interference in carrying out work assignments. In contrast, researchers hired on temporary contracts have the lowest levels of interference from family to work. The results show the highest levels of workload for associate and full professors: they are frequently asked to work hard and fast. On the other hand, researchers hired on temporary contracts have fewer workloads: this could mean that, compared to the other roles, they perceive a greater usefulness of their job duties and perceive they have less workload in terms of quality and quantity.

The presence of children is associated with higher levels of negative interference from work to family. It’s likely that those who have children have more negative relationships between work and family. Moreover, the presence of children is associated with higher levels of negative interference from family to work: those who have children have more negative interactions between family and work.

Finally, the results show that high levels of productivity satisfaction are associated with positive interference from work to family. It could mean that those with high satisfaction have positive experiences of interference from work to family.

Regression model

In order to test the role of the different dimensions of the work-family interface, workload and perceived organizational support on positive and negative perceived stress, productivity and productivity satisfaction, four regressions were conducted.

The regression models considered as dependent variables respectively: positive stress, negative stress, scientific productivity and satisfaction productivity; while as independent variables we have two blocks: workload and perceived organizational support, the four work-family interface dimensions.

Three models were significant, while the regression model of the scientific productivity variable did not show significant results.

The first regression model (dependent variable: Positive Perceived Stress) explains 6.3% of the variance, the second regression model (dependent variable: Negative Perceived Stress) explains 20% of the variance, and the third regression model (dependent variable: productivity satisfaction) explains 18% of the variance; instead, the four regression model (dependent variable: scientific productivity) did not show significant results.

Specifically, the results of the first regression show that only the positive work-to-family spillover is predictive of the positive perceived stress; there is therefore a positive association between the positive perception of stress and the positive work-to-family direction.

The results of the second regression show three predictors with a significant influence on the negative perceived stress. In particular, the data show a negative relationship between age and the negative perceived stress, between the positive work-to-family spillover and the negative perceived stress, while there is a positive relationship between the negative work-to-family spillover and the negative perceived stress.

Finally, there are two predictors for the productivity satisfaction dimension. The data show a positive relationship between positive work-to-family spillover and productivity satisfaction, while there is a negative relationship between the negative family-to-work spillover and productivity satisfaction.

SUMMARY

  • Women feel more negative stress, even though at the same time they feel more supported by their own organization.
  • Full professors and associate professors are those who perceive the most workload and who perceive a conflict between the family and work domains with the family that negatively interfere with work.
  • Parents experience more negative stress than non-parents, but they feel more supported by the organization and experience more negative work-to-family and family-to-work spillover.
  • Positive stress is more associated with positive work-to-family spillover.
  • Negative stress is more associated with age (with increasing age, negative stress decreases) and with positive and negative work-to-family spillover.
  • Satisfaction with scientific productivity is mostly associated to a positive work-to-family spillover and to negative family-to-work spillover.
  • Scientific productivity is not explained by the dimensions analyzed in this study.
2021-07-20T10:34:29+02:00March 31st, 2021|Tags: , , , , , |

What has the covid crisis meant for the academic world?

By Paula de Dios Ruiz and Lorena Pajares Sánchez, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

On Friday 5th of February, the UCM organised the online presentation act “Gender Impact of COVID-19” in which the UCM – SUPERA Team presented the results of the study done on working conditions, use of time and academic performance during the Covid-19 crisis among the academic staff of the UCM (PDI). Study that was carried out in June 2020, just after the hardest months of confinement and the State of Alarm in our country.

The event counted with the participation of Eva Alcón, Rector of the Jaume I University and Delegate of the Presidency for Equality Policies of the CRUE (Spanish Universities Rectors’ Conference); Magdalena Suárez Ojeda, Director of the Equality Unit at the UCM; and María Bustelo, Coordinator of the SUPERA project. Moreover, around 120 participants attended the event and enriched the discussion with questions and comments about the results. The recording of the event can be found at the UCM – SUPERA website, here.

The UCM – SUPERA Team has also systematised and described all the results of the study in a report, divided in 5 chapters following the surveys’ structure:
1. Academic and sociodemographic variables;
2. Working conditions;
3. Scientific production;
4. Uses of time and perception of efficacy;
5. Institutional support. 

One of the main findings to be highlighted is that significant differences between men and women appear in the answers of all chapters of the questionnaire. They reflect the presence of structural gender inequalities that perpetuates the traditional gender roles and stereotypes in academia, which seem to have been aggravated during the confinement and lockdown, as shown in the examples hereafter.

Significant differences are found already when looking into the sociodemographic variables of the UCM’s faculty staff, especially regarding family units, where it is identified that more women than men live with children under 18 years old and that the units with a single adult living with children are mostly headed by women. 

As regards the working conditions, female faculty have worse material working conditions than their male colleagues, shown by the fact that fewer women than men have good computer equipment and a working room for their own. 

Related to the distribution of reproductive works, women from the PDI of the UCM express to have dedicated more time than men to care and domestic work during confinement, with differences as relevant as 3 more hours per week on average dedicated to housework and cleaning, or caring for minor children. Moreover, it has come to light that the female faculty of the UCM have had less time available for rest, leisure and personal development.

If we focus on the scientific production, male PDI have been working and sending to publish more than the female PDI, with a clear difference in the production of articles for peer-reviewed journals. Analysing the perception of time dedicated to the different tasks of academic work, it can be highlighted that men dedicate more hours per week to writing papers, articles and books, while women dedicate more hours to preparing and teaching classes and exams and attending students.

These are just a few examples of the inequalities yielded by the study, but the overall results clearly outline the underlying academic profile of a successful scientific person: someone who has an exclusive dedication to scientific production, many hours a week invested in research activities and with less dedication to reproductive and care work. Not only at home but also at the university, care works seem to be a female responsibility, where there are tasks which are not recognised and valued on the career’s development criteria, such as preparing lessons or attending students, and those are tasks mainly done by women. 

The results must motivate us to continue working on gender equality at the UCM. For this reason, the report ends with a section of recommendations, which is considered a starting point from which to continue designing and proposing measures for the UCM’s GEP, as well as to continue working on the training and capacity building for the promotion of the implementation at all levels and departments of the gender mainstreaming strategy. 

The report is available here.  

2021-05-04T10:06:25+02:00March 31st, 2021|Tags: , , , , , |

XI European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education: save the date!

The Women and Science Unit of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Ministry of Universities, in cooperation with the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), the Spanish Institute of Women, and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), are pleased to invite you to the 2021 Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education: https://www.genderequalityconference2021.com/

The European Conference Gender Equality in Higher Education (GEHE) is an academic forum to communicate new research and analysis on gender and science. These conferences also welcome presentations on the development of gender equality policies as well as on the implementation of gender equality plans in research performing organizations (RPOs) and research funding organizations (RFOs). The topics of the Conference that include a new thematic area on gender, science and COVID-19.

The 11th edition of GEHE was planned to be hosted by the UPM, Madrid, in September 2020 but the pandemic led to postpone the event. The Conference will be online from the 15th to the 17th of September 2021. More than 200 abstracts were already received and evaluated by our international scientific committee last year.

The online edition will include different activities:

  • Plenary conferences by main speakers.
  • Oral communications in parallel sessions.
  • Symposia/workshops.
  • High-level panel as closing event at ETSI Industriales –UPM (live streaming).
  • Online networking activities.

Follow the news on #GEHE2021 in the webpage: https://www.genderequalityconference2021.com

The unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Portuguese women academics


By Filipa Marques, Sofia Miguel (NOVA University Lisbon) Mónica Lopes (University of Coimbra)

The COVID-19 has caused substantial disruptions to academic activities:

  • Working parents have to balance their time between academic responsibilities, childcare and domestic tasks;
  • Professors have to ensure online lectures for their students, sometimes using pre-recorded lessons, in order to mitigate the distance;
  • Researchers have to adapt to a new reality, which constrains the lab work to a minimum.

The general impact of confinement measures in the academic performance of professors and researchers has been a subject of interest, mainly because most of working professors and researchers are also parents, some with young children in their care. It is a matter of public discussion that COVID-19 is having an uneven influence with those with child/adult care responsibilities – particularly women. Female professors and researchers have been facing more difficulties to publish their research due to the confinement caused by COVID-19, according to data that show that women’s publishing success dropped after schools closed [1, 2]. A recent study indicates a sharp decrease in original research-papers submissions by female researchers in several international journals, during confinement caused by COVID-19 [3]. As the novel virus reveals an endeavour to researchers in the medical and health sciences disciplines, the proportion of published papers in such fields dramatically increased to promptly allow results dissemination. In this regard, female publication success during this period should have increased, not decreased, since women have been increasing their representativeness in these fields [4, 5]. This fact illustrates the confinement effect on women’s publication records and at the preprint and journal submission stages.

In Portugal, COVID-19 has affected professors and researchers similarly, as in other countries, facing the same challenges. Aware of this, SPEAR partner, NOVA University Lisbon, has been laying foundations towards a more equal-opportunities-academic environment that aims to implement gender-sensitive policies and help reduce the institutional gender gap.

The data on the effects of COVID-19 in female academics are still scarce. However, there are two research projects ongoing, specifically devoted to exploring the effects of the pandemic at the national level. The only empirical research already documenting the impact of COVID-19 in the work conditions and academic performance of women in Portuguese research institutions has been carried out by the University of Coimbra, within the framework of the SUPERA project. Based on a survey questionnaire of teaching and research staff, the findings shed light on gender inequalities that are shaping COVID’s impact on working conditions, work-life balance, and academic time usage and efficacy. It has been particularly more difficult to academic women, especially younger mothers in non-tenure-track positions.

In Portugal, academic women seem to be more exposed to not only the severity of psychological/emotional effects of the COVID-19 crisis but also to the increased burden of domestic and care duties during confinement. Moreover, the pandemic appears to affect disproportionately the housework and care routines of women (especially younger academic mothers), as well as the personal routines of female academics, who reported more often a reduction of leisure time during the lockdown.

The increased household and emotional burdens arising from COVID restrictions also affect the work-family negotiations and conflicts, posing differentiated challenges to reconcile the competing time demands of paid work and family. Substantial differences are observed between men and women perceptions of how the pandemic has affected their work. Female academics and academics with young children in the household most frequently emphasise the influence of COVID-19 on the amount of time dedicated to professional work. Moreover, when analysing the changes on time allocation to the various domains of the academic activity, one can observe that the reinforcement of teaching and administrative tasks during the confinement is specially bound to female dedication. In the case of young mothers, the priority given to teaching occurs at the expense of research activities (e.g., manuscript and grant writing, peer review and serving on funding panels) which are critical to career progression.

The study also gives important insights on the extent to which the distinctive burdens imposed by the lockdown to female scientists and scientists with young children impacted academic productivity. Nevertheless, it is too early to get a complete picture of this impact, as the lockdown period has been relatively short compared to normative research timelines. The outputs considered to explore the effects of the pandemic in academic productivity were mainly of scientific character but also connected to pedagogical activities, knowledge transfer and dissemination. When solely considered, neither gender nor parental status significantly affected the changes in academic output observed during the “stay home order”. Nonetheless, when considered in combination, gender and parental status displayed a significant influence in the differences observed between the pre-pandemic and pandemic period, placing female scientists with children up to 12 in a particular disadvantage.

Moreover, women without children and men with and without children have increased their output submission during the confinement, whereas younger academic mothers faced an inverse trend. This difference may further aggravate the gap between men and women, as said institutions have an increasingly research-oriented strategy. This may translate into a significant disproportion of the performance management policies regarding tenure, recognition and promotion since most academic careers evolve directly from strong publication records and academic performance [6].

Although limited in scale and scope, this study provides sound quantitative evidence highlighting gender disparities in how the pandemic has affected the scientific workforce in Portugal. Academic institutions and funding organisations should consider the inequalities regarding not only academic productivity but also material and non-material working conditions to put in place some measures. The metrics to assess funding and academic position applications rely on bibliometric indicators that tend to be unidimensional. Therefore, a requirement for academic assessment and monitoring should include institutional measures to promote career development and talent retention, a more diverse and inclusive working environment, and family-friendly policies. These would be important to provide resources for early-career academics, particularly women with young children, to attenuate the negative effects of academic productivity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article is the result of a joint initiative among the H2020 sister projects SPEAR and SUPERA and has been published also on the SPEAR website.

XI European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education: call for abstracts

The Women and Science Unit of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Ministry of Universities in cooperation with the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) are pleased to announce a new call for abstracts for the 2021 Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education:

https://www.genderequalityconference2021.com/call-for-abstracts/

More than 200 abstracts already received and evaluated in 2020
New deadline for abstracts submission: 24th of March, 2021
See the topics of the Conference that include a new thematic area on gender, science and COVID-19

The European Conference Gender Equality in Higher Education (GEHE) is an academic forum to communicate new research and analysis on gender and science. These conferences also welcome presentations on the development of gender equality policies as well as on the implementation of gender equality plans in research performing organizations (RPOs) and research funding organizations (RFOs).

The 11th edition of GEHE was planned to be hosted by the UPM, Madrid, in September 2020 but the pandemic led to postpone the event. The Conference will be online from the 15th to the 17th of September 2021. More than 200 abstracts were already received and evaluated by our international scientific committee last year. The aim of this new call for abstracts is to give the opportunity to present new research, analysis and experiences from the gender and science community across Europe.

The online edition will include different activities:

  • Plenary conferences by main speakers.
  • Oral communications in parallel sessions.
  • Symposia/workshops.
  • High-level panel as closing event at ETSI Industriales –UPM (live streaming).
  • Online networking activities.

Follow the news on #GEHE2021 in the webpage: https://www.genderequalityconference2021.com

Working conditions, time usage and academic performance in Covid-19 times: preliminary UCM survey results

By Maria Bustelo, Paula de Dios Ruiz and Lorena Pajares – Universidad Complutense de Madrid

As part of the planned work at the SUPERA project, the UCM team had started to design a study on gender roles and academic time usage when the Covid-19 crisis broke out, last March. This initial idea turned into a specific survey of how gender roles apply to situations of lockdown for academics and researchers. In May 2020, a survey on working conditions, academic time usage and academic performance during the Covid-19 crisis was designed, and in June 2020 it was launched at the Complutense University of Madrid with a high response rate: more than 27% of the total Faculty Population, reaching almost 1.600 responses.

The preliminary results are clear in confirming strong gender roles’ segregation in academic time usage & performance, and significant differences between female and male academics in many of the studied variables. Moreover, these differences have aggravated and increased during the pandemic, while in general female faculty have experienced a significantly harder time working remotely during the Spring confinement than their male counterparts.

The presentation shows some preliminary results related to the fact that female faculty staff have experienced a much harder time during the lockdown than their male colleagues. For example, women show significant differences in claiming that they have felt more sadness, preoccupation, anxiety and stress, feeling overwhelmed, and of losing control than men. Also women ranked significantly higher in working at unusual hours, in having difficulties for working without being interrupted, and in using concentrating on work as a way of dealing with the situation. Men claim more than women that they have taken advantage of the lockdown to catch up with academic work.

Differences in time devoted by women and men to care and domestic work have been aggravated during lockdown. Gender roles in academic work are not only confirmed before the pandemic, but also aggravated during lockdown: women claimed to devote more time to class preparation and to students’ attention, and men to writing and sending to publish papers/articles.

Regarding the academic time usage perception, before lockdown females claimed to devote slightly less weekly time than men to academic work (approx. 20 minutes less), but during lockdown figures reversed, claiming women one hour and a half more weekly than men.

Further analyses are being performed by the SUPERA-UCM team, who is also working, along with the Gender Equality Nodes Network at the UCM, on the development of recommendations and proposals for actions to be integrated as part of the upcoming GEP.

Short outline of the first results (presentation on SlideShare).

Video of the presentation of the first survey results, given by Maria Bustelo (Associate professor of Political science and Public administration at UCM and SUPERA Coordinator).

2021-03-25T12:22:58+02:00November 3rd, 2020|Tags: , , , , |

Return to “normalcy”? Gender-sensitive policies for institutional change after the Covid-19 crisis

By Francisco Rodrigues, Center for Social Studies – University of Coimbra

The escalation of the COVID-19 crisis into a global pandemic brought about unique set(s) of circumstances and resulted into a period of uncertainty and inconvenience, as the paradigm of social and professional relations quickly shifted.

Much has been written and discussed about the possibilities of accelerating progress on various fronts, by capitalizing on the adaptations and solutions brought about by this new reality. The same logic can be applied to the higher education context and gender equality, by recognizing and understanding the many issues, both new and old, that the current crisis brings (see, for example, Malisch et al, 2020), in order to identify any windows of opportunity that may exist.

Uncertainty, by its essence, raises questions. Combined with inconvenience in the form of loss, harm, or drawbacks, it may become the incentive for the development of answers: solutions towards effectiveness, comfort, productivity and the overall betterment of the situation.

Communication technologies in general, and the Internet in particular, have been instrumental in the development of the current workplace, as their ever-growing ability to communicate instantly, more effectively, and providing tools to solve more complex problems is the defining feature of the present moment in almost every sector of activity. However, there is an inescapable lag between technological development and its widespread use.

Many higher education institutions are clear examples of this, integrating newer technologies  at slower paces due to  a variety of factors, such as scale – large numbers of staff and students; internal variability – multiple campuses, units, types of staff and areas of activity; non-profit purpose – making funding and liquidity dependent on external sources; and traditional organizational structures – bureaucratic and hierarchical, with multiple governing bodies and levels of autonomy.

E-learning is an interesting example, an area that has been in development and that became mandatory during the pandemic. Since it has not been a priority in many institutions, responses were varied in terms of quickness, quality and sustainability. In general, there seem to be two main takeaways: one negative, as the immediate surge of demand presented issues of inequality and inclusivity beyond the inter-institutional. Within institutions, systems and procedures had to support a much greater variety of student and teacher contexts (gendered family structures and responsibilities, disparate internet access and digital competencies, disabilities and impairments…) at the risk of deepening existing inequalities. One positive, as it highlighted that physical proximity is not a requirement for quality education, as long as teaching and assessment solutions are aptly adapted. Information technologies have been organically gaining ground and have proven to be a powerful tool that can be used strategically to improve the quality, inclusivity and sustainability of the higher education sector.

In tandem, work-life balance provisions, a cornerstone of feminist approaches to gender equality in higher education (and the workplace in general) became a topic of public concern and debate. On one hand, the viability of telework and flexible work schedules for many roles was demonstrated when people were forced to work from home. On the other hand, this was far from an idyllic scenario, as it gave way to generalized negative tendencies (EC, 2020 ; Rodier, 2020) and specific problems, such as the steep decline in the submission of scientific papers by female authors (and sometimes an increase in male authorship), suggesting that the domestic workload became an even greater burden for women, leaving less time for research activities (Vicent-Lamarre, Sugimoto, Larivière, 2020). Once again, this double-edged sword may be positively thrusted, as the discussion on ways to move forward unravels and gains institutional and political traction, with efforts towards swift and effective solutions (Vargas Llave, Weber, 2020).

As a final remark, specifically towards the development of post-COVID gender sensitive policies, it should also be noted that in a return to “normalcy”, the gendered dynamic will not be the same in regards to multiple variables, such as the constant presence of children at home, homeschooling, mental health, free time use. This means measures and strategies developed to take into account the COVID confinement are likely suitable for future scenarios that are not as extreme. Therefore, if upcoming policy changes are done taking into account this experience and gender equality aspects, they may be transformed into opportunities to advance gender mainstreaming, both in the particular effects of the COVID pandemic and transversal issues, making institutions more resilient to future social crises.

2021-03-25T10:43:06+02:00July 27th, 2020|Tags: , , , , |