By Central European University Communications Office
A key priority for CEU is to be an exemplary institution not only with respect to the academic quality of its gender research and teaching, but also in terms of its practices.
In accordance with this aim, the CEU Senate approved the university’s first Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in May, establishing a framework for promoting gender equality in employment, study and research relations. The GEP covers the three-year period from 2019-2022 and builds on the findings of CEU’s first comprehensive gender equality institutional assessment report.
In recognition of the priorities identified by the report, the GEP covers gender equality in hiring, recruitment and promotion; leadership and decision making; and research content and curricula. It also addresses work-life balance, sexism and stereotypes; and sexual harassment. Crucially the GEP establishes the institutionalization of gender equality within CEU.
Andrea Krizsan, research fellow at CEU’s Center for Policy Studies and Ana Belen Amil, gender equality officer at CEU spoke to us about the significance of the report’s key findings, areas that the new GEP has targeted for improvement, and intervention and actions to make CEU a more gender-equal environment.
What was the background for this initiative?
Andrea Krizsan: The Plan was developed with the support of the SUPERA project (funded by the European Commission), along with substantial contributions from a wide range of people from the CEU community (administrators, academic staff, students and leadership). Consequently, the Plan is a step forward in the institutional development of CEU, as opposed to being an externally driven initiative.
Ana Belen Amil: What research shows, and practice confirms, is that there are two key factors regarding the successful implementation of a GEP: community involvement and support from leadership. The pursuit of gender equality is not a top-down, centralized task in the hands of one or two experts, but rather is a process that requires the commitment and active participation of all stakeholders involved. At CEU we are very fortunate to have both components. The highest ranks of the university have provided clear support and allowed this project to move forward. And we have a community which is generally interested and committed to participating and contributing toward the creation of a more gender-equal work, study, and research environment at CEU. We look forward to continuing this effort within the framework of the newly adopted Gender Equality Plan and Workplan.
What methods can be used to mainstream gender in decision-making processes?
Andrea Krizsan: Our assessment found both strengths and weaknesses in this field at CEU. The numbers showed that while the university’s senior leadership still has far to go, in terms of gender balance, the middle management level features many key decisionmakers who are women. A serious problem was identified in CEU’s main democratic body: the Senate. After some years of relative balance between women and men, the current Senate has very few women (only 21%), which necessitates a proactive intervention.
As a solution, the GEP suggests considering a gender-neutral quota for the different constituencies. Another issue that the report identifies is the vagueness of references to gender equality in CEU’s mission and strategic documents, symbolically extremely important particularly in a country that devotes attention to gender equality such as Austria. Mainstreaming and communicating the idea that CEU cares about gender equality is key and is one of the priorities under the GEP.
How can we make CEU more family-friendly?
Ana Belen Amil and Andrea Krizsan: Research shows that women do the lion’s share in providing care for children and relatives. Therefore making CEU a more family-friendly institution will have a direct positive impact on gender equality. Care responsibilities affect people across CEU’s three constituencies – students, staff and faculty – and each of them requires a different approach, since they are affected in different ways and are governed by different policies. Our analysis shows the need for a comprehensive policy for students with children, covering both parental leave and family benefits. CEU has undertaken many efforts on these topics, and we need to gather them in a coherent manner. Thanks to the amazing work of the CEU PhD Working Group’s Student Family Sub-Committee and its chair, PhD candidate Ruth Candlish, six months of maternity leave for students has just been approved by the Senate, and the Student Family Support Scheme is under revision. We expect a comprehensive policy to be presented at the first Academic Forum of AY2020/21.
Our assessment also revealed that during the previous 10 years, very few male employees took parental leave compared to female employees (at approximately a 1:4 ratio). This creates significant gender imbalance in the division of reproductive (unpaid) labor, career progression, and eventually retirement income. At a sociocultural level, it reinforces gender stereotypes. We are envisioning awareness-raising campaigns on this topic and thinking of possible measures to incentivize men to take parental leave as well.
Disadvantages deriving from disproportionate care duties also weigh more heavily on female academic staff in their career paths. Additional analysis is needed to clearly understand how care impacts promotion. Actions under the GEP work first towards having a clear assessment of this impact and second, will work towards ameliorating the impact of such disadvantages in promotion paths and ensuring that due attention is paid to balancing care-related disadvantage in timelines and criteria for reappointment and promotion.
Are you hopeful that the new job grading process will help ensure that gender imbalances are eliminated among employees and faculty?
Ana Belen Amil: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that can guarantee the complete elimination of gender imbalances in the workforce. Since gender equality is a multifaceted problem, different interventions are needed to address it from multiple angles. Nevertheless, we cannot stress enough the importance of a transparent, systematic and meaningful job grading process in the assessment and advancement of gender equality, and equal opportunity in general. The lack of ranks and corresponding salary scales in the administrative sector at CEU – a sector that is predominantly female (68% female composition as of November 2018) has made it impossible to measure Equal Pay for Equal Work, let alone design interventions. It is also a major obstacle for the development of career advancement plans for employees. This has been a long-standing problem at CEU, and the new process of job grading, scheduled to start very soon with representatives from all job families, will be a major breakthrough for Gender Equality in our institution.
How can communication help in eradicating gender biases and stereotypes?
Ana Belen Amil: Gender-sensitive communication can do a lot for cultural change in institutions. Our assessment has shown that CEU is doing quite well in that respect, thanks to the conscious effort by our Communications Office. Of course, there is always room for improvement. An important step is the use of gender-sensitive language. English does not present as many challenges as Latin languages in this respect – where the culture of using the masculine plural to address groups of people regardless of their gender is hard to eradicate. Nevertheless, we must pay attention to the use of pronouns when referring to trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people and respect their choices in this regard. We should also pay attention to the activities we associate women and men with: are women mostly portrayed in administrative low-rank roles, or in reproductive, care-giving roles, while men are depicted as successful scientists and scholars? Are we using full names and honorifics when writing about men, and only first names when writing about women, or referring to them as somebody’s sister, mother or wife? How much space are we giving to people of different genders on our homepage? This is important not only in text, but also in the use of visuals: we should use photographs that represent the diversity of CEU’s community – which is in fact very rich — and avoid gender, race and class homogeneity. Since we are a higher education institution, the visibility of a diverse pool of role models for students is extremely important. We have the social responsibility of creating and portraying an academic environment where you don’t need to be an upper-middle class white man to feel welcome and reach your full potential.
What types of training does the GEP recommend for the community?
Ana Belen Amil: Training in gender equality-related topics for the CEU community is mostly lacking except for a couple of unsystematic efforts in the past, which is to some extent paradoxical given the cutting-edge gender expertise present at our university. In the Hungarian context, we are a very progressive institution. Now we are moving to Austria, a country that has quite strict legislation and practices in terms of gender equality, we need to make sure we don’t fall behind other higher education institutions in this regard. We took a conscious decision while designing the GEP to postpone majority of training initiatives to the upcoming two academic years. Training requires plenty of time and commitment from the community, and the transition to Vienna was exhausting all of our employees’ capacities.
Andrea Krizsan: An initiative that was in place and that has evolved during the last couple of years is introducing the concept of gender equality and equal opportunities – and related CEU policies – to all incoming CEU students. While numbers have improved (last year we had over 100 students attending these Zero Week sessions) there is more to do both in terms of coverage and in terms of depth and efficiency. Our analysis found continuing high levels of ignorance among students around CEU policies, despite attendance of the info sessions. The GEP aims to improve this, for example, by introducing new formats and different timing to these sessions.
Ana Belen Amil: Another priority under this GEP is to provide training against sexual harassment for the entire community, including bystander training – that is, training for those who witness a harassment incident on how to take an active role in deterring it. We also want to provide the Human Resources Office with training on gender-sensitive HR management. In the academic sphere, training topics will cover how to improve the gender dimension in curricula and research, and gender-sensitive pedagogical practices.
Higher education institutions have a duty to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to live and work. How can CEU’s sexual harassment reporting procedure be improved?
Ana Belen Amil and Andrea Krizsan: Improving the reporting procedures in CEU’s Harassment Policy is one of the top priorities we’ve already embarked on during this academic year. A working group consisting of staff, faculty and students worked throughout the year to develop amendments to the CEU Policy on Harassment with regards to issues identified during the initial assessment. Following several other universities’ best practices in this matter, we are proposing a new complaint procedure with two major innovations: the possibility for victims to report anonymously through an online platform, and setting up a network of ombudspersons that will take and manage complaints at an informal level. Of course, this will not be sufficient in itself: training and awareness-raising efforts are a key component of a solid and trustworthy harassment policy, and there is a lot to do at CEU in that respect as well. The amended policy is expected to be presented at the first Academic Forum in the next academic year (1 October 2020).
To measure the GEP’s success in collecting reliable data is vital. Is there a proven blueprint for collecting gender-sensitive data?
Ana Belen Amil: Gender-sensitive data collection is certainly vital for both diagnosing the state of gender equality in any institution and for monitoring progress in the implementation of the GEP. We encountered several problems in this respect during the assessment phase: some relevant data is currently not being collected at CEU, while some other data is collected by hand, so that its analysis turns out to be very laborious, and still other data are indeed collected but GDPR restrictions made access and analysis almost impossible. Despite this, significant progress has been made in this direction: a clearance system for accessing data for institutional research purposes has been put in place, and we are currently designing a Handbook of Gender-Sensitive Data Collection and Monitoring, with support from Anna Galacz at the Institutional Research Office. This handbook will list all data collection requirements by unit and assign responsibilities. It will include most of the statistical indicators currently in use by the European Commission in its well-known publication She Figures, but this is not the only “blueprint” that serves as inspiration. Other indicators have been developed by higher education institutions through several EU-funded “sister” projects. Our work is to collect all developed indicators that are relevant for CEU and adapt them to better respond to the specificities of our university’s structure, functioning, context and needs. For a more detailed summary of the GEP’s key findings and suggestions, see the “Executive Summary” uploaded to our SharePoint.