“Don’t assume. Just ask”: a CEU’s awareness raising campaign on pronouns

Don’t assume. Just ask”. It’s not possible to guess someone’s gender identity from the way they appear; the way people communicate is crucial to ensure that nobody feels alienated or discriminated against. This is particularly important in the academic environment, where students, researchers and administrative staff contribute daily to the advancement of knowledge and claim the right to work and study in an inclusive and non-discriminating environment.

For this reason, our partner CEU (Central European University) has recently launched an awareness raising campaign to sensitise the community on the importance of the use of pronouns in daily communication. Indeed, everyone uses pronouns based on their gender identity: the use of the correct ones is the most respectful way to communicate and refer to people.

CEU has promoted 9 best practices following the “Ideas for Getting Pronouns Right” published at the University of Warwick.

The advice to use the pronouns “they/them” until someone’s pronouns are known opens the list, followed by other recommendations based on the principles of a respectful and inclusive communication:

2) When you introduce someone use their pronouns in order to help others to learn them;

3) Listen to how people speak about themselves;

4) If someone uses the wrong pronouns for another person who is not present, gently correcting the mistake;

5) Consider wearing a badge with your pronouns;

6) Include your pronouns in your email signature;

7) If you don’t know, just ask “What pronouns do you use?”;

8) If you get wrong with someone’s pronouns, simply apologise and correct yourself;

9) People’s names and pronouns are not to be questioned but respected: make no personal or invasive questions.

Download the best practices and the poster of the initiative and share them with your friends and colleagues: help us to spread the word and sensitise people on the right way to use pronouns in order to ensure inclusion and respect of diversity in daily communication.

CEU’s awareness campaign is fully in line with the SUPERA’s principles of gender equality beyond the male-female binary, and with the advice illustrated in the “Gender-sensitive communication guidelines in research and academia” developed as a project deliverable (soon available for download).

Gender-sensitive communication on social media, in practice: a pilot experience at UNICA


By Manuela Aru and Alessandro Lovari, University of Cagliari

A challenging, but definitely inspiring and stimulating experience. Every step of the process was fundamental: from the study of the materials to the design of every single part of the communication campaign”.

With these words, a student of the course of Public Sector Communication at the University of Cagliari described the experience in which she has been involved with other 19 students: a role-play activity in which the students had to act like a real communication agency, with the goal to design communication campaigns on Instagram, following the principles of gender-sensitive communication.

The initiative, designed and developed by Alessandro Lovari, Manuela Aru and Maria Antonietta Tolu (Department of Political and Social Sciences), has been promoted with the aim to foster the mainstreaming of a gender-equality culture within the students community and to put in practice the concepts highlighted by the gender-sensitive guidelines developed in SUPERA. In UNICA, the gender equality plan (GEP) can be conceived as an open laboratory, that may host pilot activities directly involving the different parts of the university community.

While the general goal of this pilot initiative was the engagement of the student’s community on the topics of equality and inclusion in academia, one of the specific objectives was to guide the students among the four steps of the design and implementation of an institutional social media communication campaign:
1) research and analysis of the context and the target groups;
2) remote brainstorming sessions to understand and analyse the proposed topics and key messages;
3) design and creation of gender-sensitive graphics and texts;
4) publication of the contents on Instagram, following an editorial calendar.

The final results can be described as effective, impactful and surprising, especially in terms of visual identity (the way you shape perception and create an impression through the values communicated by the graphics), tone of voice (the way students have decided to communicate the messages) and coherence between the general strategy and the objectives.

Effective – Although free of a previous knowledge or experience in the field of gender-sensitive communication, the students managed to adopt a perspective free of unconscious biases.

How shall we represent the impact of gender stereotypes on academic career? “No common metaphors: let’s pick the image of the domino effect”

What visual images can we use to describe the gender inequalities? “Not only ladders: what about depicting two funambulists linked each other by a rope, or two people together on a swing?”

A wide range of original representations have been chosen, from comic strips to statistics and graphs: an innovative and effective way to understand and describe gender-related issues to the wider public of the University community.

Campaigns by Adelaide Fois, Luca Scintu, Marta Rachele Pusceddu, Riccardo Ansaldi, Elisa Frongia, Dario Fonnesu, Simone Pucci and Davide Caboni

Impactful – One of the most relevant outcomes one could highlight is the care devoted by the students to inclusion and gender-sensitivity both on texts and visuals. The thing that mainly drew our attention and curiosity has been the great variety of the visuals used to depict the different moments of the academic life. Books as big as houses, people with blue skin, paths made of words, non-binary people with rainbow hair: an impactful representation of the concept of inclusion.

Campaigns by Michela Locci, Valentina Demurtas, Sara Mandis Pusceddu, Francesca Delepierre, Adelaide Fois, Luca Scintu, Marta Rachele Pusceddu, Riccardo Ansaldi, Laura Spissu, Silvia Uccheddu, Michela Vargiu and Giangabriele Tortora

Surprising – The use of Instagram could be considered an ordinary, daily and common task by 19-24 years old students; but it may still provide an effective way to get these students feel free to express their imagination and creativity. Indeed, Instagram includes text, video and pictures, with the possibility to create engagement with polls, question’s boxes, Stories and live streaming.

The most surprising detail concerns the capacity – and the courage – of the students to put themselves out there to create contents, express an opinion and talk about difficult topics such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment and mobbing with empathy and care. They created contents using the most powerful Instagram tools as the Stories (contents that disappear after 24 hours), the IGTV (longer videos used to create more compelling contents) and Reels (a new instrument to record and edit 15-seconds videos with music and effects). They always kept their language clear, as required by a public sector organisation, and respectful of all the differences and needs, in the effort to adopt an intersectional perspective.

Campaigns by Michela Locci, Valentina Demurtas, Sara Mandis Pusceddu, Francesca Delepierre, Lara Sciola, Marta Lilliu, Alessandro Useli and Alessandro Marras

It is important to highlight that the use of this uncommon approach by the students required an intense preliminary study: indeed, the first step of this project, according to the goals of the course, was the study of the key concepts of public sector communication and gender communication, and the analysis of different communication campaigns on gender topics released in Italy and Europe in the last few years. This preliminary work aimed at developing the ability to distinguish good and bad communication practices in the development of a campaign.

The study of the SUPERA communication plan provided a structure to the work projects: each group chose six of the SUPERA key messages – targeting the students communities – and developed six Instagram posts, with original graphics and captions. The analysis of the gender-sensitive communication guidelines produced by SUPERA has also been essential to guide the students through the values and the standards of gender-sensitive communication.

Campaigns by Laura Spissu, Silvia Uccheddu, Michela Vargiu, Giangabriele Tortora, Adelaide Fois, Luca Scintu, Marta Rachele Pusceddu, Riccardo Ansaldi, Lara Sciola, Marta Lilliu, Alessandro Useli and Alessandro Marras, Elisa Frongia, Dario Fonnesu, Simone Pucci and Davide Caboni

Each project was presented via Zoom to a committee of researchers and professionals in the fields of public and gender-sensitive communication who expressed its opinions and points of view on each work group, creating an inspiring moment of exchange and knowledge sharing. The committee was composed by a representation of the SUPERA team at UNICA and by a specialist in the public sector communication field, Franca Faccioli, Professor at the University of Rome – Sapienza.

We can definitely say it: the students of UNICA won this challenge! Great job!

2021-03-25T10:36:12+02:00March 12th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

Join us! The institutional SUPERA video is online

By Manuela Aru and Paola Carboni, University of Cagliari

The SUPERA values, methods and key action areas to foster gender equality in research organisations can now be presented in a new format to anyone interested in knowing more about gender mainstreaming in Academia: the SUPERA institutional video is online!

This project outcome is the result of an intense work that involved all the partners in exchanges and interaction to define the creative concept and the best way to communicate it: from the voiceover to the selection of images, and to the translation of the subtitles. It is worth noting that the Cagliari-based team who implemented the video (editing, illustrations, animations, production) it is totally composed by female professionals.

At first, we had planned to develop the institutional video by making interviews to key actors during the Consortium Meeting that was meant to be held in Cagliari las June. Due to the spread of the Covid-19 crisis, the whole event was held on Zoom. For this reason, we had to radically rethink the initial concept. The new idea was to be developed completely in a distance-mode, without the chance to film or interview tany of the key people we had in mind. The new video concept is based on the animation of photographs and original graphics, created to represent and communicate gender inequalities and our actions to fight them.

A special attention was devoted to adotp a gender-sensitive, non-stereotypical and inclusive communication register. The video will be available soon with subtitles in English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

For the first European Gender Equality Week on October 26-29, we started a communication campaign marked by the hashtag #JoinUs, representing an invitation to all the people  interested in engaging with our initiatives toward gender equality and social justice in research and academia. The #JoinUs campaign is now live on SUPERA social media channels and several European institutional accounts are sharing it.

Watch the video and follow the #JoinUs campaign on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube: two short videos will be released in the next days!

CEU authors first Gender Equality Plan for promoting gender balance and inclusion

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.

Equal Opportunity at CEU

The CEU Gender Equality Plan is fully available at this link.

Gender-sensitive communication in research and academia: the SUPERA guidelines

By Paola Carboni, University of Cagliari

Great news! The SUPERA consortium has published the “Tailor-made guides for gender-sensitive communication in research and academia”. These guidelines have been developed with three main aims: raising awareness on the growing importance of communication and language in supporting the institutional change towards gender equality; increasing the awareness that gender biases and stereotypes affect communication on a daily basis and providing useful advice to support the adoption of a gender-sensitive approach in the communication of any academic institution.

These Guidelines are designed to be used by everyone in research performing and research funding organisations: while they are primarily tailored for the media specialists holding communication responsibilities, they will be useful as well for everyone involved in communication activities: administrative or technical staff, researchers, the student communities.

The concepts proposed are aligned with the framework of RRI – Responsible Research and Innovation, the H2020 “cross-cutting issue” that redefines the role of researchers in society and promotes an inclusive approach to research and innovation. More specifically, our theoretical approach is situated at the intersection among three domains: institutional communication, science communication and interpersonal communication. Each of them is relevant for the communication of a research institution and each of them can be gender-sensitive or – on the contrary – stereotyped and discriminating, even if not knowingly.

The work begins with the analysis of two main corpora: resources on gender-sensitive communication developed within the framework of the “sister” EU funded projects and guidelines on gender-sensitive communication already developed by international organizations and universities. On the one side, the sisters projects shared with us materials such as webinars, case studies, official agreements, developed in the last 10 years of EU-funded projects and covering different aspects of the communication field. On the other side, mapping the already existing guidelines has demonstrated that the need for guidance is high, among different kinds of institutions. The analysis has been hugely interesting and we have shared the complete list in the Appendix 2.

The SUPERA guidelines include also a glossary of the key terms of gender equality in research and academia, in order to allow any reader with no previous gender knowledge to access to a first set of information. Another chapter has been devoted to the analysis of the main resistances against gender-sensitive communication, that may be even very strong: everyone working in this field very soon becomes familiar with expressions such as: “Gender-sensitive communication is not a priority, you should focus on other things”!

The second part of the guidelines contains practical advice and opens with an overview of two main concepts to take into consideration when adopting a gender-sensitive communication perspective: gender stereotypes and visibility vs. omission. The majority of the mistakes regarding gender-sensitive communication could be reported to one of those two fields.

After that, the analysis developes under five main communication areas: gender-sensitive language, visual and graphics, events, digital communication and media relations. From the selection of words and images to the inclusive management of events; from the best policies to adopt in digital communication to a non-discriminatory management of the relations with the media: the SUPERA Guidelines tries to merge the advice of the most influential guidelines with our scientific knowledge and professional experience to provide the readers with a (hopefully) exhaustive set of advice.

The SUPERA Tailor-made guides on gender-sensitive communication in research and academia have been developed by the University of Cagliari team, composed by Barbara Barbieri, Paola Carboni, Ester Cois, Alessandro Lovari, Erika Sois, while the illustrations are by Giorgia Cadeddu. The document is available in our Resources section at this link.

You are welcome to translate and disseminate the guides in your institutions, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0). A graphical template is also available as an Appendix.

Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram or at info@superaproject.eu!

2021-03-25T12:00:16+02:00April 20th, 2020|Tags: , , , , , , |