Gender-sensitive data collection and monitoring: the experience of CEU

Ana Belen Amil, Central European University, interviewed by Paola Carboni, University of Cagliari

Implementing gender equality policies in academic environments requires the availability of gender-sensitive data to support evidence-based decisions. The challenge to properly analyse such data is huge, if we consider that not only it should be systematically collected and stored, but also monitored and updated over time.

With this in mind, following the experience developed during the gender equality baseline assessment performed within SUPERA, CEU’s Gender Equality Officer Ana Belén Amil and CEU’s Institutional Research Officer Anna Galacz developed a “Handbook of gender-sensitive data collection and monitoring”.

The drafting process required the involvement of several university units, responsible for the collection and storage of different data sets, and the result is a tailor-made, step-by-step guide to data collection and management, with a solid gender equality background. The Handbook is currently under revision, in collaboration with prof. Anne Laure Humbert, researcher at the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University and member of SUPERA’s international advisory board, and will be publicly released in the next months.

In the following paragraphs, Ana Belén Amil provides us with several highlights about the process that led to the development of the Handbook and some practical examples and advice.

What does “gender-sensitive data collection and monitoring” mean?

In short, gender-sensitive data collection means that gender is systematically included as a variable at the moment of collecting data on individuals. It is also know as “gender-disaggregated” data. Without it, it is impossible to assess the status of gender equality in a given context (in an institution, in a country, in a continent, for example) for a particular indicator. Once the assessment on that indicator is done, and an gender inequality is found, different types of measures shall be applied to improve such inequality. During the monitoring phase, data is collected and analysed once again on that particular indicator to assess if the measures taken had led to progress in gender-related terms (and if so, to which extent). Monitoring can also occur for indicators in which no inequality was found but that, according to research, tend to show gender inequalities. This way we can closely follow an indicator and be aware of any deterioration that might occur.

Can you give us some practical examples of why is it important for a research institution to collect data in a gender-sensitive way?

Collecting data in a gender-sensitive way only makes sense if a research institution is interested in promoting gender equality among its staff, students (if we talk about a university), research content and knowledge transfer. This might sound as an obvious interest on the side of HE&R institutions but, depending on the particular (political) context in which the institution is embedded (at a national or regional level), improving gender equality might not be a goal for the institution or might not be easy to pursue.

Assuming that the interest (and feasibility) are there, then there is no way to take evidence-based measures for the promotion of gender equality without a proper assessment to know where we are standing vis-à-vis a variety of indicators. To give an example: gender-disaggregated data on salaries is paramount to diagnose gender pay gap in an institution and act upon any disparities that such indicator might show. Collecting the gender of principal investigators across research teams will enable us to analyse gender disparities in leadership positions and design measures to correct them if needed.

How did you became aware that managing data with a gender-sensitive approach is a key asset for a university?

This became evident to me during the assessment phase of the SUPERA project. We had developed many indicators, and when we started approaching different Units in the University to provide us with data to run the calculations, we found that many of this data was not collected at all, was collected in a way that did not allow for statistical analysis (i.e., on paper, no digitalization), it was inaccurate, or dispersed across different units without a central database. This made it impossible (or too time-consuming) to analyse data and see how badly (or well) we were doing in certain gender equality indicators. That is when the idea of the Handbook came up: as a response to all data gaps that were found during the diagnostic phase.

Which university offices are involved in such an in depth-analysis?

It very much depends on the University and its structure. In the particular case of CEU, lots of offices are involved since the scope of the data needed is very wide. Human Resources Office and Student Records Office – Admissions Office collect  data on employees and students respectively. Academic Cooperation and Research Support Office collects data on research projects (externally funded). Institutional Research Office is key for performing calculations. This list is not comprehensive but covers the offices with the highest involvement in data collection.

Which are the key action areas in which the monitoring indicators are organised? Can you describe them with some examples?

The data collection and monitoring are organised in key action areas that follow the European Commission’s suggestions with some adaptations that were more suitable for our University. Some examples of areas and their indicators are:

  • Gender Equality in leadership and decision making: gender distribution in leadership positions (Rector, Provost); gender distribution in the Senate – both of them from a historical perspective.
  • GE in recruitment, retention and career progression: gender distribution of the average time it takes for staff to be promoted, gender distribution of academic staff turnover, gender distribution of Faculty recruitments.
  • Work-Life Balance: gender distribution of average time taken for parental leave.
  • Gender in research and knowledge transfer: gender distribution of researchers in research teams, number of courses that incorporate a gender dimension in their syllabi.
  • Sexual harassment: number of cases registered, severity of the cases.

How can you adopt a non-binary and intersectional approach in data management?

For a non-binary approach, we made sure to adapt our IT systems to allow students to freely describe the gender they identify with. For employees this is more difficult since the software that processes employee data does not give that option; this is still a matter to be solved. Regarding intersectionality, this is much more complicated. In theory, data collection should include other variables besides gender, such as race/ethnicity, disability, age, nationality, etc. This is a very difficult task in practice; it is already extremely challenging to collect gender data systematically, even more so to collect data for variables that were never considered for analysis. Data on race/ethnicity is particularly challenging due to the sensitivity of the topic, so for the moment we are using some (imperfect) proxies for it, such as nationality and country of birth.

Which are the most challenging aspects of introducing this approach in an institution? Do you have any practical advice to give?

I found two main challenges: collecting data under GDPR, and the lack of centralized database. Collecting and analysing data in a way that is GDPR compliant should not be, at least in theory, a complicated task. But practice showed me that due to a (sometimes) too restrictive reading of general data protection regulations, the task becomes highly bureaucratic and therefore very time-consuming. I do not think there is a way around this other than getting familiar with the content of these regulations to be clear about what can and cannot be done in terms of data collection/processing.

Regarding the lack of a centralized database (in our case this only applies to the employee body; student data is much better organized), my suggestion is to work intensively with the IT Department and Human Resources Office to come up with strategic solutions to put the data “in order”. This will not only benefit gender equality related assessment but also the strategic planning of the University as a whole. It is important to raise awareness on how important (gender-sensitive) systematic data collection is for the running of the institution.

Another challenge, but this is not specific to gender-sensitive data collection, is the low level of prioritisation it tends to receive. Unless there is an urgent need derived from other aspects of the functioning of the university, this task is so time consuming and sometimes overwhelming that it gets dropped to the bottom of the list.

Is it possible to introduce gender-sensitive data management on a low-budget basis?

If by budget we only refer to financial resources, I would say yes. If we include internal human resources as part of the budget, my answer would be: it depends on the mess that the university has in terms of data management. The more chaotic and unsystematic, the more work in terms of human involvement will be required to bring order to the chaos. And this is of course specific to each institution.

What sources provided you inspiration for this work? Can you recommend some reading in particular?

The main source of inspiration was the work done by several sister projects of SUPERA, who had already developed a compilation of indicators and shared them in public deliverables. Since one of the core principles of SUPERA is cumulativeness, we built up from what other projects have done before and adapted it to our own institutional context. Of course we let go of some indicators that were not relevant for CEU, while we also added others that were not present in previous compilations, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each and every time.

Our main resources were the deliverables of Gender Diversity impact (GEDII), Plotina, Baltic Gender, Target, GARCIA, EFFORTI, Gender Net, and of course She Figures.

The University of Coimbra approved the Plan for Equality, Equity and Diversity 2019-2023

By Mónica Lopes, Universidade de Coimbra

In April 2021, the University of Coimbra approved its Plan for Equality, Equity and Diversity 2019-2023. It was first drafted by the SUPERA team, based on the results of the participatory gender diagnosis, and further harmonised and framed within the wider institutional strategy for Equality, Equity and Diversity, whose principles were recently endorsed by the UC.

The Plan, chronologically aligned with the 2019-2023 UC Strategic Plan, is both a means and a mechanism for its full implementation. It embraces the vision defined in the Strategic Plan’s Citizenship, Equality and Inclusiveness pillar: “promoting active, enlightened, socially responsible and inclusive citizenship, by preserving the right to have rights, respecting dignity, equality and the right to difference, so that all people can reach their full potential, based on a collective formulation of common goals and challenges”.

The UC’s Plan for Equality, Equity and Diversity 2019-2023 is a comprehensive plan, structured around nine strategic objectives, defined to tackle the challenges identified in the baseline assessment:

  1. Mitigate horizontal segregation, by promoting the integration of women and men in scientific/study areas in which they are underrepresented;
  2. Combat vertical segregation, by removing institutional barriers to career progression and support professional development;
  3. Improve the conciliation and balance between work/study and personal/family life;
  4. Ensure inclusivity in the governing bodies;
  5. Integrate equality, equity and diversity into the University´s structures and policies, ensuring the sustainability of proposed actions;
  6. Integrate a gender perspective and the principles of equality, equity and diversity into all scientific areas, educational and research contents, as a component of academic excellence;
  7. Raise awareness of equality, equity and diversity in the academic community;
  8. Promote inclusion and minorities’ protection policies, prevent discrimination and combat harassment and violence at all levels (sexual, sexist and moral);
  9. Deepen citizenship and equality, by continuously implementing improvement measures.

Each strategic objective is broken down into specific objectives operationalised into 56 measures and initiatives in the action plan, which incorporates different types of activities – data collection and analysis, awareness-raising, capacity-building, and transforming structures and processes. Each strategic objective is associated with a set of measurable goals, representing the expected impacts. Regular monitoring of the Plan’s actions and objectives will be aligned with the monitoring of the UC´s Strategic Plan, and materialised by the assessment of the degree of implementation of activities and the analysis of the outcomes achieved in the corresponding key performance indicators.

Recognising the quality of the UC’s Plan for Equality, Equity and Diversity, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality, Rosa Monteiro, publicly highlighted it as an example to be followed by other Higher Education Institutions: “The first Plan for Equality at the University of Coimbra. This is how an equality plan should be designed. (…)  Well-defined areas and objectives, goals to be met based on clearly stated indicators. A model to be adopted by other plans.” Source: Rosa Monteiro’s Facebook profile

The first Equality Plan of the University of Coimbra is an important milestone in the pathway and commitment to promoting equality in the institution, standing in line with its values, and proactively acting to include its principles in the University´s policies, processes and practices. This commitment results from a perspective of social responsibility, and a commitment to make the most of the privileged role of the University, as an entity which produces and conveys knowledge, in the promotion of a social environment characterized by substantive equality between men and women.

The English version of the Plan is available at this link.

“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:

  • When you introduce someone use their pronouns in order to help others to learn them;
  •  Listen to how people speak about themselves;
  •  If someone uses the wrong pronouns for another person who is not present, gently correcting the mistake;
  •  Consider wearing a badge with your pronouns;
  •  Include your pronouns in your email signature;
  •  If you don’t know, just ask “What pronouns do you use?”;
  •  If you get wrong with someone’s pronouns, simply apologise and correct yourself;
  •  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 and available at this link.

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 in January-February 2021: 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!

2021-10-06T17:21:11+02:00March 12th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

Decentralized pathways for the integration of a gender dimension in R&E at the University of Coimbra

By Francisco Rodrigues, CES-UC

The UC SUPERA team has been in direct connection with the rectorate from the beginning of the project, and more so since the transition from the baseline assessment to GEP design and subsequent implementation strategies.

Although central support and a reliable working relation are fundamental for the success of the project, this is not the most streamlined approach in the initial stages of implementation. The formal approval process is complex, requiring input from a myriad of relevant stakeholders and decision-making bodies.

For that reason, but primarily to create a decentralized platform that enables the development of specific solutions within the diverse contexts in UC, we adopted a sort of centrifugal approach. This means securing institutional backing at the highest level and leveraging it to capitalize on the various levels of autonomy within the University’s structures. The cornerstone of this approach are Focal Points for the main Research and Education Units, as they were nominated by the respective unit Directors following a direct request at a Senate session. Through capacity-building for gender mainstreaming, providing its members with adequate competencies and data on the institution’s state-of-play, such a network enables the detection and maximization of windows of opportunity for institutional change, not only at the Unit level.

As these Units enjoy scientific and pedagogical autonomy, the integration of a gender dimension benefits from this platform. Directly, it has so far led to the proposal of a seminar for final-year medicine students on gender biases in medicine (teaching, research and practice), as the Focal Point for the Faculty of Medicine identified a window of opportunity in the restructuring of that curriculum. Even though the current public health crisis postponed this process for a year, we are confident that the seminar will be integrated and work in tandem with ongoing parallel efforts in other contexts, while inspiring similar initiatives throughout the University.

Although that is encouraging, more tangible achievements have come from a different source within that decentralized approach. Shortly after confinement was imposed, we were contacted by the recently created Strategic Areas Unit, which sought to encourage female academics to apply for ERC grants. This team had come to us through the Focal Point of the larger Unit it is lodged in, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research.

Due to the nature of the Institute and the Strategic Areas Unit, they work directly under the supervision of the Vice-Rector for Research. This allowed for that initial contact to blossom into a fully-fledged for the integration of the gender dimension in the UC’s scientific outputs and subsequent betterment of its scientific production.

This initiative entails a number of activities: a EEA grant application for combatting gender-based discrimination; the gender-sensitive revision of research-funding applications produced in the UC; the construction of a repository of relevant resources and inspiring practices with regards to the integration of a gender dimension in research; a communication campaign for the encouragement of academic excellence of researchers of the underrepresented sex in various fields and the development of a training course on the integration of the gender dimension in research, directed to researchers on all levels and fields, designed to take advantage of existing gender competencies throughout the fields and enlarging the group of gender-sensitive researchers (first edition scheduled for mid-September). This cooperative relation is promising for sustainable gender mainstreaming in the University’s scientific activities, as it is grounded on top-level strategic commitment, as well as the devotion of the supervising research structure’s resources.

The instances described are illustrations on the benefits of a decentralized approach, particularly in topic as varied and difficult to implement as integrating the gender dimension in research. For the UC SUPERA team, the most relevant takeaway from this experience is that investing in the embracement of a large and diverse number of stakeholders is complicated, time-consuming, and therefore often frustrating, but gratifying when it is time for returns, as they signify impactful and structural change.