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The EECS Faculty Diversity Initiative

- in a conversation with Wouter van der Wijngaart

image: Freepik.com
Published Mar 08, 2021

A conversation with Wouter van der Wijngaart about what gender equality and diversity work looks like at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and what we can do to improve it.

Wouter van der Wijngaart, you have been involved in “The EECS Faculty Diversity Initiative”.

Why is “The EECS Faculty Diversity Initiative” of such great importance?

I'm honestly tired of the issue. I would love to see more female faculty colleagues. Not much has happened in 20 years, though. I believe that a lack of incentives has meant no great efforts have been put in improving this situation in a strategic manner.

Is the question prioritized at KTH?

When KTH listed risks for KTH 2019, 2 out of 8 high-level risks are related to a shortage of women:

"Best-qualified teachers and researchers can’t be recruited or retained, especially in the case of women in cutting-edge research."
"A deficit of women leaders in business and decision-making bodies."

What could be done about it?

EECS must become more attractive for gender minorities to attract new recruits and to keep those recruited. There are many things we could and should do, as outlined in our report. We have a long list of suggestions, from reducing (in)conscious bias during recruiting to improving the work environment. Putting incentives is, however, probably the most important because it ensures the organization’s strategic interest to invest in this matter.

It has sometimes been difficult for KTH to keep recruited women. How to prevent them from applying further?

Invest in more attractive work conditions and provide newly recruited faculty of the minority gender with an extra starting package. Also, allocate funding for increasing work-life balance, for example, after returning from a year of parental leave a faculty member (man or woman) could receive an extra 400,000 base funding to start again. As it looks today, 180 faculty members have in total only 3 person-years of parental leave per year.

How can this be financed?

Because it is important to not undermine the long-term funding of current faculty, we suggest keeping 96% of allocated division base funding for current faculty untouched and redistribute 4% based on gender balance. For new faculty, base funding can be redistributed with less restriction. We checked there are no legal restraints for doing so.

Already a few of our suggestions are taken up in the “EECS 2020 operations plan” (verksamhetsplan). However, let us be more proactive and let more actions be adopted sooner. We should not discuss whether, but how we can improve diversity.

Who should read the report?

“The short report “distills 20 suggestions for change. The “Appendix” provides some deeper insights and background information. People in the line organization should definitely read this. The sections “How Bias disfavors women” and “Anecdotes from the Swedish Research Council (VR) and the Swedish Growth Agency (Tillväxtverket)” are just a few pages but perhaps an eye-opener for many. And - of course – you should all read “Testimonies of EECS employees”!

Link to The EECS Faculty Diversity Initiative - the Short Report V0.4 (pdf 751 kB)

Link to The EECS Faculty Diversity Initiative - Appendix[1] (pdf 423 kB)