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Inventory of gender equality problems at the SCI School

Published Apr 01, 2021

As part of the Plan for Gender Mainstreaming of KTH (JIKTH), the School's management group decided in 2019 to send out a survey of problem areas within the organization, from an employee perspective, and with a focus on gender.

The purpose of the survey is gender equality, diversity and problems related to equal conditions. The intention has also been to document what emerged during the survey so that the material can be useful in the work of resolving any problems. In the work with the survey, qualitative interviews were conducted with both women and men at the SCI School with open questions about the work environment, career opportunities and JIKTH.

One of the results of the survey is that the female participants to a much greater extent than the male described experiences of adversity such as questioning one's competence, not being listened to and not being included in meetings and various networks. One conclusion from the survey is that women generally experience a significantly greater exclusion and a more vulnerable situation, and this is a consequence of women's minority in a male-dominated environment.

Read the report here (pdf 549 kB)

The school’s communications officer has met Carlota Canalias, Linda Lundström and Lisa Prahl Wittberg, the people behind this survey.

Linda Lundström, Daniel Sellgren, Carlota Canalias and Lisa Prahl Wittberg

The purpose of your report was partly to map gender equality, diversity and problems related to equal conditions. Why do you think this survey is important?

Linda: I think it is important even if we did not find something that was strange or that we did not already know, most of it we have already seen in research studies from other similar environments. However, it is very important to do it at the school, to help raise awareness that these problems also exist here with us. It is so easy to believe that these kinds of problems only exist in other organizations, but not in ours. Therefore, it is extra important to show that this is a problem that is everywhere. Especially to help people who have not experienced or seen it themselves, to realize that it also exists with us.

Lisa: It is also important to confirm that the problems exist, so that those who experience it have an opportunity to lift it from the individual. You are not alone and can get support from others who experience the same thing. Then it is also about raising awareness that induces reflection by the individual. The reflection creates the choice whether one chooses to see what is happening or not.

Carlota: It is awareness-raising, for both men and women. It is, as we say at the end of the report, it is no longer possible to say that "it does not happen with us".

Why did you choose to base the survey on qualitative data on individual experiences?

Carlota:  We were looking for the more subtle experiences, if we were to do a survey with questions such as "Have you ever been discriminated", "how often have you been discriminated as a woman" or "have you ever discriminated someone" and based on these questions received answers like for example. "Yes, a few times, never." etc. What can we do with that? What does it mean and how do you interpret it? Concrete quotes and examples, on the other hand, can be related to. When you have quotes, you can capture all the nuances and create a common ground where we all know what that means.

Lisa: We were looking to capture the individuals' experiences in their work role through descriptive quotes. With quotes you can relate to the situation, then it will be easier to understand what is described.

Linda: I agree, getting these quotes made it possible to take this in a completely different way. We have not written this with the perspective of gender science, even though the report is based on those foundations, it is more popular science. And the fact that you get the quotes makes it much easier to absorb and understand and get this reflection started, just as Lisa and Carlota says.

Carlota: You could say that some of the quantitative measurements are already made via KTH employee surveys. They are obviously not as extensive, but there are reflective questions even there. It is also important to point out that it is a method used in social studies, a method that we at SCI are not used to. But it is a method that has been proven to be able to illuminate and find those nuances.

Lisa: Another reason is that the date shown a possible correlation with professional merit. We wanted to access the reflection "what happened along the way", why have some managed, what is the resistance, what support makes you strong or manage all the way forward? Identifying how a person experiences the career advancing process can give insight on how we can possibly best support the person.

All women within the faculty at the school were invited to participate in your study, while the men who were given the opportunity to participate where selected via a random selection. Why were not all men given the opportunity to participate in the study?

Lisa: It can be linked to the previous question, that in this environment something happens to women to a greater extent than to men. Therefore, it is interesting to understand what strategies the women who have gone through the system have had. What support has been important to them? What resistance have they experienced and what strategies have had to be developed to handle or be prepared for them? At this school, there are few females in the faculty. As a woman, you are often alone in an environment, which means that you can experience vulnerability if you raise the issue. Therefore, it was important to focus on the women who are in the system and also have the opportunity to interview as many of the women who have a permanent position as teachers and researchers as possible.

Carlota: In the end, it is also of course a matter of budget and time, if you had all the money and time in the world you would have interviewed everyone.

Linda: We did not know how many would say yes. As Carlota says, we had a budget to follow and we had recalculated that to the number of interview hours we could do. Admittedly, we could have invited everyone and then taken a random selection from those who answered yes, but it was mostly for practical reasons that we did not.

21 out of 32 of these women chose to accept your invitation to participate in this survey, while the corresponding figure among men was only 12 out of 52. How have your thoughts been about this, partly in terms of the difference and partly in terms of your results?

Linda: The women are part of the women's network [Network for women academics Q-SCI] and have heard about this in advance, it must be said. Therefore the women were more prepared to get the question than the men were, for some of the men the email may well have slipped away in the general spam noise. One cannot draw any conclusions about interest based on these figures because it was different how men and women were warned. I have heard some reactions in the style of "Well, if I had known that this was so important, I would have said yes". I am quite happy when it comes to men's participation, we got the whole spectrum, from very conscious men who have insight into the problem to those who do not. Moreover, that was a bit of the purpose, that we would catch the whole spectrum there. So I think it was pretty good, two thirds of women and one third of men who were interviewed, it served our purpose.

Carlota: We are all quite busy, how much time you have to take on an additional task that this interview is important. There were also women who refused to participate due to lack of time.

Was there anything that surprised you from what came out during the survey?

Linda: I was actually surprised, I had not realized that there were men who went through the system without ever being challenged.

Lisa: Nothing that surprised me, the results confirm what I have seen and experienced.

How do you think your survey can be useful for future work to promote equality, diversity and equal conditions for all?

Carlota: I hope the report will be used as working material to raise questions and be able to reflect on the situation. If we improve the situation, we will improve it for all employees, not just for women. Then I hope that when the men read the report, that they do not feel individually accused but that they can really see that this is a systematic problem.

Lisa: I also hope that the report can become a working material that can increase awareness and create reflection. That the material can help to reflect on gender equality in working life and that it makes it easier to see when these situations arise and take action in the moment; standing at the coffee machine, at a conference, or sitting at the conference table.

I sometimes see it as when we teach and present our research. Then we prepare with many different types of issues that we are prepared to handle. When it comes to gender equality issues, we do not do that work fully and therefore we are not prepared, so the opportunity to act disappears and then the damage has already been done. It is about creating conditions for all individuals, women and men, to feel good and develop in their professional practice. I also hope that it is a material that is easily accessible, easy to use. For the purpose is not to blame, the purpose is for us to start thinking and reflecting on our role in what happens in the work.