By: Frederikke Malling
The University of Southern Denmark seeks to contribute to sustainable development. Gender equality is one of the areas in which the University teaches and wants to make new discoveries. We say so ourselves on our page ‘The SDGs’ on both SDU.dk and MitSDU, but it still seems that there are cracks in the veneer.
In February and April respectively, SDU’s student media MERIT published two articles revealing that things are not too good when it comes to women’s ranking on the University’s lists of experts and press releases.
We took up the matter with Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm, who wrote the articles and who this month joined MERIT as its new editor-in-chief.
Not a controversial idea
"Because the debate resurfaced, I wanted to check the situation at SDU."
According to Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm, this is how the idea for the articles came about. He explains that it didn’t come out of the blue, because people have been talking about the gender balance in the media for some time, and because lists of experts have been a subject of scrutiny before. Nevertheless, the debate piqued the curiosity and interest of the new editor-in-chief, and he decided to investigate SDU further.
He says that he sat down, opened an Excel worksheet and started writing down all the names from the expert lists. It turned out that there were far more men than women on the list, and that gave rise to his first article.
However, he didn’t stop there. Instead, he chose to dig further to see if the problem was prevalent. The second time around, he delved deeper into SDU’s press releases and articles from the University’s scientific journal Ny Viden.
"Across the board, of the products I’ve read, only a quarter of the sources are women," he says.
No surprise – but even so...
That fewer women than men were represented on the lists of experts and in the press releases came as no great surprise to Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm:
"I was convinced there were fewer women. After all, it reflects the image that’s everywhere in the media picture and in general," he says, adding:
"It did surprise me a bit, but the fact that it tended towards men, so to speak, was by no means surprising."
He therefore expected that the distribution would probably tend towards men, as this is the situation in the media today.
Another surprise awaited
On the other hand, Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm was met by another surprise:
"It surprises me that the University is eager to say it takes responsibility and puts so much effort into telling everyone so, but it doesn’t want to be held accountable."
SDU did not want to comment on either article, which came as a big surprise to Kasper Vegeberg Engstrom, who believes that the University should be held accountable for its actions – even when things look bad.
"I'm surprised that the University doesn’t want to discuss ongoing issues," he points out, adding:
"You get the impression that one would rather not talk about matters that reflect poorly on oneself, and that’s a shame."
He also points out that he is not calling them up to grill them, but that he is seeking to present a many-faceted picture of the issue.
Are the male experts better?
But why is it that men are allowed to figure more prominently on the University’s lists of experts and press releases? Could it be that they are simply better? Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm strongly doubts this.
He says that while writing the articles he spoke to a lot of smart people, who say that it is unfortunately a ‘dark spiral,’ as he puts it.
Indeed, the experts on the lists are also the ones most likely to be contacted by the media, and thus the same experts will be used repeatedly in the media.
"It's a very complex issue," he points out, but then interjects:
"But then, it’s not that complex with these expert lists."
Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm explains that around twenty researchers are put on the expert lists, and that the names are known so well in advance that it should be possible to have a student assistant or similar keep an eye on the lists beforehand to ensure an even gender distribution.
Instead, SDU has launched a more long-term project, he says:
"We spend ten months coming up with principles that, to be honest, a Year 10 student could have come up with."
Is SDU making things harder for itself?
Kasper Vegeberg Enstrøm believes that they should at least be mindful of this:
"You have to be careful not to overcomplicate things. At least that’s the impression you get from the outside," he says.
In addition, he believes that some contradictions exist between SDU’s ambitions in terms of the SDGs and what the University practices in this area:
"At SDU, we have to be careful that we don’t end up sounding hollow if we trumpet our SDG efforts but don’t want to be held accountable when things don’t work out so well."
He explains that his own articles in the past year involved about 60% female experts, but it has not been a strategy, he points out. His experience as a writer and journalism student is simply that it is the female experts who are actually the easiest to get hold of.
But he clearly thinks it’s a problem that should be given more attention:
"I think it’s worth keeping an eye on; it’s worth paying attention to," he points out in conclusion.