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Equality work at SDU is concerned with more than just the distribution and representation of men and women among employees

By: Denise Abrahamsen
Based on its name, GET, the unit appears to be concerned exclusively with the 5th SDG, equality among genders. However, Maria Dockweiler says herself that although GET has in a way been established with this SDG in mind, it is far from the only thing the unit focuses on.


Created on the basis of SDG 5

‘We can of course talk about the University’s work on equality, diversity and inclusion in the con-text of SDG 5, but for us it is also a perspective that cuts across all of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ says Maria Dockweiler and explains that according to Amnesty International ‘on a global scale, 80% of those affected by climate change are women, whereas only 30% of those making the decisions regarding climate change are women.’ Climate is therefore also an SDG area with a gen-der perspective.
GET was established following an EU-funded gender equality project at SDU’s Faculty of Science. The project, called FESTA, uncovered data on career paths in our research sector and also devel-oped a gender equality-aware guidance tool for PhD supervision. At that time, the focus was on academic staff, including the representation of women in the scientific fields. For who has access to imparting and developing knowledge, and is there enough representation in terms of gender equality?
As a result, the initial focus of GET in 2017 was aimed at the VIPs at SDU (the academic and re-search staff) and not the students or the TAPs (the technical-administrative staff). It was also ini-tially decided to focus on the unconscious mechanisms that may be at play when recruiting, mak-ing decisions and distributing resources.

Special focus areas

To begin with, GET’s strategic equality work started with three areas: recruitment processes, un-conscious bias and the establishment of a database in SDU’s Gender Statistics, so that equality work can be monitored. But as the team has become established and has worked its way into the organisation, other focus areas have also become part of the work. The gender dimension in re-search projects, an inclusive meeting culture and bias-aware teaching are examples of topics the team has also worked with since.
The work has now been implemented in SDU’s equality action plan, which is a requirement stipulated by the EU before research funds from the EU can be received. The EU calls such equality action plans a ‘Gender Equality Plan’, but Maria Dockweiler elaborates that ‘gender can be much more than just the two that are represented in the Danish CPR system.’ The action plan must be seen for what it actually is: namely, an action plan rather than a planning plan, since it focuses on practical initiatives and activities to reduce bias and contains clear goals for gender equality and integrated ongoing follow-up. 

The gender equality action plan in practice

In its work with implementing the gender equality action plan, GET works at department level, and this involves recruitment processes in particular.
‘In concrete terms, what we do could be to talk to a head of department about what makes sense at the department in question,’ explains Maria Dockweiler and points out, ‘that the implementation of the equality action plan is mandatory, and initiatives must be launched at all departments, but GET is not going to dictate what makes most sense for the individual to work with under the broad umbrella definition of what equality, diversity and inclusion work entails.’ GET therefore looks at the individual department and examines what is locally relevant. 

Examples of ways in which GET works at the individual departments and units:

  •  Scrutinises recruitment processes (what is written in a job advertisement, how it is applied for, who helps write the job advertisement, who is on the committee, how they work)
  • Examines prejudicial bias (e.g. in decision-making processes at meetings, in information and website material, etc.)
  • Observes committee work (how speaking time is distributed, how information sharing is structured, decision-making processes)
  • Contributes to unconscious bias courses
  • Provides input to the development of SDU’s new HCM system (employee system), such as input regarding the possibility for self-identification of gender (so that it is not assumed based on the CPR (civil registration number) what gender an employee identifies as, and so that there is an option for more than m/f)

These examples show how GET works to reduce unconscious bias both in recruitment and also more broadly in the day-to-day work at SDU.

Challenges with data collection

In addition to the work with recruitment, GET also works with Gender Statistics, and one of the first tasks GET undertook was to collect data that could illustrate the distribution of gender in the various departments and faculties. In this connection, Maria Dockweiler points out that the fact that there are only two genders represented in the Danish CPR system has been a challenge:

‘In terms of finding data, it is a big challenge that we currently have a binary way of thinking about gender in Denmark,’ says Maria Dockweiler. In addition, she says that gender (albeit binary) is a parameter that is relatively easy to collect data within. Conversely, it is more difficult to col-lect data on ethnicity, sexuality and religion, which is due to the fact that it is not permitted to col-lect this type of data.

In a way, Maria Dockweiler finds this unfortunate, as she questions whether data on gender can stand alone in the work with equality.
‘What is your socio-economic background? What conditions do you have for studying? Our em-ployees and students are more than their CPR number gender, and we should instead talk about a deluxe version of SDG 5, so that we also get to look at the intersectional concept of inequality, which is about something other than gender,’ says Maria Dockweiler.

GET’s development over the years

As previously mentioned, when GET was initially established it was solely with the VIPs in mind. Today, this is no longer the case, and initiatives now also exist for administrative staff and stu-dents. In addition, GET is also looking at other areas, including

  • Helping the student ambassadors to become aware of their own bias and prejudiced attitudes when they are out selling study programmes
  •  Communication-related study programmes which look at things like choice of colour, ide-als and reproduction of stereotypes
  • Department and faculty websites, investigating how images of teaching situations depict who is teaching and who is being taught
  • Accessibility and the inclusion of those with functional impairments
  • How to teach inclusively without compromising on research and teaching freedom
  • Drawing up the principles surrounding the press list used at SDU as well as updating the press list

In this way, SDU’s Gender Equality Team ensures more than the equal distribution between male and female employees at SDU. They also work with prejudicial bias, recruitment processes, inclu-sive communication and much more, which are important initiatives towards a University of Southern Denmark with more equality among researchers, employees and students.

Gender Equality Team

SDU’s Gender Equality Team works on systemic changes at SDU in close cooperation with both the individual faculties and units, SDU’s central gender equality committee and the gender equality committees of the faculties and the Central Administration.

SDU's Gender Equality Team

Last Updated 27.01.2023