KU Leuven: Gender equality at KU Leuven: not a women’s issue

We cannot ignore it: most professors are still men, and the higher up the academic ladder, the fewer women. How does KU Leuven try to improve that gender balance? And does corona throw a spanner in the works? We asked ‘gender spiers’ Luc Geurts and Batja Mesquita, HR director Deb Vansteenwegen, rector Luc Sels and vice rector Hilde Feys.

The current board sets a good example with an equal number of female and male vice rectors. And KU Leuven may have a male rector, but with Marianne Thyssen there is a woman at the head of the Board of Directors. However, there is not yet a reasonable gender balance among the academic staff: according to the most recent figures , 30% of the KU Leuven professorship is made up of women. In addition, the share of women is decreasing per step on the academic ladder.

Yet many steps have already been taken, says rector Luc Sels. “Nowadays 40.9% of the senior academic staff at the university are women. Now we must ensure that this group continues to grow up the academic ladder. We monitor the situation closely. That is why we know that men and women have demonstrably equal chances of success in promotions, and women also have at least a proportional chance of being recruited for ZAP vacancies. Moreover, according to our figures, the percentage of women recruited is considerably higher than the percentage of female candidates. Attracting enough female candidates is therefore still a challenge. ”

The gender vanguards also play a role in the progress made As a member of the faculty assessment committee – commonly referred to as ‘BeCo’ – they try to combat (implicit) gender bias in the recruitment and promotion of fellow ZAP members.

Professor Luc Geurts has been a gender vanguard of the Faculty of Engineering Technology for many years. “We have a very international audience at Campus Group T, but there are still too few female students and professors,” Geurts explains. “Gender is a theme that is close to my heart, so when the question arose a few years ago to appoint a gender striker, I was immediately a candidate. Some female BeCo colleagues were relieved that a man took on the task: they did not want the gender striker to be a woman of course. ”

For the same reason, Professor Batja Mesquita of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences initially held back. “After my appointment in 2007, I didn’t want to be a gender striker right away, just because I am a woman. I have always been careful to make gender equality a women’s issue: it must be a culture change that is supported by the top of an organization, and not something that is supported by an interest group. That’s why I only became a gender striker a year ago. ”

Batja Mesquita herself appeared before an assessment committee with only men when she was appointed. “You just have to be a professor to be in the BeCo. In fact, you could just as well say that you have to be over 1.80 m to become a member: in both cases you almost only get men. Anyway, I am now a full professor myself, so I am also in that BeCo. (laughs) ”

While there is still some way to go, both gender genders are already seeing progress. Mesquita: “Years ago, when I was not yet a gender striker, I tried, with the support of our dean, to map out the gender diversity at all levels of my faculty. It was not easy to get the numbers out, because those were then not as closely monitored as now. Much has changed in that area: the situation is now much better monitored, also at the central level. ”
In her own faculty, according to Mesquita, the biggest progress is the way in which promotion files are decided. “Our faculty works with objective criteria, and that approach also has a gender effect in a very implicit way. There are always many candidates for a limited number of places, and in the past you had to wait every year to see if someone had won a prize or something, because that colleague would still stick with you. But now we have excellence criteria for each grade that you must meet to be eligible for promotion. If you have achieved the standard, you will end up on a waiting list, and from then on, your age, how long you have been in your current rank, and your gender will be looked at – although the latter criterion is certainly not at the top. Once you got those rules

Luc Geurts also notices that there are less intense discussions about gender in his faculty’s BeCo. “There is a lot of willingness to improve the gender balance, and I feel very supported in general.”

The ‘best’ candidate for the job
Quotas are still very sensitive. Do you have to choose women as standard with two equal candidates? Geurts: “Some colleagues believe that you should not choose the female candidate but the best candidate for similar files. Only: what does that mean, ‘dear’? You can argue about that. Moreover, the fact remains that our faculty has too few women, and I think you should actively look for female role models. ”

“If you really want to bring about a cultural change, you do indeed need reasonable representation,” agrees Mesquita. “Role models are important, but it’s mainly about what you convey. As a university, we must send a very clear message to underrepresented groups, whether they are women or, for example, ethnic-cultural minorities: you too belong here. You need sufficient representation for that. Gender equality is also simply an important quality criterion for an institution like ours: quality in education and research requires multiple perspectives on the world. ”

Yet women themselves cannot always be found for quota, Geurts notes: “A female fellow professor once told me ‘if you had made a vacancy for a female professor, I would not have applied’. With quota you also threaten to scare off female candidates, because they don’t want to be ‘that woman’. ” Mesquita wants to nuance this: “Your colleague’s comment reminds me of that joke about the organization that hires a woman for the first time after positive action. On her first day of work she is told: how does it feel to be here because you are a woman? To which she replies: Much better than it feels not to be here because I am a woman. The latter is still too often the reality. ”

Careers in times of corona
And then there is the other big challenge for more gender equality: COVID-19. On average, the professional impact of the corona crisis appears to be greatest for women. This impact translates into, among other things, a lower number of publications submitted in leading publications, preprints and project applications . Is corona catapulting female researchers back in time?

According to Deb Vansteenwegen of the Human Resources Department, the corona crisis will inevitably have an impact on the work of our researchers. “Earlier this week, we therefore launched a website in collaboration with the Young Academy and the Diversity Policy Office with measures to limit the impact of the corona crisis on research careers.. The biosketch in which researchers can give more context to their careers can, for example, be a tool to clarify that impact. For example, someone may not have been able to complete a publication because too many care tasks were involved. These are things that you can state in a biosketch so that the BeCo can take them into account. By the way, BeCos no longer add sums of publications, but try to look at the strengths in a file and the global quality. ”

In the coming years, we want to further strengthen the activities and broaden the field of action of gender spiers, so that their task, in addition to gender, also explicitly includes countering bias mechanisms with regard to minority groups.

Vice Rector Hilde Feys, responsible for diversity policy at KU Leuven

Specifically for under-represented groups, the gender vanguards will continue to play a very important role after corona, says Vice Rector Hilde Feys, who is responsible for diversity policy at KU Leuven. “It is good that our gender vanguards and the biosketch are already often cited as best practice, for example in the Gendercharter of the Young Academy and VLIR, but also within LERU. In the coming years, we want to further strengthen the activities and broaden the field of action of gender strikers, so that their mission explicitly includes combating bias mechanisms with regard to minority groups in addition to gender. Gender spiers indicate that they often already interpret their role in this way: implicit prejudices affect different groups in the academic world. We also have a lot of new gender actions on the program. For example, we no longer allow doctoral committees consisting exclusively of men or women, and we ensure that every faculty receives diversity figures that the gender vanguard can discuss with the faculty board. ”

Katrien Bollen, portrait vice rector Hilde Feys: © KU Leuven – Rob Stevens
Tags: Policy news At college Group T Leuven campus Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences Faculty of Engineering Technology Human Sciences Group Science & Technology Group Department of Computer Science
Search in KU Leuven news

Comments are closed.