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University of Silesia in Katowice

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University of Silesia equal and diverse

16.02.2022 - 13:02 update 18.02.2022 - 15:43
Editors: wc-a

| Małgorzata Kłoskowicz |

In March 2020, the European Commission’s gender equality strategy for 2020–2025 was published. As part of the strategy, a document that aims to promote the idea of equal opportunities for researchers, regardless of gender, in the European higher education space was published. Three actions are to serve this purpose: creating the Gender Equality Plan, without which universities cannot be beneficiaries of the Horizon Europe programme; achieving gender balance in research teams and integrating the gender dimension into research and innovation. At the University of Silesia measures were taken to serve the idea of equal treatment. The Gender Equality Plan was the first to be adopted. At the same time, the international project GEPARD (Gender Equality Programme in Academia – Raising Diversity) is being implemented. Its aim is to develop and disseminate a universal application model of gender equality policy in the academic community.

Our university has been undertaking initiatives that favour the implementation of the principles of equality and diversity for a long time. If you look at the website of the University of Silesia devoted to the topic of equal treatment, you can find there interesting content on, inter alia, prohibition of nepotism, anti-mobbing policy, anti-discrimination provisions, basic ethical principles or working conditions designed for people with disabilities. Meanwhile, in the middle of December last year, we could read that our university is just starting to implement equality policy programmes in accordance with the developed and adopted “Declaration of the University of Silesia – community of equal and diverse”. All indications are that the previously undertaken activities will be expanded in the near future, and the factor accelerating the implementation of changes was the requirement of the European Commission relating to the observance of the principles of gender equality in research initiatives.

Scientists representing the team responsible for its creation talk about the work related to the preparation of the Gender Equality Plan, as well as challenges and difficulties. The team includes: Vice-Rector for Staff Development, Prof. Ewa Jarosz, Marta Margiel, PhD, from the Faculty of Humanities and Magdalena Półtorak, PhD, from the Faculty of Law and Administration. We discuss, among others, why in the academic space in the 21th century such plans which indicate that people associated with this environment should have equal opportunities for development in every area, regardless of gender, must be made. The co-authors of the document also explain why feminatives are important and what tools will be developed in order to support people experiencing various types of inequalities.

“We have been meeting a wide group of people interested in this subject for over a year. It all started with a conversation about the masculinised academic language. We still have trouble with feminatives. I think many of us feel it” says Prof. Ewa Jarosz. The requirement of the European Commission, which clearly showed that without the adoption and publication of the plan, universities would not receive funds (for example, from the Horizon Europe programme) was the impulse to start specific actions, including the creation of the Gender Equality Plan and the preparation of the GEPARD project. Gender Equality Plans therefore began to be developed simultaneously not only in Polish, but also in foreign universities.

Lewy cudzysłów

I imagine that in ten or fifteen years neither the University of Silesia nor other universities in the world will have to develop and publish such plans and strategies for gender equality or the need to respect diversity. It would be happy if there was no need to discuss such obvious issues at all, if we did not have to convince anyone, and the academic community was in fact a community of equal opportunities. For everyone.

Magdalena Półtorak, PhD

“For many, financial motivation will probably be the most important, but we would like to draw attention to the importance of the issues we are discussing. If such a document is being prepared, it means that there are still many equality and diversity problems that have to be solved in the academic community” emphasises Magdalena Półtorak, PhD. The lawyer adds that the European Commission was already working on this type of standards in the 1990s: “Certain solutions concern the choice of the Commission itself. For applicants with similar competences and qualifications, the gender balance target should matter. However, the reality has been different, both due to the non-binding standard in this respect and the priorities of the candidate for the office of the president of the Commission. However, a lot has changed since Ursula von der Leyen became the president of the European Commission. I would even say that it is thanks to her that the discussed issue returned to the political agenda.”

It is not without reason that the co-authors of the Gender Equality Plan at the University of Silesia begin their conversation with the topic of feminatives. They all agree that this is not only an academic struggle for the suffixes of certain words, but they deeply believe that it will be one of the ways to change the awareness of people in the academic community.

“Such words as naukowczyni, rektorka, kierowniczka, gościni, dyrektorka – Polish feminine equivalents of scientist, rector, manager, guest, director (in the Polish language all nouns are assigned with gender categories, which, in this case, are by default maasculine) can seem a little strange or funny to some, for others – even degrading. However, we are convinced that they will mark the presence of women in the academic community. We also hope that when girls in schools hear them, they will not think that the management function or the scientific path is not for them, because it is the world of male scientists, chancellors, managers… It is very important” says Prof. Ewa Jarosz.

“We know that this is not an easy task, so we are looking for various solutions. We work with great experts in many fields, including linguistics, and we want to propose, for example, a glossary of feminatives and inclusive language, including a set of recommendations for people who want to use these forms” adds Marta Margiel, PhD.

Lewy cudzysłów

University of the future is a place of meetings of different people, a place where you can bring your child and your ageing mother. Friendly to our individual stories (and herstory). Understanding the needs not only in the sphere of professional development, but also smaller and larger challenges related to our everyday life.

Prof. Ewa Jarosz

The speakers draw attention to the challenges faced by women who choose the academic path of professional development. They admit that women achieve high positions and great academic results, but at what cost? How much effort does it cost them to get a degree or a managerial position compared to men? Therefore, the authors of the project will look at the career paths of women, requirements, promotions, studies, they want to take into account individual stories in this approach.

“I wonder why it’s so hard for us to admit that it was difficult? Sometimes I think we are ashamed to admit that we often felt that there were “double standards” and that our voice was less “audible”. I remember conversations with female professors who were surprised when someone spoke about gender inequalities. Then we examined the wage gap in one of the departments of the University of Silesia and only thanks to specific numbers it was possible to show the disproportions between the genders. It opened the eyes of some people” says Magdalena Półtorak, PhD.

As part of various support paths under the equality policy, training will be planned to raise the competences of people holding managerial positions in responding to all forms of discrimination in the academic environment. There will be more guides and guides for people experiencing various types of inequalities and a lack of respect. The website www.rownetraktowanie.us.edu.pl also shows the help path. However, qualitative and quantitative research showing the situation and needs in terms of equality is no less important.

One of the important parts of the Gender Equality Plan is the diagnosis of selected aspects of the functioning of our university, taking into account the gender criterion. Here we can read, among others, that 67% of people studying at our university are women, this prevalence is also visible at PhD studies. Among the people employed at the university, women also prevail (61.7%) – both in the group of academics as well as administrative employees. We read further that “men more often than women hold the functions of rector, dean, director of an institute […]. Women manage teaching and are deputies and plenipotentiaries of deans, deputy directors of institutes and coordinators at faculties”. In the group of people with the title of professor, men prevail. These are just an example of the proportions.

“The numbers do not get to the heart of the problem. Let’s look at the implementation of the principles of gender equality at our university. We have a relative gender balance in the vice-rector group. Does that mean that everything is fine? That the atmosphere of gender equality is already ingrained in our university?” asks Prof. Ewa Jarosz “While preparing the plan, we had a series of consultations with various groups representing the University of Silesia. Imagine that in one of these groups we heard a comment that the introduction of the Gender Equality Plan will lower the intellectual level of the university! We are in the 21st century and we meet this view in the academic community… This, unfortunately, convinces us of the rightness of the actions undertaken” she adds.

Lewy cudzysłów

I hope that in ten years we will be more open and sensitive to diversity. I know it may sound naive, banal, utopian. And yet I dream of such a world and a university in which we don’t use verbal aggression, in which we understand the needs and limitations of another human being. Let us not expect everyone to be the same, because we are not the same. And there is strength in this diversity.

Marta Margiel, PhD

As the adopted plan is to introduce changes in every area of university functioning, many questions regarding, inter alia, future personnel policy arise.

The speakers emphasise that it is certainly not about activities aimed at implementing the so-called gender parity, which would ensure an absolutely equal percentage of employees and female employees. The gender proportion diagnosis performed is only descriptive. On the one hand, its results showed the feminisation of many groups of employees or students at the university, on the other – as we read in the document: “due to the lack of data or incompleteness of those available in the diagnosis, it was not possible to take into account important […] issues related to some aspects of standard equality analyses of gender equality, such as remuneration (and possible wage gap) and bonuses, social benefits, leaves (including: maternity, parental, scientific), publishing activity, career progress and promotions related to gender.”

“In this context, the qualitative research we are planning seems to be much more important for showing the gender situation in the academic community. We will invite members of our community to talk. We want to find out what their experiences of working and studying at university from the perspective of gender are. Hidden barriers are very difficult to show in quantitative research and practically impossible to capture in administrative statistics” says Magdalena Półtorak, PhD.

The aim of the activities will be not only to conduct research and develop the adopted Gender Equality Plan, but also – as part of the GEPARD project – to prepare a universal application model of the gender equality policy in the academic community. The leader of the project implemented under the Erasmus+ programme is the University of Silesia in Katowice which has started cooperation with six partners: The University of Miskolc, the European University of Cyprus, the University of Malta, the University of Salzburg, and Euniversity – a spin-off of the University of Salerno. In addition to key partners, international cooperation includes other academic centres abroad.

Prof. Ewa Jarosz is the content coordinator of the project, while The administrative coordinator is Marta Margiel, PhD, who emphasises: “Together with our partners, we want to develop a possible general structure and content of the Gender Equality Plan model, so that it can ultimately be used not only in higher education, but also in other organisations and in various socio-cultural environments in the name of the value of building a community of equal and diverse.”

Marta Margiel, PhD, also adds how important it will be to clash different views and experiences in an international and intercultural perspective:

“We want to check what challenges our partners from different universities are facing in terms of gender inequality. We also want to find out which solutions were effective, and which were not. Moreover, we will try to implement the jointly developed tools not only in our country, but also in Austria, Malta, Hungary and other environments. We will test them in order to compile a collection of best practises.”

“I would like to cordially invite all members of our academic community to join not only in the research we are preparing, but also in the discussion on how the Gender Equality Plan adopted by us should be developed and implemented” says Prof. Ewa Jarosz.

Detailed information on the activities undertaken as a result of the adopted “Declaration of the University of Silesia – Community of Equal and Diverse”, in particular the Gender Equality Plan and the GEPARD project, is available on the website: www.rownetraktowanie.us.edu.pl. Here you can also see the results of research on the needs in the field of equality policy, which was carried out at the University of Silesia at the end of 2020. Soon, an e-mail address will be made available to all people interested in joining these initiatives.

* Source: Mirosław Czerwiński, Ilona Topa: Decentralisation and the gender pay gap in the Polish context: case studies. In: The gender pay gap and social partnership in Europe: findings from close the deal, fill the gap. London, Routledge 2019, pp. 82–88.

The article “University of Silesia equal and diverse” was published in the February issue of “Gazeta Uniwersytecka UŚ” (University of Silesia Magazine) 5(295).

Przy stole siedzą cztery kobiety, od lewej: prof. dr hab. Ewa Jarosz, dr Marta Margiel, dr Magdalena Półtorak oraz dr Małgorzata Kłoskowicz. Nad nimi logo i nazwa Uniwersytetu Śląskiego w Katowicach

The team talking on the Gender Equality Plan and the GEPARD project includes: (from the left) Vice-Rector for Staff Development, Prof. Ewa Jarosz, Marta Margiel, PhD, from the Faculty of Humanities, Magdalena Półtorak, PhD, from the Faculty of Law and Administration and Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD from the Media Communication Centre | photo: Olimpia Orządała

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