Increased gender equality makes Chalmers more attractive

In the past few years, Chalmers has stepped up the work on gender equality, and progress is already being made. In connection to International Women's Day on 8 March, we highlight some important initiatives and milestones.
Close dialogue with surrounding society is a contributing factor to Chalmers’ increased pace of working with gender equality. Chalmers is performing well when it comes to industrial collaboration and the University's industrial partners agrees that more engineers are needed – of both genders.
“Of course, Chalmers has been working on these issues for a long time, but in recent years we have upgraded our work on gender equality. As a technical university, we have great challenges ahead of us, which is why we need to do a lot of things in several areas,” says Anna Dubois, First Vice President with responsibility for ​gender equality in Chalmers University Management Group.
 
In recent years, Anna Dubois has been convenor of the network Focus Equality, which serves as a netwok for Chalmers' various equality initiatives.
“Our task is to follow, encourage and, above all, gather the forces that already exist. The major work is done by all students and employees who work for increased equality and quality every single day.”

Quality and equality go hand in hand

The Swedish government has tasked ministries and universities with incorporating gender work into their operations for several years, the initiative is called Gender Mainstreaming in Academia (GMA). One of the areas in which Chalmers is measured is recruitment. Chalmers has fulfilled its agreement with the government on employing and promoting at least 32 percent women as professors and visiting professors between the years 2017–2019. The final share was 32.6 percent. This is a result of Chalmers working systematically and long-term with strategic recruitment.

Chalmers is developing its recruitment process in a structured way, which has resulted in improved quality and equality in return. On average, there were 28 applicants per advertised faculty vacancy last year, which is high compared to 5-10 years ago. Chalmers now reaches out to many more qualified applicants.
“It is clear to us that equality in recruitment is improved when we raise the level of ambition in the recruitment process. The internationalisation of Chalmers also has a significant role here – both as the cause and effect of making us better. We have ambitious goals regarding recruitment, which our ten-year gender equality initiative Genie is an example of,” says Anna Dubois.

Gender equality for increased excellence

The Gender Initiative for Excellence (Genie)​ is one of the Chalmers Foundation's three major strategic initiatives and is the largest economic investment in equality in the academic world. Genie's goal is to contribute to concrete changes to the academic culture, system and procedures at Chalmers, and aim towards equal gender balance within the faculty. To achieve that, focus on recruitments and purposeful work with cultural change is needed. 
“It is important to point out that Genie is not an isolated initiative, it is part of Chalmers quality-driving work. Investments in increasing gender equality are part of the work to become an even more attractive university,” says Anna Dubois.

During 2019, Genie had a flying start. Among many other things they distributed SEK 23.4 million to various equality-related projects at Chalmers through Genie Open Call.
“Applications were granted at all of Chalmers’ departments, and cover everything from gender perspectives in education and research, to fundamental technical and scientific research. We hope the implementation of these projects in the coming years will create increased focus on, and awareness of, gender equality,” says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, one of the leaders of Genie.

Increased insights into career opportunities

The progress of digitalisation and electrification generates huge societal changes and an increased demand for creative engineering skills. Chalmers wants to get more young women interested in technical education and increase their understanding of what kind of career opportunities exist with a degree in Automation, Mechatronics, Electrical engineering, Information and Computer Science. Therefore, Chalmers started Camp Vera, a weekend for high school girls filled with activities, workshops, lectures and networking. Camp Vera has been held in March 2019 and February 2020.

“With Camp Vera, we want to inspire the participants and give them a glimpse of the technology and student life offered here at Chalmers,” says Jörgen Blennow, Dean of Education for the educational area EDIT-I (Electrical, Computer, IT and Industrial engineering).

Camp Vera is named after Vera Sandberg, Sweden's first female civil engineer. She graduated from Chalmers in 1917 and is acknowledged with a statue on campus. The lecturers during the weekend consist of both students and female role models from the industry.
“The great interest that companies and organisations have shown for participation in Camp Vera confirms how important it is that more women contribute to ongoing technical development – it is not enough with just the male perspective,” says Jörgen Blennow.
 
Camp Vera has already had positive effects on Chalmers student recruitment.
“We don’t know yet what the effects of the 2020 event will be, but the 2019 event was very successful, even above our expectations! The number of women applying for the master’s programme in Computer Science doubled. The bachelor’s programme in Computer Science and the master’s programme in Electrical Engineering also showed great progress. The proportion of female students is still low – but increasing. We look forward to this year's application statics,” says Jörgen Blennow.

Another effort to broaden student recruitment is being made on the national theme day IGEday - Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. On 3 April, like many other organisations, Chalmers will open up its doors to demonstrate different interesting areas of education and research. At this year’s IGEday the opening speech will be held by representatives from the recently started student initiative Chalmers Women's Association.

Decisive action against Sexism

Work to create a study and work environment free from harassment is ongoing and is an issue where the Chalmers Student Union and the University cooperate closely. The project ‘Chalmers against sexism’ has been a subproject within the framework of Focus Equality, but soon the work will transfer into regular operations.
“The #MeToo movement showed us that there was more below the surface than we previously were aware of. It was clear to us that we needed to develop our structures and processes to address these issues,” says Anna Dubois. “Together with the Student Union, we then initiated the project Chalmers against sexism.”

Within the framework of the project, various educational efforts have been made and informational material has been produced, including a handbook for increased security distributed to all new students. The digital reporting platform, Safe at Chalmers​, has made it easier for students and staff to report experienced or witnessed harassment.

Dennis Norman, chairman of the Chalmers Student Union, feels that the strong collaboration with the University has led to more student initiatives regarding gender equality. 
“The students' will is extremely strong when it comes to these issues and their collaboration and commitment is impressive,” says Dennis Norman.

There are now local Equality Committees at almost all student sections. Together with the Student Union’s Committee for Working Environment and Equality, they have started the so-called Equality Week. 
During the Equality Week, panel discussions and courses are organised for the students. But activities take place during the rest of the year as well, for both students, administrative staff and researchers. Training events and seminars will be held, and informal networks started for both female professors and students.
“There is a lot happening at Chalmers right now. I look forward to following the outcome of all the initiatives being taken. Cultural changes take time, but the work for increased equality does not take place in a vacuum, it is an overall change in society,” says Anna Dubois.​

 
Text: Julia Jansson

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Published: Fri 06 Mar 2020.