Nanna Gillberg is a researcher at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, as well as a writer, and she is often engaged as a lecturer of digitalisation, gender equality and work environment. The network Women in Science (WiSE) invited her to Chalmers University of Technology to hold a workshop titled "I’ve never experienced gender as a problem".
That is also the title of one of Nanna Gillberg’s books (in Swedish ”Jag har aldrig märkt att kön har haft någon betydelse”), focusing on informal mechanisms behind inequality. From there, she selected concrete and research-based examples for the opening part of the workshop.
Gender defines expectations
“Are women really sorted out in the recruitment processes just because they are women? And are women in various contexts systematically valued lower? Sometimes, the debate on gender equality may give the impression that these questions are open to speculation. But why speculate when there is plenty of research that shows that this is actually the case?”, says Nanna Gillberg.
Studies show that children already at the age of six think intelligence is a trait that men possess more often than women. At school, boys get the teacher’s help and attention faster, while girls are left to develop their patience and caring qualities in the role of helpers. These informal attitudes about how boys/men and girls/women should behave are founded early and follow us throughout life.
“Male things can be used by everyone, while feminine attributes are only for girls and women. Men can represent humanity. Women represent only themselves. In a traditional relationship, the status and occupational role of the husband defines which opportunities are open to the wife – not only in terms of career but also when it comes to such things as body length.”
In one example after another, Nanna Gillberg shows how men, or rather persons perceived as men, are ranked higher than women. Male teachers are rated higher than female, while abilities of male students are overestimated compared to those who are perceived to be of female gender.
“If women want to be seen as successful, it often comes at the price of negative opinions about them as persons,” she points out. “Female careerists may be perceived as competent, but most people don’t want them in their presence. Women are rewarded with the confirmation from their peers when they exhibit what is considered to be a typical female behaviour. However, in doing so, they can simultaneously be challenged as leaders, because femininity is constructed as the opposite of masculinity – and leadership, competence and authority are male gender markers.”
Gender equality work needed in everyday life
“You who are attending this workshop today have already realised the problem – that is why you are here”, says Nanna Gillberg. “Those who really would need to hear this are not coming here on their own accord. Therefore, we must ensure that gender mainstreaming is being brought up on the agenda. Efforts to increase gender equality and diversity need to be included in regular, day-to-day activities. It should not be something that is run alongside, that could be opt out of or ticked off once and for all.”
The second part of the workshop is devoted to group discussions about what characterises an inclusive workplace and how obstacles can be overcome. The commitment in the room is evident. Nanna Gillberg then leads a joint presentation. Finally, an action plan is formulated with hands-on measures and action points. The list ranges from educational measures to ensuring that a diversity perspective is applied in recruitments, and the importance of clarifying the values in everyday life.
Three questions to Nanna Gillberg
How do informal mechanisms manifest themselves in academia?
“In many respects, it is similar to the situation in society in general. Women often take on collective tasks, the ‘academic housework’*, while men prefer to do things that more directly benefit their own meriting. This is done quite voluntarily, and it often gives praise and confirmation to the woman, as she performs something that is considered to be in line with her gender identity. Nor do women have access to informal networks to the same extent as men. One consequence is that they may lose out on the help and benefits that a supporting network would bring to the academic career.”
Why is gender mainstreaming taking so long?
“If we continue the work on gender equality at the current pace, society is expected to be equal in 2205. That is in 185 years! Sweden is said to be one of the world's most equal countries, where all formal obstacles to achieve equality have been removed. However, our notions of how women and men should behave still hold us in an iron grip, even though we regard ourselves as enlightened and conscious.”
What is needed for a change to take place?
“Structures cannot be changed unless you realise the problem. In addition, if a change is to be lasting, you need to relate emotionally and feel a genuine commitment. Managers and leaders have a responsibility to show the way and be role models. 'Metoo' shed light on old abuses and norms that are no longer okay. I see signs of a new approach emerging, where gender equality and inclusion are natural parts of being a leader and a fellow human being. With that attitude, it is no longer possible to sweep those kinds of injustices under the carpet.”
“Of course, there are leaders who act more by social pressure than by their own beliefs, but that is at least a step in the right direction. Awareness has clearly increased, and I see the young people's commitment as a strong force for the future.”
About Nanna Gillberg
Nanna Gillberg is a researcher, author and lecturer of business administration, and deputy director of the Gothenburg Research Institute at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg. Her three main areas of expertise are digitalisation, gender equality and work environment. She is the author of the books ”Påsatt och avskärmad – i en uppkopplad värld” (2019) and ”Jag har aldrig märkt att kön har haft någon betydelse” (2018).Read more about Nanna Gillberg on her website (in Swedish)
Text and photos from the workshop: Yvonne Jonsson
Portrait photo of Nanna Gillberg: Francis Löfvenholm
Hello, Eva Lendaro, project leader for Women in Science. How does WiSE work for increased equality and inclusion?
“The underrepresentation of women can be an invisible barrier for women by sending the false signal that, as a norm, members of their gender are not skilled enough to succeed and reach the top of the academic pyramid. Changing the negative stereotypes within the field can be hard, especially until women are more equally represented. However, it is an achievable goal to try to remove some of the possible psychological barriers by enhancing women’s determination to succeed, their self-efficacy and agency beliefs. WiSE wants to help in this by activities such as seminars presenting role models of successful female researchers, and events built around themes related to WiSE vision, of which Nanna Gillberg’s workshop is a good example”, says Eva Lendaro, the project leader of WiSE and a PhD student at the department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers.
About Women in Science
Women in Science (WiSE) is a supportive network aiming to inspire and encourage collaboration between women in academia. The vision is equal opportunities for women and men to qualify for positions, and to make a successful career in academia.
The network is hosted by the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.