Why should we conduct research on discrimination and equal treatment in academia? What should we investigate further and by what methods? Can we design Gender Equality Plan without a proper diagnosis of situation at the institution and of employees’ needs? On December 8, 2020, an expert debate "The role of diagnosis in shaping an equal university" took place online, organized by the Department for Security, Safety and Equal Treatment - Safe at the Jagiellonian University. The event was organized as part of 2020 edition of the international campaign, 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence. The debate gathered gender equality practitioners and researchers from a few Polish higher education institutions and a representative of the Polish Ombudsman. A few members of the GEinCEE CoP contributed to the discussion, including Zofia Bryniarska and Lidia Żakowska from Cracow University of Technology, Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka and Magdalena Żadkowska from University of Gdansk, Magdalena Stoch from Pedagogical University of Krakow, Łukasz Prus from University of Wroclaw and Paulina Sekuła from Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
The debate took the form of rounds of questions, and below we summarise the most important and interesting points:
- Why should we conduct research on safety, security and equal treatment in academia?
Participants emphasized that the diagnosis is an important form of signalling the importance of the issue to a wider group of recipients in the academic community, including decision-making bodies. The results of the research confirming the existence of the phenomenon of discrimination and showing its scale constitute a strong argument to start a dialogue on the need to introduce changes at the legislative and organizational level. The role of the intersectional approach was also emphasized. It was argued that conducting research in the area of safety, security and equal treatment allows us to look at the existing legal regulations not only from the perspective of a literal interpretation of their provisions, but also from the point of view of their operation in practice. Therefore, the research allows to verify the effectiveness of the existing regulations, to indicate their weaknesses, and to recommend possible directions of changes in such a way as not only to improve the quality and extend the scope of the regulations themselves, but also to improve their operation in practice.
- What has been studied so far, with what methods and what results from the available analyses?
The results of following studies on safety, security and gender equality were discussed:
- survey on discrimination and the sense of security among university students in Poland carried out by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights in 2017
- research on problems and needs in the area of discrimination in terms of creating gender equality plans conducted at the University of Warsaw;
- research within the framework of the H2020 Gender Equality in Engineering through Communication and Commitment (GEECCO) project conducted, among others, at the Cracow University of Technology;
- cyclical statistical analyses of the European Commission - She Figures;
- bibliometric studies on gender variations in citation distribution and publication success rates;
- Gender Equality Audit and Monitoring (GEAM) tool survey designed within the framework of the H2020 ACT project conducted in a few European research organisations;
- international study conducted in 2009-2011 on sexual violence, bullying and fear of crime among female students in five different European countries;
- cyclical survey of the sense of security and perceived discrimination carried out as part of the study "Student satisfaction barometer" at the Jagiellonian University.
The results of these studies clearly specify that:
- there is a significant impact of various forms of discrimination on the sense of security, security and equal treatment;
- there exist clear gender inequalities in the university environment, both horizontally (sex disproportionate participation in individual scientific disciplines) and vertically (underrepresentation of women in senior positions and decision-making bodies);
- we witness noticeable gender disproportions in citations rates and publishing success;
- there are noticeable differences in the level of awareness on discrimination, as well as differences in understanding the concepts related to this issue.
- What should we investigate further and by what methods?
The participants of the discussion pointed firstly out the need for an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach as well as the need to develop a certain standardization of research in the area of safety, security and equal treatment. The advantages of using standardized research tools, such as GEAM, were also emphasized. Such an approach would enable, inter alia, conducting multidimensional comparative analyses and formulating recommendations at the university and national level. Persons participating in the debate also indicated the benefits of using a wide range of research methods, including primarily the combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, e.g. by combining the analysis of collected statistical data with the use of qualitative methods for the research of selected focus groups. It was also indicated that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the development of scientific careers of women and men should be considered a valuable direction of research in the area of equal treatment. The preliminary results of a few studies suggest that the pandemic negatively affects the situation in the area of equal treatment, for example due to the noticeably greater burden on women with obligations related to the care of dependent persons.
- Who should we cooperate with in relation to equal treatment?
The importance of creating international, national and local networks was emphasized. In this area, attention was paid to the specificity of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and it was recommended to intensify cooperation among them. The need to create thematic alliances, i.e. dealing with cooperation in the area of specific issues and tasks, was also indicated. The importance of cooperation with publishers in the dissemination of sex-disaggregated data on publication rates, including taking into account the pandemic context, was as well noted. Furthermore, due to the criminal nature of some discriminatory behaviour the importance of cooperation with law enforcement authorities was mentioned. Participants pointed to the need of developing standards and procedures for cooperation, also in the research area.
- How to use and disseminate research results on security and equal treatment in the academic environment?
The importance of adopting a two-pronged approach to the publication of results was stressed. On the one hand, the advantages of preparing comprehensive scientific reports were pointed out, which may constitute a starting point for further analyses and a source of expert knowledge. On the other hand, the practical dimension and importance of the easily accessible research results for a wider audience in academia was emphasized.
It was also pointed out that the assessment of how a given university deals with the problem of discrimination should have a greater impact on its overall evaluation, done e.g. by external accreditation committees. Intensifying cooperation with the representatives of the labour market, in particular with enterprises and trade unions, was discussed as another direction of disseminating knowledge about discrimination. The importance of creating safe spaces for the exchange of experiences and good practices for groups exposed to discrimination and entities dealing with equality issues was also indicated. It was as well emphasized that the conclusions drawn from the research should be translated into teaching curricula, e.g. in the form of modules on the issue of discrimination.
In the last part of the debate the participants indicated the multitude of contexts in the academic environment in which the phenomenon of discrimination and unequal treatment may occur. What was again underlined included: 1. importance of local action for safety, security and equal treatment; 2. need for research on specific forms of discrimination, 3. value of combining quantitative and qualitative methods; 3. negative impact of discrimination on the sense of security, which is an elementary condition for effective functioning in the university environment; 4. necessity to intensify equality activities.
The debate is available in Polish here. A summary of a debate was written by Stella Strzemecka and Wojciech Jarczyk from the Department of Security, Safety and Equal Treatment at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Choice of the excerpts and translation of the summary into English: Paulina Sekuła.