The equality delegation: sharing opinions

The delegation’s members have sat on the University’s appointment panels for almost 15 years now – and that’s worth putting down on paper.

 

Women need to be able to differentiate between drudge work that is not valued and work that will advance their academic profiles. They need to make sure their applications are competitive.”

Extracts of interviews

Anne-Lise Head

Professor in the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences until 2004, equality delegate from 1991 to 1997, then a member of the delegation from 2001 to 2004. Appointment procedures monitored: 30.

It is important to Anne-Lise Head that there are higher authorities and that the University is not above the law, particularly with regard to harassment. “They asked me to become the equality delegate because I had a gender profile. There was a tiny budget at the time. I had two hours of relief, so a third of the teaching time of a full professor, equivalent to two hours of classes, which I could give to someone else. Women, as it turned out. I had to find a way to get more women hired. I was regularly put under pressure to increase the number of female professors, but the problem went far deeper than that and couldn’t be resolved by my action alone, especially given the limited resources I had. I ended up with all the applications. I went to appointment panels where there were female candidates. And I did not always receive a very warm welcome.”

According to Anne-Lise Head, in the nineties, women’s applications were not always the same as men’s. “Also, at that time, there were doubts about women’s ability to be professors because of motherhood. I remember replying to a Dean that military service was also a cause of long absences.” She also reveals that some brilliant women were not hired and went to work in universities of applied sciences, which was certainly a huge loss for the University.

She adds that an academic career comes with certain demands and that it is not possible to simply work from 9–5, that you have to be really passionate and that it is definitely not just about putting women in jobs. It is a matter of being extremely vigilant about career development and not letting people start their theses too late, for example: “It is an illusion, a trap. Sometimes you need to protect people from themselves, otherwise it can lead to real-life drama. And a thesis should not just be viewed in the context of an academic career – there is space on the job market for those with a PhD in an interesting subject.”

“As a delegate, I dealt with sexual harassment cases. I met with the professors and women affected and found solutions.”

Angela Krämer

Professor in the Faculty of Science, member of the faculty equality commission for two years, then a delegation member from 2001 to 2007. Appointment procedures monitored: 57.

“The Dean asked me to join the delegation back in 2000. As I’m a German speaker, I was a bit worried about language problems, but it seemed important for a woman from the Faculty of Science to be a part of the delegation. And I was motivated, because even though I haven’t felt any discrimination throughout my career, as a professor I have seen that there are injustices. To start with, there’s this double bind: there are very few female professors, so they end up having to sit on all kinds of committees to ensure equality, which has an impact on their own careers.”

At first, Angela Krämer found it difficult to know what to do and how far to go with the commitment. “I thought I’d just have to sit on appointment panels, but there were also the monthly delegation meetings. As I’m from the Faculty of Science, I was assigned to Medicine, a real ‘men’s club’. It was pretty bad at that time. It might have been better to have a male delegation member. There were no women; appointments were mainly internal promotions for men. It was extremely rare for a woman to be promoted. And even if there was a female candidate, she never got the job. The thinking was that women quite simply couldn’t be as good as men.”

However, she noted that the mere presence of a delegate – whether male or female – helped and made the members of the appointment panel more aware of and open to other points of view. She highlighted that women have human qualities that men don’t always have and that in terms of precision – for example in neurosurgery – women may be better.

She also noted stereotypes: women don’t know how to manage a team, they don’t have leadership skills, and so on. These are beliefs that drag them down in appointment procedures. For Krämer, it was necessary to force the appointment panels to find female applicants or to thoroughly justify their absence. “How the delegation is perceived evolved over time. Everybody knew that a member of the delegation would be there. They knew the principles of the delegation. And delegation members began to be invited routinely. I was pleased to see this change. But I also learnt that there was still a lot to do and that people needed to be made aware of the problematic way in which men and women in senior roles are viewed.”

“I remember one procedure where there were two equal candidates – one was a man and the other a woman. Citing the rule of preference, the delegation thought that the woman should be chosen, and it worked.”

Timothy Harding

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, delegation member from 2001 to 2007. Appointment procedures monitored: 40.

Timothy Harding was asked to join the delegation by a Vice Rector. “I was already involved in the College of the Professors, working to promote women’s careers. I have three daughters, and I have seen the problems they have faced. One particular experience I had in the eighties really showed me how unequal things can be. Before I became a full professor, I sat on the committee of a foundation that had a lot of money. There were only men on the committee, and the fund was dedicated to sexology! After two years, in light of the way the funds were being used, I suggested including some women. There was real resistance, and when I went to look for some possible members, I realised that there were very few female full professors or heads of department, especially in basic medicine.”

The members of the brand new delegation very quickly realised that it was necessary to intervene throughout the procedure, not just when it was a matter of choosing between two equal candidates, one male and one female. “It’s important to ask questions about recruitment methods and about how candidates are sought and selected for the shortlist. It’s great for women to be shortlisted: the first-choice candidate might not turn up and a female candidate might surprise people with a fantastic presentation. On the panel, we act as soon as we see that a female candidate has been side-lined in an unjustifiable way or when unfair personal arguments are being used to reject female candidates. I remember one case where an appeal was accepted, but the department refused to hire that particular woman so they closed the position. There, we reached the limits of the action the delegation could take.

I remember another case that was disappointing but interesting: a woman stood out very clearly, and the rectorate decided that she was either the best or it was a tie, in which case the rule of preference applied. The news was given to the panel, which blocked the procedure so thoroughly that the candidate ended up finding a post elsewhere. The panel re-opened the procedure and the man got the job!”

The delegation, which wasn’t well known back then, caused some amusing misunderstandings. “Things weren’t always clear for the panel members, especially when a man was representing a delegation that is supposed to promote women’s careers. But it’s good, it gets people thinking.”

“Sometimes it can be really complicated. When a woman has a strong personality and she’s fought for her career, it can give her an aggressive aura that can count against her.”

Michelle Bergadaà

Professor in the School of Economics and Management, delegation member from 2002–2007. Appointment procedures monitored: 37.

Michelle Bergadaà has always been very dedicated to the cause. She’s not a fully-fledged activist, but as far as she’s concerned, equality should be a reality. That’s probably because in Canada, where she lived until the end of her studies, equality is normal. “When I arrived in Switzerland, I was shocked by the way women were treated, in terms of female representation in management positions and also in terms of scorn or everyday sexism. The wives of most of the men at the University didn’t work, and some were openly condescending towards us. I had the impression that I was living on another planet.”

Being a professor with three children to bring up inevitably leads to certain sacrifices in your social life, private life and academic career – without a doubt publishing a little less. “But life is short and I’ve done interesting, fulfilling things in this job. We were conquerors, a really strong group with increasing powers. We created procedures, and a series of talks on life choices, to show young women what an academic career is like. In the early days of the delegation, there was a lot of work but also a lot of room for manoeuvre. We could invent mechanisms and implement them by surprise or sometimes by bluffing.”

She liked the element of innovation – she is passionate about the social link that joins individuals to the system.

As far as Michelle Bergadaà is concerned, regarding the quality of applications, the members of the delegation were always fair and reasonable, never hesitating to come out in favour of a man if he was better in academic terms. As for the different appreciation of applications from men and from women during discussions within faculties, she was actively involved and reminded people of the delegation’s criteria. By asking questions, she got people rethinking their preconceptions. “I became an inter-faculty HR expert, advising people and giving evaluations, with my background in management as a bonus.”

When she was hired, “The rectorate had imposed the rule that one professor in four who was hired should be a woman. It was a bit of a military approach, but it was effective and daring. The faculties didn’t like it. The discussion on quotas took place too. It should have been even stricter, by requiring, for instance, two women for every man in the tenure-track posts in view of the imbalance.”

Finally, she says that young men today have a different attitude

“So all that has played a role, of course.”

Peter Suter

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Vice Rector from 2003 to 2006, chair of the delegation from 2004 to 2006.

“While I was studying Medicine, and then during my research, I observed how men and women behaved with patients, and also as team leaders. It was a real eye-opener – I wanted to take account of these feminine attitudes and behaviours. Then, as a department head, I tried to support women’s appointments and careers, but I felt that things were not advancing quickly enough.”

Peter Suter chaired the delegation for two years and was very surprised by the obstacles at various levels of the University and by people’s way of thinking. “People are the problem more than the organisation. People’s image of a professor is male, in Medicine and everywhere, but I am convinced that women are the future of our healthcare system. We need to take into account what women can bring to the table, as professors and as department heads. They may have fewer publications, but they have a lot of other qualities and skills.”

It was a real pleasure for Peter Suter to chair the delegation, to take measures that were a type of positive discrimination and to force the faculties to take an interest in these issues. “The delegation was brave and the Rector was behind it, letting members do their job and providing support as needed. The previous rectorate had laid the foundations, but it was necessary to go further, to go from a positive function to a more active function, to put procedures and lists of female candidates in place. We needed to stick to our guns. We weren’t always popular for that.” Nor for pointing out certain things that were flagrantly unfair, like using a candidate’s strong personality to disparage her application.

“It wasn’t just about making friends – it was about making a long-term difference. A lot of the things we implemented have been made permanent. Some symbolic things have changed attitudes.”

Eric Doelker

Professor in the Faculty of Science, Vice Rector from 2000–2003, chair of the delegation from 2000 to 2003, and delegation member from 2004 to 2009. Appointment procedures monitored: 15.

Eric Doelker admits that he was faced with matters of equality when he was Dean of the Faculty of Science, but that it was when he became Vice Rector that he really began to get a grasp on these matters. “On the appointment panels everything went quite well. There was no overt opposition and it wasn’t hard to be the representative of equality. But it is difficult to know what people really think. I felt I needed to be part of the delegation, both to stand up for women’s applications and to ensure equal opportunities for the next generation – from one faculty to the next the criteria can be very different. I discovered that during the second half of my career and I found it fascinating to shake things up a bit. I wasn’t necessarily qualified to do it, but I found the challenge very stimulating. It’s true that in Science, for example, we don’t always evaluate applications in the same way. And it’s also difficult to decide whether two applications are really the same, and there are sometimes prejudices.”

He says that when the chair of the panel is well informed and aware of the issues, the procedure goes well. If that is not the case, there is an impact on the panel’s work. That’s why one of the delegation’s main tasks was harmonising practices and achieving standard criteria – in his opinion a member of the Dean’s office should always be on the panel. “The delegation kind of plays the role of an HR expert. Even if the criteria are stipulated in the regulations, the weight given to them may vary from one faculty to another. In some cases, research is more important than teaching or leadership skills. We can be confident in the medium-term representation of women within the professorial staff, but in some cases if the few women present in a faculty retire, the statistics will plunge.”

“Let’s take the example of someone with a strong personality: if it’s a man, people will say he’s a bit of a character; if it’s a woman, people will say she’s impossible.”

Martine Collart

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, delegation member since 2005. Appointment procedures monitored: 52.

As president of the faculty equality commission, Martine Collart was a mentor and a delegation member almost simultaneously. “My colleagues thought it was awful that I was doing that instead of my research, they found it weird. And some people – fortunately not many – in some faculties made cutting remarks about the delegation. It is clear that I would have published more if I hadn’t been on the delegation, and my scientific profile would have been more solid, but I have no regrets. It was a choice. My recent sabbatical year meant I could really focus on my research again.”

Martine Collart says that there are real differences between faculties and sometimes even between departments. “Sometimes there are so few female applicants that it is unlikely that the best candidate will be a woman.”

And sometimes there are women but they are not shortlisted. “The first time I worked with an appointment panel, the male candidate that the department wanted gave a really bad presentation and interview, when there were two fantastic female candidates.”

The delegation worked to standardise appointment panel procedures, and most of them are now transparent. “It’s really frustrating when, despite our best efforts, a complaint is still made. Or when, to get round the rule that women should make up 30% of shortlists, some panels put women who aren’t eligible on the list, such as candidates who are too young.”

However, for each candidate, it’s not just about the application. There is also the network, the skills and the human side. And it’s clear that the idea of “character” isn’t the same for men and women. “A strong character is a bonus for a man and a problem for a woman. The same goes for the top profiles – women have always done too much or too little. Budgets are too big or too small, there are too few or too many people to manage, and so on.”

Martine Collart says that at the University of Geneva – unlike in the United States for example – people want women to embody femininity! There’s a lot of pressure within the University and in society for women not to be merely researchers but also wives and mothers. That creates a double bind that takes away from the strength of an application and the perception of a woman as a researcher.

Anik de Ribaupierre

Professor in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Vice Rector from 2006 to 2011, chair of the delegation from 2006 to 2011.

Anik de Ribaupierre first came into contact with the delegation as Dean, sitting on appointment panels, before becoming chair of the delegation as Vice Rector.

She was very pragmatic as chair. “I didn’t go in with a soft touch. Apparently I was known for being rigorous, which is almost certainly slightly negative, because I’m a woman. A man with the same management style might not have been judged in the same way.”

She says that getting the right balance of men and women and of characters within the delegation is important. Social psychology studies on the queen bee syndrome have shown that women in powerful positions are often harder on other women than men are and don’t necessarily support positive discrimination for younger women.

However, she remembers that she was the only female dean, and often the only woman at meetings. “During external meetings, I’d sometimes be asked to make the coffee or do administrative tasks because people thought I was the assistant. I’d make the coffee and then introduce myself. People would regularly use the masculine form when they wrote to me. I don’t imagine those sorts of things happen to men very often. I’ve also noticed that people often use surnames to refer to male applicants and first names to refer to female applicants. It might seem like nothing, but it’s a sort of fatherly familiarity that puts female researchers in a weaker position.”

As chair of the delegation, she first took on the issue of allowing married women to use their maiden names, which is key to ensuring continuity in their careers. She also ran into the problem of administrative slowness and had to confront some deans who said that equality had already been achieved, and use statistics to show them that wasn’t true. “Things were a bit stormy at the start. I wanted more detailed statistics and more in-depth investigations so that I could better understand the female candidates.”

Anik de Ribaupierre believes that there are still a lot of implicit prejudices in how men’s and women’s CVs are viewed, or when a woman is appointed by invitation. The argument that excellence will be lost is often brought up, which is rarely the case for men, “When in reality, after a few years, people rarely remember which professors were appointed by which method. So that argument is meaningless over the medium to long term.”

In 2010, with the Rector’s consent, she made it a requirement for deans’ offices to ensure that women made up at least 30% of their shortlists. This went down very badly initially. “The Deans were angry because they were receiving complaints from appointment panels. The argument was often that it would slow them down.” The rule is still applied and has become a matter of habit.

Anik de Ribaupierre is sure of one thing: to find the right candidates, particularly women, professors need to use their international connections. Well-known people need to send out job adverts personally, rather than it being done anonymously, in order to motivate high-level applicants, particularly women. “For my replacement, for example, I was the one who sent out the job ad because it was my post and I was the person most likely to know researchers who would meet the requirements.”

“It’s not just a problem with CVs but also with very well-hidden, polite sexism.”

Christine Chappuis

Professor in the Faculty of Law, delegation member from 2009 to 2012, then Dean. Appointment procedures monitored: 24.

 

Christine Chappuis’ career began in the early eighties. She noticed — and deplored — the lack of women in senior jobs, at the University and elsewhere. Swiss women had only had the vote since 1971, but at least half of the students in her faculty were women. She worked out that it would take around 20 years to shift the balance, particularly in legal circles.

Yet by 2000 the situation had barely changed. “That’s when I started taking part in debates on equality. I also got involved in the running of the University when I became chair of the Senate — which doesn’t exist anymore — in the early 2000s. It made sense that I was asked to get involved in the delegation.” In her role as a delegation member, she focused on ensuring that applications from men and women were treated in the same way.

Christine Chappuis particularly enjoyed getting an inside view of how the University works, meeting and working with colleagues from other fields, finding out how other faculties work, creating links between unrelated subjects, and looking at similarities and differences in recruitment methods and in methods for evaluating applications in different disciplines. “There are big differences in how students and assistants are involved and in the role given to panel members, who are sometimes the main audience for the trial lesson.”

She often pushed panel members to clarify the reasons for their decisions so that someone who was not an expert in the field could understand. This led to greater transparency and required panel members to examine women’s applications more closely, to nuance their reasoning and finally, in case of doubt, to tip the balance in favour of a woman’s application.

However, Christine Chappuis underestimated the workload and how difficult it would be to free up the time required to attend panel meetings, which can go on for several days. Sometimes she had to find someone else to teach her classes so that she would not miss a panel meeting, and she had to write reports in the evening or at the weekend.

 

“In one case, the preference given to a male applicant didn’t seem clear to me, particularly regarding publications. After further discussion, the panel’s proposition was unchanged but better justified.”

Paolo Meda

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, delegation member from 2008 to 2011. Appointment procedures monitored: 13.

Paolo Meda replaced a colleague on the delegation at a moment’s notice. He became “Mr Equality” and, as a well-established professor was teased a bit for his new role. “It’ll be a waste of your time. Oh look – here’s comes the panel’s women’s representative! That sort of thing. It wasn’t mean, just a bit of a joke, but it wasn’t encouraging.”

“This role didn’t help my career, but it didn’t hinder it either. But I was working 16 hours a day. It’s true that it takes up a lot of time, especially when I had to follow panels in the Faculty of Science. When you have to examine 180 applications, it takes the whole weekend. I’ve got good memories though, like one candidate who the delegation supported successfully but who was rejected by the panel and the faculty. Another time, there were two equal candidates and the rule of preference meant that the woman was appointed without too much resistance from the appointment panel, even though they would have preferred the man. The panel wanted the man for his specialism, but in the end they took the delegation’s opinion into account. It’s also an opportunity to discover other fields of research.”

His work on the delegation confirmed something he’d already noted in his own faculty. Generally, whether male or female, people don’t know how to sell themselves. “People don’t know what to say when you ask them what they can bring to the team.”

At the beginning, he was told that his job was to observe and not to intervene, but he immediately got involved in decision-making and was able to make an active contribution. As the problems are nuanced, it’s often the delegation member’s negotiating skills and tact that make the difference.

The problem is often that it is hard to find female candidates. And they have an impossible task: “They’ve got to be nice, uncomplicated, high-flying, bring in a lot of money, be a talented writer, etc. As far as teaching is concerned, they’re asked to do their best, to make an effort. So preparing for the interview is very important. But we recruit abroad, and it’s not possible to prepare women everywhere – internally, we should though.”

In Medicine, specialisations are a problem because we look for people with a specific profile, and there are often more applications from men. Nevertheless, there are some very interesting female candidates, even if they don’t have the exact profile we’re looking for.

 

“Sometimes it seems like the problem is in part the fact that job adverts are written for someone specific.”

Alan Williams

Professor in the Faculty of Science, delegation member from 2009–2015. Appointment procedures monitored: 41.

Alan Williams joined the delegation in 2009 after discussing it with his predecessor. He had already seen delegation members at work during appointment procedures for which he was a panel member. “I managed reasonably well. With hindsight, I think I could have done better in the first two procedures I worked on, but we were thrown in at the deep end. You need to have a good understanding of the faculties, how they differ, and their evaluation criteria. In Medicine it’s the number of operations, in Humanities it’s having published a book, etc. You need to know what’s important to each faculty.”

He thinks that being a man might help, or even be an advantage, on some appointment panels. “If you weigh 100 kilos, people listen to you a bit more sometimes. That aside, it’s mainly about diplomacy and how you deal with people. That’s why it’s important to have men and women on the delegation. Margareta Baddeley was very strict about having women make up 30% of shortlists, which is accepted now. A few years ago, I heard people claiming that if they put a woman on the shortlist they’d have to appoint her.”

Alan Williams has noticed that men automatically think of an academic career after writing their theses, even if it’s not always justifiable, whereas women find the prospect less attractive even if they are brilliant. “To have female experts on appointment panels, we generally have to get them to come from elsewhere, either France or Italy. For 15 years or so we’ve been noticing that women are increasingly successful there.”

In Science, female candidates have always been the exception. When Alan Williams was on appointment panels as a professor, they made up around 5% of applicants. He thinks that the situation has improved over the past ten years. Maybe with the new generation, the academic community has become more open and the mindset is changing.

He thinks that it is still very difficult to be a mother and have a high-level academic career, particularly in clinical medicine. It is important for women to mention their family responsibilities so that they can be taken into account when their applications are being analysed.

Alan Williams remembers having to insist that a candidate be heard. “Afterwards, everyone said that they didn’t think she was right for the post but they were glad they’d listened to her. So it doesn’t hurt to be a bit pushy. In another procedure, which I didn’t follow personally, a woman was eliminated for requesting a particular condition, while a man who had requested the same condition wasn’t eliminated. The delegation member pointed out the inconsistency and another woman was appointed. There are also times when a delegation seems to have already decided to appoint Mr X. There’s not much you can do in those situations.”

Dominique Belin

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, delegation member since 2012. Appointment procedures monitored: 15.

Dominique Belin replaced a male colleague on the delegation. He had chaired appointment panels and found the work interesting. “I hadn’t been involved in the issue of equality before I joined the delegation. As far as I’m concerned, equality is normal. There is no problem. It’s a fact. I’ve got several relatives who were professors, including an aunt. Most of my family got a PhD at least. My vision of equality is not limited to questions of gender. It is transversal. I judge people on their applications and the image they project.”

He feels that the role that the delegation can play on panels depends on its members and chair – some are more skilful than others.

There are differences between faculties but also between departments, and people speak to each other outside of panels. If there is a problem, the delegation member can go and see the panel’s chair to warn them, then the member gets in touch with the Vice Rector chairing the delegation.

According to Dominique Belin, when two people have equal CVs, there may still be prejudices. For example, there are likely to be negative prejudices about attractive women. Character is also evaluated differently. And then there can be more difficult appointment procedures – in those situations, the chair of the panel needs to be very transparent and consolidate decisions. “Sometimes it’s still positive to hear a female researcher even if she doesn’t have much chance of being selected.”

He remembers one procedure where there were two women and one man on the shortlist. “The man was already an assistant professor at Yale, so he made more of an impact. But the Dean thought that we couldn’t just hire the man when, for the first time ever, there was a majority of women on the shortlist, so he came up with a budget to hire a woman as well, by invitation.”

Things don’t always work out though. “A man and a woman were almost neck and neck, but the man was put at the top of the list even though there were several female professors on the panel. The man was certainly very good, and slightly further on in his career, so it was not possible to use the rule of preference.”

But there are successes too: “I fought for a remarkable woman to be put in second position in a procedure. The man in first position didn’t come and the woman got the job. The department wanted the man in first position to be the only person put forward.”

 

“Sometimes it’s still positive to hear a female researcher even if she doesn’t have much chance of being selected.”

Margareta Baddeley

Professor in the Faculty of Law, Vice Rector and chair of the delegation from 2011 to 2015.

Margareta Baddeley underlines the dedication of the Equality Office and the support of the rectorate. “Without that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I always felt that I had the full support of the rectorate, the Equality Office, the other delegation members, the chairs of the appointment panels and the deans. This joint effort makes for an excellent working environment.”

Before being Vice Rector, she sat on, and even chaired, numerous appointment panels. She feels that the members of the delegation sometimes didn’t get involved enough. As chair, she would always ask them their opinion on the procedure and on whether the panel was complying with rules on equality.

Over her four years as chair, the appointment panels were made more aware of the University’s policy on equality and the role of delegation members was clarified. She also looked at all aspects requiring monitoring, particularly how the rules are interpreted and applied and how decisions are justified. A document was drawn up to explain the role of the delegation in appointment procedures, so that the delegation would be seen as a help.

At the same time, the delegation began to pay more attention to whether other rules were being followed, and not just those specific to equality. “I was able to maintain a good relationship with those chairing panels by discussing applications from men and from women. I didn’t necessarily interpret the applications in the same way as they did. But at least nobody ever had to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. It requires a lot of negotiating and communicating. Now, the panels pay particular attention to women’s applications and to ensuring the rules are followed. And they recognise that it is useful to have a new way of looking at applications.”

However, occasionally, “A panel’s chair doesn’t want to hear about the University’s targets and gender equality. They say they are the only judges and that they don’t have to justify their decisions. That attitude is unacceptable – it damages the University’s image and could lead to a complaint ending up in court. Nowadays, people in general and candidates for a post in particular want us to justify what we do and require us to follow the rules. The selection criteria are clearly indicated in the faculty regulations.”

Margareta Baddeley hopes that this successful work will continue and that members will stay motivated. “It’s not always easy to promote gender equality.” She is impressed by how committed and available her colleagues are, even though their task is difficult. There are lots of meetings, and if someone can’t go to an appointment panel meeting, someone else always steps in immediately to replace them. The Equality Office is also very involved, and the synergies are excellent.

“The rectorate has applied the rule of preference twice in the past four years. In both cases, the panels had a man in first position and a woman in second.”

Marie Besse

Professor in the Faculty of Science, delegation member since 2011. Appointment procedures monitored: 12.

For Marie Besse, what’s important is not just gender equality among professors but equality for all individuals, regardless of sex, gender, nationality, religion, age or professional status. She thinks that more work needs to be done at the community level to promote human equality within society and raise awareness, rather than it just being about helping women and other people to work in the academic world. Equality among individuals is a value that she wants to further within society as a whole and at the University in particular.

Marie Besse has also been involved in ‘Mentorat relève’* since 2006. This made perfect sense because she herself benefited from the programme during her PhD and it helped her to believe she could become a professor. “I was in Fribourg. There were 60 of us researchers, only women, and we didn’t know who was a professor and who wasn’t. It makes a difference to be with women because it makes you realise that the career is accessible. It was a valuable intellectual and human experience.”

She really likes the group dynamics within the delegation and finds that people are very committed. The team works well together and is a good mix. Meetings are a pleasure to attend, and it is easy to talk openly and honestly whilst at the same time ensuring confidentiality. The members support and trust each other and are committed to doing their work properly. “The Vice Rector is very clear, she has a sense of humour and we feel supported by her. I like the fact that there are men on the delegation too. I sometimes think that at first female members are considered as feminists, while our male colleagues are taken more seriously because they are not working for their own cause. For that reason, I think the mix is a good thing.”

She is very clear about what her job is and always explains it at the beginning of the first meeting of the panel: “My report is independent – I won’t necessarily agree with you, but when I don’t I’ll tell you clearly. And the report is confidential. The Dean can always ask the rectorate if they want to read it.”

She plays a particularly active role and thinks that her presence is important. “Obviously for this job everything depends on the individuals, on their personalities, on who chairs the panel, and so on.”

She says that it is important to get involved at all stages of the procedure, before the end, particularly if the rectorate needs to intervene.

On multiple occasions, she has highlighted certain aspects of an application to get a female candidate shortlisted, for example arguing in favour of her professionalism when the two men were more laid back. This was a quality the others hadn’t noticed. In certain cases, other arguments are put forward, like children or other specific things that slow people down. Female candidates have to be excellent for her to support them. And if there is a discussion within the panel, she will support the female candidate even before there is any discrimination.

Marie Besse remembers a recent success. “The person in the first position was a woman, chosen unanimously by all the members of the panel. But a man and a woman each had the same number of votes for the second position. I was able to use the rule of preference, so two women were placed.”

Gian Paolo Romano

Professor in the Faculty of Law, delegation member since 2012. Appointment procedures monitored: 17.

The Dean of the Faculty of Law asked Gian Paolo Romano – the department’s newest recruit – to join the delegation as a way of integrating into the wider University community. And this paid off. He became a full professor in 2015 and is planning to carry on as a delegation member for a few more years.

As he sees it, members are not necessarily experts in the field, but they must try to pick up on comments, the atmosphere and people’s feelings, and highlight the positive elements of women’s applications. Each member has their own way of doing this, and the chair also plays an important role. “If it is the Dean, it’s often easier because they’re closer to the rectorate’s vision and can be a valuable advocate of the delegation’s work. Panel members also know in advance that if they don’t follow the procedure it will take longer.”

At a panel’s first meeting, he introduces himself as the person who is there to help make sure the panel follows the rules, such as the rule of preference, which is often tricky to apply, or the rule that women must make up 30% of a shortlist. “I think it’s always worthwhile because the female candidates get to come to Geneva and meet people. It’s good for their careers to have been shortlisted, even if they don’t get the job.”

He is in total agreement with the Equality Office’s objectives. “The results aren’t perfect yet. That’s maybe because of contrasting – and often incompatible – interests: the autonomy of the faculties is under pressure because they have to excel at teaching and research and yet ensure equality at the same time.”

Gian Paolo Romano believes that it is important to have equality between men and women in positions of power. Society invests in women’s education and equips them with professional skills, so they should then be able to work in their field and get the position they deserve. “It’s a return on an investment. Sometimes women make do with a traditional role. But is a mother who is more physically present necessarily a better mother? I don’t think so, especially if children are cared for by professionals, who are often better than the average parents. Women’s work is undeniably important for achieving progress.”

He thinks that the issue of gender bias should always be considered and that we should also be calling ourselves out on these matters. After a female student pointed it out, he realised that most of the examples he used in class were of men. Since then, he tries to be as balanced as possible.

Silvia Naef

Professor in the Faculty of Humanities, delegation member since 2013. Appointment procedures monitored: 7

The equality delegate offered Silvia Naef the job and she accepted straight away. She is able to manage her time because she was relieved of some of her teaching hours and was able to hire an assistant lecturer. She was particularly inspired by the way one delegation member worked with a panel, clearly explaining her role. “Sometimes panel members don’t know what we do, and it’s important to explain our role to them. All too often, we arrive at a panel meeting without being introduced.”

She often experiences resistance against the 30% rule. Some reactions are particularly unpleasant or contemptuous. “But on panels where only 10% of the applications are from women, it is harder to require that 30% of candidates are women by that stage in the procedure. And men are more likely to apply even if they don’t fulfil all of the criteria.”

Women don’t occupy the position they ought to at the University. In some faculties, there are fields where there are a lot of women up to the PhD level, but then they vanish – the College of the Professors has been just men for a long time now. There are more female associate professors but they only have an advisory vote for appointments, for example.

She feels that the differences between “girls” and “boys” are being made worse by education and business. People listen to men more because they still consider what they say to be more important. We need to work on the foundations, on the basics, to change that. It’s very different in Canada. Certain things are already well established. There are more conflicts here, and women struggle to assert themselves.

It’s still a bit of a boys’ club with men setting the rules. “The way men socialise, particularly with alcohol in the evening, creates networks that women aren’t part of. The messages are very different – a woman who goes out and has a drink is seen very differently. And the way of socialising can be used to judge women, which puts them off networking in certain ways.”

 

“The panel members have realised that it is a serious problem and that it is their problem. That puts pressure on them to look for female candidates more actively.”