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.

The aim of this document is to:

■ Explain the delegation’s role, which is not always properly understood and which has evolved over time. The best way to do this is to give the people who are involved in this fascinating work – and who have developed a cross-disciplinary view of how our University works – the opportunity to tell us all about it (pp. 17-63).

■ Highlight the need for targeted action to promote women’s careers. There is certainly increasing awareness of this issue, and notable progress has been made: the number of female assistant professors and female associate professors has increased over the past 20 years, and they now account for 35% of all assistant and associate professors. However, despite ongoing efforts, men still represent a significant proportion of full professors (83%), while the majority of students (62%) and PhD students (53%) are women.

■ Serve as a guide for anyone interested in learning more about the laws, regulations, directives and other tools relating to the principles of equality required by our University and stipulated in the Swiss and cantonal constitutions. To not comply with these principles is, to put it simply, illegal (pp. 75–82).

■ Be used as a reminder for the chairs and other members of the University’s appointment panels of how to detect prejudice, stereotypes and other gender biases, which still all too often prevent candidates from being considered objectively.

■ And finally, inspire other higher education institutions in Switzerland and abroad wanting to set up a similar delegation, as our model is still unique and acclaimed.

“Equality is imposed through power struggles and other channels and as a result of conflict, etc. But one thing is for sure: it is indeed imposed.” Geneviève Fraisse

When looking at the issue of women in traditionally male-dominated entities, it all starts with people who, you could say, are outraged by the situation, who at some point in their careers decide that enough is enough and that it is time to act.


Martine Chaponnière, doctor of educational sciences, is one of those people. She is an independent researcher and author. She came to the café Le Dorian with a big brown envelope, and an even bigger smile, enthusiastic about discussing the history of equal opportunities at the University. Her accomplice back in the eighties was Patricia Schulz, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, who was director of the Federal Office for Gender Equality for many years. They were both members of the non-professorial academic staff. Chaponnière was a research and teaching assistant in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, and Schulz was a research and teaching assistant in the Faculty of Law. “It all started with the non-professorial academic staff and a few activists, with the support of members of the teaching, administrative and technical staff, and the world of politics. As for the Rector, he ended up supporting the cause too. It was a big job: informing, cooperating and negotiating. But it’s still at least somewhat thanks to us that the University Act was changed and that the delegation, the Equality Office and Gender Studies exist. We really fought for the equality delegate to be an administrative function with a unit that merited the name.”

Creating the delegation

The years went by, and rectorates, delegation chairs, ordinary members of the delegation and equality delegates came and went, each bringing their own innovations, directives and other tools to further the cause. And the result is the current structure: a delegation of five experienced professors, the director of the Equality Office, the project manager and the chair – a member of the rectorate. The Equality Office is in charge of ensuring proper management of the delegation and for reporting. And there is some good news: as of 2016, the delegation will be permanent. The delegation’s expenses, which were previously covered by federal funds (the Swiss University Conference’s federal equal opportunities programme) will be included in the University’s budget as requested in the @UNIGE 2013–2016 action plan.

So how does a delegation like this work with the faculties? The delegation did, of course, have to prove its worth and show that it was credible and could offer tangible benefits. It also had to get the faculties used to including it in their busy, complex plans. Clearly all this takes time and requires persistence. Juliette Labarthe, in charge of this project within the Equality Office, explains: “I started with the Vice Rector Peter Suter. It was a busy period with lots of great discussions, lots of ideas and position statements. This was when the delegation was being set up. Now, the Equality Office is closer to the rectorate and certain problems can be dealt with directly, then discussed during delegation meetings.”

Cross-disciplinary work

With time, the delegation’s cross-disciplinary, inter-faculty approach has made it possible to create links with different sectors of the University, from HR to statistics, the deans’ offices, the faculties’ administrative departments and legal services. This ensures that people have the necessary information. It is important that delegation members are involved far enough in advance, i.e. from the beginning of the process, that they receive the right documents, and that the delegation is informed of the outcome of appointment procedures. All these measures need to be put in place, checked and checked again when new staff arrive. Juliette Labarthe is at the centre of this process: “I organise meetings and take minutes, but I also regularly interact with the faculties and communicate with the teaching staff, and monitor statistics to ensure that women do indeed make up 30% of shortlists. I also receive the delegation’s reports for the rectorate (which are confidential, but which deans can look at) and bring problems to the chair’s attention so that action can be taken before it’s too late. We now work more closely with the rectorate, which gets involved more often.”

“Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day's insolence.” Elias Canetti

“I don't understand why people aren't a little more generous with each other.” Marilyn Monroe

Wide range

So who are these mysterious delegation members? Male and female professors put forward by their faculty, the delegation or the rectorate and relieved of some of their usual tasks so they can do the job. To avoid any risk of collusion and any awkwardness, delegation members never intervene in their own faculty. However, to make sure that discussions can be followed closely, when deciding who will monitor which appointment procedure, the representative from the Faculty of Medicine will, for instance, be sent to the Faculty of Science and vice versa. Recently, a representative from the Faculty of Science asked if he could end his term by monitoring an appointment procedure in the Faculty of Humanities in order to broaden his horizons. And even better: a woman was appointed. A representative from Social Sciences had to step in for a colleague at the last minute and found herself with an appointment panel for Mathematics. She said that it was like another world.

What drives them?

So why would someone who is already really busy want to read masses of documents, and sometimes even whole papers, go to never-ending meetings and listen to applicants who don’t even share the same area of expertise, as well as attending all of the delegation’s meetings – one every six weeks – and spending two hours talking shop?

The answer is a special blend of mutual respect, a sense of justice and duty, the importance of the task and therefore the usefulness of their actions. There is certainly also an element of curiosity about other people, the intellectual pleasure of discussing topics that are sometimes complex, and working on one topic – equality – from different points of view, listening to people with interest and getting to know the human aspect behind the professional excellence. To sum up, it is a learned assembly of people who try, meeting after meeting, to find solutions that are useful to the University. Generally speaking, everybody who is asked rises to the challenge, and at meetings people are serious, enthusiastic and committed; those present want to share their experiences. Sometimes people get frustrated, but more often than not the atmosphere is light.

If any more proof of their sincere commitment is needed, we can tell you that they replied immediately to our requests for interviews, were happy to tell us about the delegation and do rereads, and graciously conducted the photo shoot for this brochure.

Behind the scenes

To begin with, the delegation’s meetings were held in a big, bland room. But as the number of meetings added up and people got to know each other, it seemed natural for the delegation to meet in the Vice Rector’s cosy office. There are certain things that happen at every meeting – the chair tells the members about recent decisions taken by the rectorate that might affect their work and presents the quarterly gender statistics, which are then examined and discussed. Then, each appointment is reviewed using a table that is constantly updated and that shows all the procedures underway and those just finished. The delegation member responsible for that appointment procedure provides details, and the group discusses it if need be. Solutions are put forward, ideas tossed about and previous cases recalled. It’s as though the whole University is put through a scanner made up of everybody’s complementary knowledge. If at any point it appears that all the conditions for ensuring equality are not met, the delegation member informs the chair of the appointment panel and, if necessary, the rectorate, which will take any appropriate measures within its purview.

“Water, air, mountains, trees have been given to us to understand the soul of humans, so deeply hidden.” Marina Tsvetaeva

It is a matter of having a plan of action, pinpointing recurring difficulties and intervening at dean or rector level. There are broader discussions on equality, and the specifics of each faculty are considered in order to ensure more targeted action and to suggest changes or improvements.

In fact, discussions cover management, science, politics, gender, society and cultural norms – it’s a real think tank.

A changing role

This is also an opportunity to mention the roles of the delegation members, their rights and their duties. Their involvement in various areas gives them an overview of all sorts of problems, not just those relating to equality. For instance, the delegation published incentive measures (p. 15) in 2005 to help ensure greater transparency and fairness in appointment procedures.

As time has gone by, delegation members no longer want to merely point out with hindsight what didn’t work. Instead, they want to help the appointment panel to work in the best possible way in order to prevent gender bias and comply with laws and procedures. For example, they recommend not excluding candidates without first inviting them for a trial class to test their skills. Ultimately, the aim is to avoid appeals and complaints from the underrepresented sex, which regardless of the outcome are not good for the University.

A commitment that is paying off

Over time, through the exchanges that have taken place, a constructive dialogue has been built up with the faculties. This helps to ensure that:

— female researchers have smoother careers;

— progressive men are given a voice;

— both members of a couple can progress at the same rate in their career;

— gender stereotypes that prevent career advancement are recognised as threats that damage all of us and prevent the University from functioning properly.


Heading into the future

The delegation’s work should make it possible to leave behind the regrettable period when – to quote Albert Einstein – it was ‘harder to crack a prejudice than an atom’ and to find what Jean-Claude Guillebaud described as ‘real joy, that which we lost, of dawn, of spring, of lilacs, of plans. It is characterised by an impatience for tomorrow, by dreams of creating, by curiosity or real anger, anger that draws you in’ (Goût de l’avenir (Heading into the Future)).

We’re heading into an academic future in which truly diverse teams will lead the way, driven by their desire to produce quality research and work side by side.

Brigitte Mantilleri

Head of the Equality Office

We would like to pay a special tribute to Susan Armstrong, a professor in the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting and a dedicated delegation member from 2001 to 2011, who passed away in 2015. She monitored a total of 73 appointment procedures.


Brigitte Mantilleri and Juliette Labarthe, Project Manager