In June 2017, UNIL launched its 2017- 2020 action plan for gender equality. A document that encompasses five priority targets, including the aim that 40% of professors should be female.
“Gender equality is an integral facet of the UNIL identity,” explains Déborah Philippe. “What we need to do here is promote careers for women in the broadest sense. Being aware that the obstacles they encounter are different to those encountered by men, we want to maximise their opportunities,” continues the Vice Rector for Careers and Society, speaking to us about the new 2017- 2020 action plan for gender equality. A plan that encompasses five priority targets.
What is the mindset that has shaped the development of this plan?
Déborah Philippe: We have tried to set realistic objectives, but we also want this plan to be ambitious, otherwise it would not be worth having one. The aim is to formalise the management’s aspirations regarding equality and also to be able to obtain grants from the Swiss Confederation. That is why everything is presented in a fairly standard structure.
How was it established?
The previous Rectorate worked with the Advisory Committee on Gender Equality chaired by Béatrice Desvergne and with the Office of Equal Opportunity. I was responsible for liaising with Franciska Krings, the former Vice-Rector. There was a handover over the summer. We then redrafted the objectives in a slightly different way and we changed some of them.
Of the five objectives in the action plan, which one is particularly close to your heart?
The flagship measure, which is the first objective in the charter and states that “At least 40% of professors appointed should be female”. The UNIL is in a strong position with 32.7%, which is slightly above the Swiss average. Achieving 40% could appear to be ambitious, but it is possible by making certain changes, particularly at the level of appointment procedures. This therefore links with the fifth point in the action plan, which emphasises the enhancement of competencies regarding equality. The idea? To educate everyone, particularly people in managerial roles, but also those who will be involved in appointment panels, such as panel chairpersons. The aim is to raise their awareness of gender equality issues. We are planning to create a MOOC. We would therefore rely heavily on the Office of Equal Opportunity, which is an expert in this area.
So are appointment panels not fulfilling their role properly?
Appointment panels generally work relatively well at UNIL, as we find there is an identical percentage between the number of female applicants and the number of women invited for interview and shortlisted. However, we have realised that the way the Equality Commission works, with its responsibility for monitoring these panels, could be improved. This Commission, made up of various professors from UNIL faculties, was responsible for confirming that there had been no gender-based discrimination. The previous management conducted an assessment. Ultimately, only 60% of appointment panels were monitored effectively and the role of the delegate was often simply to listen. We are going to try to improve that, particularly by rethinking the model and involving the Office of Equal Opportunity more. The credentials of Stefanie Brander and Carine Carvalho are well recognised within UNIL. They will be able to speak to members of the appointment panels and steer them towards a better way of working. We should be making a start with this model in the autumn.
In practical terms, how do you raise the awareness of people who are resistant to equality issues?
That’s not easy. The people already faithful to the cause will not need any specific training. For the people who really are resistant, it will be more difficult to win them over. And some other people are unaware of how biased their view is when looking at applications. Research conducted in various contexts has shown that women and ethnic minorities have tended to be discriminated against in selection procedures. One of the objectives involves pointing out this type of bias to recruiters. The Office of Equal Opportunity has made a video with the UNIL Communication Department which will be shown at the start of each appointment procedure; it is a story to make recruiters pause for thought.
How can we further encourage careers for women?
By offering grants, research subsidies, releases, etc. We could also extend the application deadline for women, try to contact them, in other words, be more proactive. We would also hope to expand upon this point for administrative and technical personnel. I don’t yet have any particular measures to propose but the idea is to promote all careers for women on campus.
Are you pursuing the 50/50 vision established in the previous action plan?
Yes. That includes directly involving faculties in these equality objectives. We want them to use their specialisms as a basis for reflecting on how to come up with initiatives to promote equal opportunities for men and women. The issues in Business and Economics will not be the same as those in Theology and Religious Studies, so it makes more sense for the ideas to come directly from the faculties. At the beginning of March 2017, we organised a workshop with Dean’s Office representatives, who presented us with their own action plan for the next four years. It was really interesting; a true sharing of experience that benefited everyone.
As a woman, have you experienced obstacles in your career?
When I was a doctoral student, I didn’t experience any obstacles and I didn’t have any family responsibilities. It was easy for me to focus on my thesis, so I completed it very quickly. Once I arrived at UNIL, the difficulty wasn’t necessarily associated with the fact that I was a woman, but rather with issues concerning my “dual career”, which I find quite complicated to manage, and also the fact that I was a mother. It was a little complicated, but I received great support from UNIL during the tenure process. Now I am Vice-Rector, mother of two young children and the juggling between my private and professional life is not apparent. However I do benefit from a lot of goodwill and the support of my colleagues.