I had the joy and privilege to participate in the 10th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education (link), 20 – 22 August 2018 in Dublin Ireland with the kind support of the Finnish Cultural Foundation (Suomen Kulttuurirahasto). The University of Helsinki hosted the very first European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education in 1998. The next one will take place in Madrid in two years.
This conference was useful and pleasant for the same reasons that all the conferences are useful and pleasant: I learn useful information about the subject, I meet and network with great people – and I get extra confidence that I am doing the right thing for my work. Or, in the case of gender equality, I am doing the right thing for my side activity. After all, my main activity is to run a laboratory and study radiation detectors for particle physics.
Throughout the conference, several outstanding speakers emphasized that gender equality is equality for both men and women. It is widely acknowledged that diverse communities make better decisions. The significant underrepresentation of women in higher education institutes is not only injustice towards competent individuals but also a terrible loss of human potential. European countries just cannot afford to lose so many women in higher education.
Students are important for us in the Academic World. Several recent studies reveal that girls perform excellently in all the disciplines at school, including mathematics and physics. Nevertheless, at the Faculty of Science of the University of Helsinki, we see that young women are less interested than young men to enter the STEM disciplines. At that stage, role models play an important role: we women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics can show that this is the right place to be for everyone.
The importance of informal women’s networks (such as our Women in Kumpula network) were emphasized. These networks are not only for discussing gender issues and improving gender awareness but also for discussing scientific topics, providing role models and mentoring, and exchanging ideas. Networks can act as structures that are needed to fight the consequences of unconscious bias – a significant obstacle for female careers in science.
I gave a well-attended presentation about sexual harassment in Finnish Academia, based on the recent study by the Helsinki Association of Women Researchers (HelWoR). We investigated the frequency of occurrences of sexual harassment; the difficulty of defining what sexual harassment is; how seldom people report their experiences; and the negative responses people get when they report. Our study also revealed critical areas, which should be considered to prevent sexual harassment in future.
One confusing thing there was in this conference: European colleagues kept asking me why gender equality does not interest Finland. They were surprised that, among the 364 conference participants in this conference, only me and a lady from Tampere were from Finland. In addition, it was HelWoR who sent me, not my university. Nevertheless, let us be positive: let us hope that gender strategies will turn into good gender practices in Finnish Academia!