Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Managers should be measured on their efforts to ensure gender equality

Diversity is a management responsibility, and gender equality should be a parameter that is just as visible and measurable as budgeting, according to Siri Beier Jensen, who is the faculty's diversity and gender equality representative.

2021.12.16 | Lise Wendel Eriksen

Siri Beier Jensen believes top management carries an extra responsibility to ensure equality and diversity at the university.

Managers at Aarhus University should be able to document – and be measured according to – their efforts to create gender equality and an inclusive workplace culture. This is the view of Siri Beier Jensen, who is the faculty's representative in Aarhus University's Committee for Diversity and Equality. Siri Beier Jensen did not become the faculty's management representative out of interest or any burning desire. Rather she ended up here after a word in her ear from the former dean Lars Bo Nielsen.

"He probably thought that as I was the only female department head, the post was just right for me," says the most senior manager at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, Siri Beier Jensen, with a twinkle in her eye.

"It’s not an area that’s really had my interest before, but it has now! I’ve become very aware of structural and cultural barriers that I had previously underestimated. The work we’re doing with diversity and equality on the committee has been a real eye-opener for me."

Looking at the management

In 2019, Rector Brian Bech Nielsen appointed a Committee for Diversity and Equality for Aarhus University as a whole with the aim of creating the formal framework for an inclusive university environment. One of the specific initiatives to emerge from the committee's work is the university's action plan for gender equality – also known as 'The AU Gender Equality Plan'.

"It’s been very important for the rector and for us as committee members to underline the 'action' aspect. It mustn’t end up as another document you never look at and some empty words. We have an issue with gender equality at Aarhus University and we must address it," says Siri Beier Jensen.

However, she is also very aware that an action plan cannot create change on its own, but emphasises that there is a need for a clear framework and clear expectations regarding workplace culture. And it has to come from the management.

"Things first change when all managers take the task of ensuring equality on board. Employees reflect signals from immediate supervisors and line managers and this is the case regardless of whether we’re talking about formal managers or not – from the rector, deans and department heads to directors of studies, degree programme directors, professors and research directors," she says and continues:

"If you as a manager can’t immediately change the frameworks and structures, you still have the task of creating a trusting and safe space where employees can say when they experience that something is wrong and if they experience a lack of fairness. Then it’s the manager's responsibility to bring the issues further in the system so we can make hidden issues visible and take targeted action.”

And Siri Beier Jensen believes that those at senior management level have a special and verifiable responsibility:

"If you ask me, managers should be assessed and weighed on their efforts to ensure equality and diversity in the same way as they’re assessed on their ability to manage finances. Gender equality and the work for an inclusive workplace culture must be a visible and measurable parameter. Otherwise progress will be too slow."

I am nowhere near my goal

Siri Beier Jensen fully acknowledges that it is a difficult managerial exercise, and she warns against being too stringent here.

"We have blind spots and can easily and unconsciously end up giving preferential treatment. Of course we need to change this, but it takes time. I’m a manager myself and I am nowhere near my goal of creating gender equality and an diverse and inclusive workplace culture, but I’m paying particular attention to this and we’ve placed focus on highlighting and removing some of the barriers, so in this way we’re moving forward."

She takes the example of gender equality becoming a permanent item in the staff development dialogues, that there is a focus on career development, that meetings should as far as possible not be planned for times of the day when it is impossible for parents with young children – regardless of gender – to take part, and how people can make an effort with language:

"At the department here we’ve discussed whether the wording used in scientific open-call job advertisements can also be transferred to the administrative positions. If we write 'secretary' in a job advertisement, we traditionally attract more female applicants. We could just as easily write ‘administrative officer’ for example and perhaps the wording alone can open up for a more diverse field of applicants."

We risk falling behind

The university's Committee for Diversity and Equality has initially had particular focus on gender equality in the academic positions, because it is here that the challenges are greatest and the discrimination is most evident. According to statistics, 53 per cent of PhD students at Aarhus University are women, while the same is true of only 24 per cent of professors. At Health, just over 62 per cent of PhD positions are held by women, but only 25 per cent of professorships.*

"Sometimes it’s surprising how much emotion is involved in a fact- and research-based world such as ours when the debate turns to gender equality. The numbers speak for themselves. As such, they’re not difficult to understand, but they have proved more difficult to do something about," she says.

However, according to the faculty's gender equality representative, diversity and gender equality are not just a question of putting more women in the professor offices, but about creating space and equal opportunities for all.

She talks about how it can in many environments be difficult for men to take paternity leave or a day off when they have a child that is ill. And that the homogeneity of the staff may determine whether talented employees with a different ethnic background than Danish, other international origins or different religious beliefs, thrive in the current workplace culture.

In her view, at the end of the day it will negatively impact the university's ability to attract qualified candidates, if Aarhus University does not succeed in creating better conditions for diversity and gender equality:

"For the younger generations, an inclusive workplace culture with equal opportunities to develop in, is a must when applying for employment, and more and more foundations make it a requirement that you can document a gender equality plan when applying for funding. If we don’t take action on gender equality and diversity and act in a targeted manner so that all talented employees are brought into play, then we as a university risk falling behind. That’s something we can’t afford to do and neither do we want a poor reputation. We are an attractive workplace that carries out important social tasks – education and research," says Siri Beier Jensen.

Facts about AU’s Committee for Diversity and Equality

  • · The committee works to promote gender equality and diversity at Aarhus University, and the goal is to create marked progress.

  • · The committee has, among other things, drawn up an action plan for gender equality 2020-2022: AU Gender Equality Plan (GEP).

  • · The primary focus of the action plan is gender equality in the context of academic positions, because the challenges are particularly evident here.

  • · The committee comprises a management- and employee representative from each faculty and from the administration. Rector Brian Bech Nielsen is chair and Pro-rector Berit Eika is vice-chair.

  • · For Health, Department Head Siri Beier Jensen is the management representative, while Professor Ebbe Bødtkjer is the employee representative.

  • · The committee was established in 2019 and meets four times a year.

You can also read the portraits in the 'Woman and elite researcher' series:

* The figures are taken from Health HR PowerBII and are from 2021.


Department Head Siri Beier Jensen
Aarhus University, Department of Dentistry and Oral Health
Mobile: (+45) 9350 8525
Email: Siri@dent.au.dk

Policy and strategy, Administration (Academic), Academic staff, Health, Health, Technical / administrative staff