Events - 06.06.2018 - 00:00 

Conference Engendering Academia

What has to change in the academic environment for women to have career opportunities equal to those of men? This question was addressed on 4 and 5 June 2018 as part of a public conference entitled "Engendering Academia: Emotions, Strategies and Alternatives".

6 June 2018. Interest in the conference was so great that the organisers had to relocate the event to a bigger space. In her welcome address, Professor Ulrike Landfester expressed her delight at the high number of participants, saying she was excited to see what the findings of the conference were and noting that even the University of St.Gallen has ground to make up in terms of young academics in top positions.

The situation for women in academia

How is work and career progression characterised at universities in Europe and in Switzerland today? What are the emotional processes involved in today’s academic world and in what ways do they influence academic work? Which feminist strategies and alternatives can facilitate a more ethical, respectful and free scope for teaching, research and writing? These questions were discussed by experts from Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The conference programme included panel discussions, presentations, personal experience reports, round tables and a film screening.

The event kicked off with a discussion between Andrea Maihofer and Franz Schultheis. Andrea Maihofer is Director of the Gender Postgraduate Programme at the University of Basel and a member of the Marie Heim-Vögtlin Foundation of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), and thus has extensive experience in the advancement of young academics. Franz Schultheis is Professor of Sociology at the University of St.Gallen and, as former commission president of the Gender Equality Committee at the SNSF and supervisor of a large number of Ph.D. programmes and postdoctoral qualifications, he also brought extensive expertise in the topic. The discussion was moderated by Tina Sturm, who is currently carrying out an academic project at the University of St.Gallen, focusing on the situation of female students at assessment level.

Women have to do more

The first question put to the discussion's two participants was how they view the situation of women in Swiss academia. Over the last few years some things have improved, said Andrea Maihofer, explaining how valuable networks have developed along with important vessels to address the topic. Today there are several programmes that support women in academic careers, she said, but the discussion surrounding equal opportunities and entitlements needs to continue in earnest nevertheless. "There is still a great deal of scepticism with regard to women in academia. As in all professions, female academics have to do more than their male colleagues to carve out their careers", the Professor stressed.

Andrea Maihofer also touched on the growing workload at universities, saying jobs are monopolising people’s lives and thus making it more difficult for women to balance work and family. This also affects men, she explained, who as fathers want to be involved in family life. Nonetheless, many women have to think more carefully about their professional development, she continued, saying: "I’m continually struck by the fact that they no longer idealise motherhood as strongly as before, but nevertheless feel primary responsibility for bringing up children. Even if their partners are willing to take responsibility for childcare, they are still focused on the role of being a mother, and this way they shoot themselves in the foot."

Exclusion and self-exclusion

Experience in the Gender Equality Committee of the SNSF has revealed how women are affected not only by exclusion, but also self-exclusion, emphasised Franz Schultheis. An earlier investigation showed that they submit far fewer research projects than men, he continued. "In addition, young male academics appear more assertive, while women are generally more reserved." And it’s still the case that far more men than women profess a desire to assume a leading role, he explained. One participant met with enthusiastic approval when she noted that the question of equal career opportunities in academia shouldn’t be considered too narrowly. In order to achieve equality, she said, the topic has to be addressed in the context of society as a whole.

The conference also offered ample scope for addressing the living and working conditions of female academics. To this end, for example, Christa Binswanger from the University of St.Gallen gave a presentation about dealing with emotions that arise as part of an academic career. "Despite the fact that crippling emotional states such as shame, depression or anxiety are present in day-to-day academic life, they are met with little acceptance and are perceived as female issues", she explained. She went on to highlight ways of using alternative strategies and forms of coalition-building in academia.

Photo: Photocase / Femme Curieusse

Discover our special topics