AU’s rector: Gender quotas may become necessary

Rector Brian Bech Nielsen speaks about quotas at AU with about the same enthusiasm as fishermen discussing North Sea cod quotas. In other words, he finds the idea so unpalatable that he almost can’t bring himself to pronounce the word. Nonetheless he affirms that he’s ready to apply this controversial tool to the problem if there’s not a marked change for the better in gender balance at the university within the foreseeable future.

Rector Brian Bech Nielsen. Photo: Lars Kruse.

THEME: Gender equality at AU

Progress on gender equality at AU is moving too slowly. Rector Brian Bech Nielsen doesn’t mince words.

And so at a recent meeting of the senior management team, he proposed the establishment of a diversity committee at AU, headed by himself and the pro-rector.

The committee’s task will be to draft what the rector calls “an effective action plan” for equality at Aarhus University. And the action plan will be included in AU’s new strategy, which will be adopted this year and will come into force in 2020.

“We will have to start using some more forceful measures than we did in the last action plan (from 2016, ed.) to have an effect,” the rector says.

He is particularly attentive to the gender balance in academic positions, which is currently far too unequal.

Precisely what new measures the action plan will contain is up to the committee to decide. But one thing is certain: if the medicine they decide to prescribe doesn’t have an effect within a relatively short timeframe, the rector is prepared to up the dosage.

“In that case we’ll discuss some of the measures that are controversial in a Danish context. And that’s whether we need to have some form of quota approach,” the rector says.

We can’t wait until 2060 

He stresses that he would really like to avoid things coming to that.

“But if it keeps on developing too slowly, it may be necessary for us to take that road,” he says.

How fast does progress towards gender balance need to go if we’re to avoid using quotas?

“I don’t have an answer to that. I merely note that if we continue at our current tempo, at least in Europe, we won’t have gender balance until 2060. And I don’t have the patience for that.”

Equality strengthens the university

Who will help the rector and the pro-rector find alternative solutions to quotas in the new diversity committee hasn’t yet been decided. But according to the rector, it will include representatives from all four faculties.

“And I also believe that I can promise that the gender balance will be equal,” the rector says, with something resembling humor.

The strong representative from the senior management team is intended to send a signal that equality is a high priority at Aarhus University.

“If we want to have a strong university, we have to recruit the very best employees. And because both genders are equally represented in the pool of talent, this means that we have to have something approaching a balance between the two. Otherwise, everything indicates that we aren’t getting the right talents in play.”

Time to put action behind the research

The diversity committee’s work will be informed by the results of five research projects that were initiated last year to study obstacles to gender equality at AU.

The senior management team granted 650,000 kroner to these projects, and the rector is open to finding more funding. But not necessarily for more research.

“It may be necessary to do more studies, but right now I’m primarily focused on putting some concrete action behind them,” he says.

Translation: Lenore Messick.

THEME: Gender equality at AU

  • In the spring of 2018, the senior management team granted 650,000 to five research projects aimed at studying gender bias and problems with gender equality at the university.
  • Omnibus has interviewed researchers from all five projects to find out what they’ve discovered – and what can be done to improve gender equality at AU.
  • ‘Sick’ work environment at AU scares off female researchers (02.04)
  • Almost half of AU’s employees don’t know about the university’s gender equality policy (03.04)
  • Train our managers in gender bias – and give girls female role models (03.04)