Thinking of gender equality actions in academia? Take inspiration from the PLOTINA Library of Actions

By Dr Charikleia Tzanakou, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Diversity Policy, Research and Practice, Oxford Brookes University

For most of the past decade, I have focused my academic research on understanding how organisations (especially higher education institutions) develop and implement gender equality actions and how these can transform organisations through structural and cultural change. What has fascinated me in this pursuit is how these organisational activities interact with individuals’ perceptions and decisions about their careers and their personal life.

In the past four years, I have been grateful for my involvement as one of the main social scientists of the Horizon 2020 PLOTINA Project (Promoting gender balance and inclusion in research, innovation and training), co-leading a Work-package on scientific careers and culture change. This would not have been possible without the support, friendship and mentorship of Professor Alison Rodger, who was the Principal Investigator for the Warwick PLOTINA team.

What is the aim of PLOTINA?

PLOTINA was aimed at facilitating the development, implementation and assessment of self-tailored Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) which would contribute towards structural and cultural change in the long term for the Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) involved in the project. PLOTINA's goal was to contribute towards increasing the representation of women in decision making bodies and senior academic careers and integrating the gender dimension into the design, evaluation and implementation of research. A key challenge for PLOTINA was to improve systems and tools for measuring and evaluating activities within gender action plans so it can be determined whether gender actions and programmes are worth the financial cost and the time and effort invested (for a quick overview of PLOTINA workpackages see Figure 1 below). 

Figure 1 PLOTINA overview of work packages

The PLOTINA Consortium is comprised of Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) and professional associations with expertise on equality/diversity, monitoring/evaluation and communication. A diverse range of RPOs including big universities, small research institutes, private and co-operative universities enabled us to understand whether and how the wider ‘context’ of an RPO impacts on actions and  institutional performance in term of gender equality. Contextual understanding is key to share and exchange practices and experiences across different national and institutional settings. 

PLOTINA Library

One of the main deliverables of PLOTINA was the creation of an online library of (gender equality) actions which can be used by organisations in different stages of developing a gender equality plan.  

Organisations and individuals need to think of the library as a set of books, a set of actions, where readers hopefully get inspired and can get ideas. They can select different books from the library according to their needs organised around five key areas:-

1) Governance bodies, key actors and decision making bodies 
2) Recruitment, career progression and retention 
3) Work and personal life integration 
4) Researchers and research: gender equality and sex/gender perspective
5) Integration of sex and gender in teaching curricula

So, you can read about different type of actions (for example developing a Conference Care Fund that provides funding to academics to pay for fulfilling caring responsibilities such as nursery fees so that they can travel to conferences/training etc.) Each book (action) also provides practical information, tips and reflective comments to help RPOs avoid the mistakes we made.  

A wide range of actions is included in the library (some examples are shown below), from creating structures within an institution to developing awareness raising initiatives regarding promotion, women’s contribution (PLOTINA Game) and paternal leave, from enhancing visibility of a gender dimension through establishing a PLOTINA dissertation prize to developing online modules and material showing sex and gender integration in various disciplines such as the PLOTINA online module.

We envisage that this resource will be useful to equality and diversity practitioners, senior managers and decision makers in RPOs, academic researchers and administrators who are interested in developing, implementing and evaluating gender equality plans whether it is in the context of Athena SWAN or other accreditation or simply to improve working environments.

Speed up gender equality through collaboration

We hope that the PLOTINA project outcomes will contribute towards advancing gender equality in RPOs within and beyond the PLOTINA Consortium. At a time where universities increasingly promote individualism and competition, the library represents a personal belief that institutions should collaborate rather than compete, especially if we want to transform structures and cultures not only within our organisations but in the wider sector and society. Institutions need to be open and share experiences, good practices, and failures as we did in the PLOTINA consortium and which led to our Library of Actions.

Institutions also need to invest in building a critical body of knowledge about gender equality actions and plans: how do they work? (if they work), what are their outcomes?, are there any unintended consequences? They need to learn from each other to avoid repeating mistakes and rather reflect together and build on the experiences of different institutions. Gender equality should not be a competition but a collaboration across the sector. If we are to think sustainably about gender equality in organisations, we need to consider gender equality plans and efforts as an opportunity – an opportunity to develop collective solidarities, to create spaces to think collectively and strategically about interventions that have the potential to transform our organisations and beyond. Hence, using our institutional and collective experience in the PLOTINA Consortium we have made our Library of Actions, available for everyone to have a look.

Dr Charikleia Tzanakou is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Diversity Policy, Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University. She was a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick where she co-led the PLOTINA Workpackage 3 (WP3) on Careers and Culture Change. She is interested in gender equality and diversity in organisations, academic careers, graduate transitions and highly skilled mobility.

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