09 January 2024

BKV doesn't stand still when it comes to equal opportunities – they're tripling their commitment! Emma Widarsson, Sandra Hellberg, and Francisca Lottersberger form the trio that will work to promote equal opportunities within the department. They aim to make the workplace menstruation friendly as part of their gender equality efforts.

Three women laughing on a sofa.
The trio of representatives from left: Sandra Hellberg, Emma Widarsson and Francisca Lottersberger. John Karlsson

Newly composed trio

Following a critical review by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet or UKÄ), Linköping University (LiU) has reassessed its efforts regarding equal opportunities and gender equality. The shortcomings identified by UKÄ led to changes at LiU. One of the most noticeable changes is that LiU chose to remove the requirement for departments to have equal opportunities representatives. Meanwhile, BKV has taken a different path by increasing the number of representatives to three. Emma Widarsson, Sandra Hellberg, and Francisca Lottersberger serve as BKV's equal opportunities representatives.

Visibility as the first step

The three representatives emphasize the importance of visibility as a first step to raise awareness of equal opportunities at BKV.

Women discuss during a meeting.Sandra Hellberg (to the right) discusses with Emma Widarsson. Photo credit John Karlsson "One of our most important tasks is to be visible," says Emma.

Sandra adds, "That's the first step. I did my PhD here and have been here for a long time, but I have never known about equal opportunities."

The equal opportunities representatives will visit BKV's divisions to increase awareness of their presence and the possibilities to contact them. Their role extends from being sounding boards for questions about equality and gender equality to being representatives in the local collaboration group (LSG) at BKV.

Listen to others and bring about change

They not only want to be visible but also want to listen to their colleagues and create a work environment where everyone feels included and respected.

"Equal opportunities don't only concern those who have been discriminated against but can also involve an employee with thoughts like 'should it really be like this? This feels a bit strange.' Direct discrimination rarely occurs, such as someone saying, 'women can't work here.' It doesn't often look like that," says Emma.

We can be a neutral point of contact

Sandra agrees: "I want people to be able to turn to us and ask. Direct discrimination seldom happens. It's more subtle. As a doctoral student, you're often in a dependent position on your supervisor, for example and raising possible issues might be hard. In those cases, it's good that we can be a neutral point of contact."

How do co-workers contact you?

“We have a new functional email where you can reach out. It is only read by us three. The email address is: equalopportunities@bkv.liu.se.”

Menstruation friendly workplace

One of the initiatives that the equal opportunity representatives at BKV have taken is to work towards making the workplace menstruation friendly.

“Many people experience menstruation and know how challenging it is if you forget to bring menstrual products to work. It's becoming more common for workplaces to offer free menstrual products to employees. Therefore, I started looking into making our workplace menstruation friendly,” says Emma.

Why shouldn't menstrual products in the bathroom be as obvious as toilet paper and soap, really?

The equal opportunity representatives also argue that menstruation is still a taboo subject that many find difficult to talk about. At the same time, it is something that affects half of the world's population and significantly impacts daily life.

Two women talk to each other sitting on a couch.Emma Widarsson and Francisca Lottersberger. Photo credit John Karlsson “Why shouldn't menstrual products in the bathroom be as obvious as toilet paper and soap, really?,” asks Emma.

Making the workplace menstruation friendly not only means providing free menstrual products but also ensuring that managers and co-workers have knowledge about menstruation-related issues. When Emma raised this with her managers, she received positive feedback.

“They thought it was a great idea and asked our group to further research it”.

The group is now exploring practical solutions to implement this on a large and diverse workplace like BKV. It will initially be a pilot of some sort on a smaller scale.

“It's an important gender equality issue, and it's something very tangible that also shows how we work towards gender equality,” says Sandra.

Moreover, access to menstrual products contributes to the global goals for sustainable development (Goal 3: good health and well-being and Goal 5: gender equality).

Gender equality challenges and inclusion

BKV is characterized by a multicultural atmosphere with various professional categories and backgrounds. Striving for equal opportunities in such a workplace involves considering many aspects.

It was an eye-opener for me to see how things are around the world

A woman talking in a conference room.Francisca Lottersberger sees room for improvement. Photo credit John Karlsson Francisca Lottersberger has international experience from various universities worldwide. She sees room for improvement at BKV. She emphasizes that the situation is not bad, but there is always room for improvement.

In Italy, where she spent time, the distribution between women and men in professorial positions was relatively balanced, leading her to believe it was the norm. However, gender equality issues were not discussed. On the other hand, when she was in the USA, men were overrepresented in professorial positions, but active efforts were made to address these issues.

"It was an eye-opener for me to see how things are around the world. I realized the importance of actively working on these issues and striving for a better and more equitable work environment."

Professors represent the employment category in Swedish higher education with the most uneven gender distribution. Statistics from the Swedish Higher Education Authority show that in 2022, 32 percent of professors were women, and 68 percent were men. Despite this imbalance, the proportion of women has steadily increased over time.

Equal opportunity representatives identify room for improvement in terms of gender distribution in professorial positions at LiU. They also see a significant need to include international staff to create a more participatory and diverse work environment.

"We believe improvements are possible, and the internal willingness for change is crucial. And the willingness is there! Without it, nothing happens," says Francisca.

Opportunities ahead

Three women having a meeting.The trio discusses how different perspectives can be captured at BKV. Photo credit John Karlsson The group adds that it is an advantage that they are three representatives with different work environments and professional backgrounds. This allows them to capture different perspectives at BKV to ensure a broad focus on equal opportunities.

"The only thing is that we are three women who are equal opportunity representatives. We would like to see a bit more diversity in the group. That is a question for the future," the representatives conclude.

Networking with equal opportunity representatives at other departments and sharing strategies to strengthen equal opportunity efforts on multiple fronts is also something they strive for.

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