A gendered university

In many studies on gender equality that have been conducted, Finland has done very well. From the outside, one might think the country has succeeded in giving everyone the opportunity to go to university, regardless of gender. But a closer look beyond the idealisations at the structures of higher education institutions reveals that things are actually not so equal.

All that’s needed to shatter the illusion of equality, however, is a little scrutiny of how universities are led. According to a study commissioned by the think tank Akava Works, 69% of university rectors in Finland are men. For vice-rectors the situation is slightly more even, with “only” 65% of them being men. And there are some universities in Finland that have never had a female rector.

To me at least, this is puzzling, especially considering that statistics that show there are more female than male university students. University leaders are nonetheless more often seen as being male than female, not to mention non-binary. This creates and reinforces both conscious and unconscious perceptions of how gender affects job titles. So are universities still the perpetuators of gender stereotypes, unwilling to allow glass ceilings to be broken?

I believe that every university should be more courageous in shaking up and questioning their own culture. Diversity within universities must also be visible to the outside world. If university leadership remains confined to the tradition model, without other genders being neither seen nor heard, nothing will change. Universities should strive to be representative of society at large. Achieving equality requires sustained effort, and results that are plain for all to see, and this also applies to the gender balance.

Why do we need to discuss this more? The media has taken little interest in the gendered nature of university leadership. Without more debate on the issue, gender inequality in the workplace will not be challenged, and we will be stuck with the status quo. The heavily gendered nature of certain posts affects how we perceive the world around us. It must also be said that we should no longer be having this kind of debate in the 2020s.

Katariina Henttonen
Vice President, language policy and parliamentary elections

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