Managing Equal Opportunities in Swiss Universities

Item Type Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

With the publication of the proceedings/the conference “Gender and excellence in the making” (European Commission, 2004), the relationship(s) between these two crucial concepts had entered European Union’s political agenda. The proceedings mark out the relevance of Wennerås and Wold’s (1997) findings of male bias in peer review. Although subsequent research had not always been able to replicate these finding as straightforward as suggested (Sandström 2004…), it nevertheless implemented a serious doubt to the until then untroubled assumption of academia as a gender neutral endeavour. However, if serious doubt is raised that selection processes within academia are not gender neutral, then the meritocratic principles that Merton (1942) had claimed in support for the ‘autonomy of the scientific community and democratic self-government within the scientific community’ (p. 12), are merely a myth, although a powerful one.
Re-reading European Commission’s report today, twelve years after publication, we were left puzzled at how it had already covered most of the insights that we are still discussing today. Men and women might have a potentially different output in publications, there are Mathew and Matilda-Effects, ‘male bonus’ is granted and homosocial reproduction taking place, the ideal researcher is defined by full-time devotion while women are said to lack social capital. As women are excluded, they do not contribute as much as men do to setting the research agendas. Furthermore, women’s exclusion from networks is highlighted as troubling for women academics, while the subtle sexism their male colleagues are engaging in remains silenced (p. 20). Rethinking the definitions of scientific excellence, the assessment criteria and specific choice of indicators and how criteria are applied to men and women is recommended. This reads very much timely to us still today. And indeed, changing gender bias and developing equal opportunities for women and men in higher education has been on the agenda since.
However, change is often depicted as too slow and also paradoxical and torn between conflicting logics (Kreissl, Striedinger, Sauer & Hofbauer, 2015). Does that mean that nothing has changed over the last twelve years? Why didn’t this conference result in a major re-thinking of how academia organizes careers, merit and quality? This question is our point of departure for this paper. With our study on discourses of scientific excellence and gender equality in Swiss and German higher education, we explored in-depth how discourses of equal opportunitites and scientific excellence are at work when narrating issues of excellence and gender equality in Swiss academia. Investigating how these discourses are drawn upon and how they are combined in three major “meetings”, our analysis points out distinctive consequences and critical issues that are up for future interrogations.
This short paper is organized as follows: We first introduce our discourse analytical methodological framework as well as our research design and sample. Analysing 12 interviews with gender equality experts and/or representatives from higher education decision making bodies in Switzerland, we then carve out the three distinctive ‘meetings’ of excellence and gender that we found in this talk. Finally, we discuss the results and their consequences.

Authors Nentwich, Julia C.; Heydenreich, Anna-Katrin; Borra, Carolina & Offenberger-Kazich, Ursula
Research Team Alexandria Link Publikationen
Projects Offenberger, Dr. Ursula; Nentwich, Prof. Dr. Julia C. & Borra, Carolina (2014) Exzellenz und/oder Chancengleichheit der Geschlechter: Nationale Programmatiken und diskursive Praktiken an Universitäten (Deutschland und Schweiz) [fundamental research project] Official URL
Language English
Subjects social sciences
HSG Classification contribution to scientific community
Date 29 June 2016
Event Title 9th Biennial International Interdisciplinary Conference Gender, Work and Organization
Event Location Keele University, Staffordshire, UK
Event Dates 29.06.-01.07.2016
Depositing User Christina Ihasz
Date Deposited 05 Jul 2016 14:44
Last Modified 20 Sep 2017 11:21


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Nentwich, Julia C.; Heydenreich, Anna-Katrin; Borra, Carolina & Offenberger-Kazich, Ursula: Managing Equal Opportunities in Swiss Universities. 2016. - 9th Biennial International Interdisciplinary Conference Gender, Work and Organization. - Keele University, Staffordshire, UK.

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