13. Aug. 2021
CEITEC at Masaryk University (CEITEC MU) is an international research centre focusing on life sciences. This environment has its specifics, influencing the human resources practices of the institute. Careers in science are initially associated with a relatively high degree of uncertainty. Employment contracts for junior researchers are exclusively fixed-term contracts, which is due to the nature of the position as well as due to the funding which comes from grants and covers only something around 3–5 years. High emphasis is placed on mobility and gaining experience from other institutions, ideally abroad. At the same time, this career stage typically overlaps with the period when people typically start families. Due to those peculiarities, the scientific environment is struggling with the so-called leaky pipeline, or in other words the gradual departure of women from science. The more senior the position in science, the lower the representation of women. This "leaky pipeline" occurs across various scientific disciplines with greater or lower intensity.
CEITEC MU is able to attract a balanced ratio of women and men for the doctoral studies (58% women) and for the postdoctoral fellowships (53% women), but still faces a low representation of women in the position of research group leader (19% of women), which is the highest scientific position at the institute. In this environment, it is therefore crucial to actively address not only the entire HR cycle from recruitment, through the career system / development, cultivation of working conditions (including work–life balance measures), up to the stage when the employee is leaving to another workplace. Furthermore, the representation of women in decision-making and advisory bodies, their involvement in the prevention and resolution of inappropriate forms of behaviour and during the overall system of evaluation of scientific work is also crucial. This year, CEITEC MU secured an impressive second place in the national competition Company of the Year: Equal Opportunities 2020, and thus became the very first research institution occupying one of the leading positions in the history of the competition.
Change is inevitable, but progress is a choice
Where to start? How to manage it and who will do all the work? These are naturally the first questions asked if you are about to introduce a new agenda. In the initial stage, it was essential for our institute to look at the data and also to learn about the experience and specific needs of our employees. Thanks to the already implemented external gender audit, which took place in 2016, we were able to formulate the first gender equality plan. The use of standard project management principles was absolutely essential. Each goal was specified in the form of specific activities, which fulfilled the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. At the same time, this plan was directly integrated into the overall annual planning of the institute's activities. That means that these activities were not perceived as something additional, but were included in the general agenda of each concerned department, with allocated resources and with reporting duty to the management of the institute. All this would not be possible without clear and openly expressed support of the institute's management and without assigning the coordination of this topic to one of the members of the management.
Initially, it is very difficult to implement a "visible" change. One of the first activities was focused on changing the data reporting system so that they were differentiated according to the gender. We started to analyse the data and respond to any discrepancies. The mere introduction of reporting, for example, has increased the representation of women on the Scientific Board from the original 6% (1 woman out of 16) to the current 30% (6 women out of 20). Just looking at the data led to a unconfrontational and natural opening of the topic and active reflection on the diversity of the composition of the Scientific Council and other bodies. Our goal was to revise the overall institutional framework (rules, processes, policies).
We changed the organizational structure so that the various agendas of equal opportunities, gender mainstreaming or work–life balance were clearly assigned to a specific department, thus ensuring sustainability and continuity. We have also changed our internal policies and rules so that they are transparent and do not contain any potentially discriminatory provisions. In general, our experience is that promoting transparency always has a positive effect on equal opportunities. All these activities are initially invisible to employees but their impact can be seen in the long term.
Properly set institutional culture is the basis of success in any organization
Similarly invisible was our effort focused on institutional culture and its cultivation in the form of information campaigns, but also capacity building through the implementation of various training on topics such as unconscious bias and its impact on recruitment and evaluation, work-life balance or responsible leadership based on mindfulness and emotional intelligence principles.
Direct support for employees is the most visible and best perceived tool (however, this should not diminish the importance of the two previously mentioned points). It does not always have to be an activity that involves financial costs. In our case, we focused on flexible forms of employment and the use of part-time work, flexible working hours or the possibility to work from home. The scientific environment is open to these tools, so our role was primarily to set up a transparent system where everyone knows what they are entitled to, who decides about it and on the basis of what criteria. A well-set system supporting flexible forms of work was very much appreciated especially in the demanding "Covid" year 2020, which we can say that we managed very well in terms of continuing the operation of the centre, including all administrative and scientific activities.
CEITEC MU as a part of the university also uses the grant scheme CAREER RESTART (provided by Masaryk University), which aims to support a return to science after parental leave. This scheme allows the attainment of a grant of 500 thousand CZK per year for two continuing years for a scientist returning after parental leave (or another career break). This grant thus facilitates the return of young and talented people to productive scientific careers and aims to contribute to increasing the representation of women in senior scientific positions. MU awards six such grants every year.
Our investment in equal opportunities will largely only be seen in the long run, but the whole society will eventually benefit. Research has clearly shown the positive impact of promoting diversity on the innovation potential of research teams. As a result, the promotion of equal opportunities is also a path leading to cutting-edge science.
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