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NOW! project supports gender equality by providing tools for education and working life

Published on 25.1.2023
Tampere Universities
NAU-hankkeen työryhmä poseeraa Mona Lisa -taulun edessäThe working group from left to right: Annika Palomäki (Tampereen university), Tuula Isosuo (TAMK), Outi Rantanen (TAMK), Liisa Marttila (TAMK), Heikki Yli-Rämi (TAMK) ja Sini Teräsahde (Tampereen University)
The Equal careers for women – NOW! project aims to support gender equality by providing tools for education and work. The tools are available in Finnish and English. The aim is to produce and disseminate researched knowledge on equality and non-discrimination to achieve equality in working and studying life. The project supports gender equality work in higher education institutions, for example, by developing gender conscious study and career guidance and helping organisations to identify unconscious bias and reduce its impact on job decision-making.

The project is coordinated by Tampere University of Applied Sciences TAMK, and it is implemented together with Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Aalto University, LUT University, Tampere University, and Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.

At Tampere University of Applied Sciences, the project team consists of Project Manager, Senior Lecturer Outi Rantanen, Senior Adviser Tuula Isosuo, Senior Adviser Liisa Marttila, Senior Lecturer, Study Counsellor Heikki Yli-Rämi and Planning Officer, Career Services Nelli Pahkamäki. At Tampere University, Responsible Specialist, Researcher Sini Teräsahde, and Specialist Annika Palomäki from the Faculty of Education and Culture participate in the project.

“At higher education institutions, stereotypical attitudes and customary culture influence how students perceive working life and their career path, and how they position themselves as students and future professionals,” Rantanen says. “At least in male-dominated sectors, a path to work is still a rougher passage for women than for men. Attitudes are often unconscious, but even then, they can reinforce segregation in working life and steer women and men into divergent careers and positions,” she points out. 

“We need more open discussion, more diversified presentation of professional opportunities and career paths, and gender conscious career guidance,” Teräsahde mentions. “One important and proven method is to involve students as active participants in gender equality work at higher education institutions and in working life,” she says. “The aim should be to translate the principles of equality and non-discrimination into skills, knowledge and attitudes, making it something one can practise and get better at,” she adds.

In early 2021, the project conducted a survey of technology alumni on the importance of gender in studies and working life (the results are available in Finnish only). The survey revealed that gender-related attitudinal issues exist in the field of engineering and technology, both in working and student life. As many as 62% of respondents had experienced gender-related attitudes and assumptions in their own work.

Tampere University’s survey Equality at guidance and counselling work (the results are available only in Finnish) shows that technology teachers strive to treat students equally. However, gender-based differences and stereotypes persist.

“First, there are different gender equality challenges in different sectors, and it would be important to provide information, solutions and understanding on a sectoral basis,” Teräsahde says. “Secondly, a survey we conducted with women engineering graduates revealed that women still face gender discrimination, harassment, old attitudes and belittling in various work-life interactions. They also experience difficulties and attitudes when it comes to reconciling work and family life,” she adds. “That is why we would like to see future working life considered more during university studies, and everyone’s chances of succeeding in working life to be strengthened, for example, through collaboration and networking,” Teräsahde mentions.

Wide-ranging collaboration between universities on a critical issue

The desired outcome of the project is diverse and equal working and learning communities. In project representatives’ view, the collaboration between universities has been successful.

“Our cooperation has been very fruitful and has highlighted the fact that gender equality challenges are common,” Rantanen points out. “In the university field, the focus is on such issues as research careers and work, while regarding the universities of applied sciences, on-the-job learning periods and internships are a natural place to reflect on working life, the institution and equal opportunities practices,” she says. “However, the legislation and the obligations arising from it apply to all organisations, and promoting equality and equal opportunities is everyone’s responsibility,” she adds.

“Collaboration between universities has definitely been an enriching aspect of the project, and the cooperation between the NOW! actors at Tampere University and Tampere University of Applied Sciences has been particularly natural. We have organised joint webinars, for example, for the entire Universities community,” Teräsahde says.

“It is worth looking at the progress of gender equality from a historical perspective, which makes this project part of a continuum. We are hopeful that the tools we have developed will be used by universities and other workplaces to help them in their efforts to promote equality and non-discrimination,” she adds.

Project actors have actively created tools to promote gender equality

The project has created a Career think thank, a gender conscious, group-based career guidance and counselling model for higher education institutions. The model includes the Safer Space and interaction principles, which can be applied to other teaching and guidance work to create a safe learning environment, and the Career dating and Talent poster video for independent study exercises, which allow students to reflect on factors affecting their own career path and their own growing expertise, also independently.

In addition, the project has developed a Reflection exercise on gender conscious guidance and counselling. to support independent reflection and collective discussion among guidance practitioners. The exercise will help to put into practice how each person involved in guidance and counselling work can promote equality and non-discrimination in their own work. The Steps to equality and equity tool, developed with Aalto University, uses videos to open up the core concepts of equality and non-discrimination and raise key issues at the higher education community for discussion.

Other materials produced by the partner universities in the project in English include the Diversity Nuggets videos and the Doctoral Maze card game made at Aalto University.

The tools developed in the NOW! project correspond well with the recommendations of the KOTAMO project commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The project has produced a wealth of concrete tools, information and materials for use in teaching and guidance work. The tools can also be used more broadly to promote gender equality issues, for example, in strategies and development.

“We hope that the Steps to equality and equity tool will find use in higher education institutions’ gender equality and non-discrimination training, as recommended by the KOTAMO project in its recent final report. Teams and research groups can also use the material to organise their own small learning moments to discuss issues from the perspective of their own work,” Teräsahde says.

Equality plan is provided for by law

The latest tool produced by the project is the whiteboard animation Promotion of equality and parity in Finnish higher education in autumn 2022.

“Since 2014, employers with more than 30 employees have had to draw up an equality plan and implement various measures to support equality, as informing and training,” Rantanen says. “However, the acute need for material on equality and non-discrimination legislation arose from the European Union’s Research and Innovation Programme guidelines, which stated that any organisation applying for research funding under the programme must be able to demonstrate that they have a Gender Equality Plan (GEP). Representatives of higher education institutions asked the project for a video in the form of an information session to be included in their own training packages, and we responded,” she mentions.

“The whiteboard animation summarises the main points of Finnish gender equality and non-discrimination legislation from higher education institutions’ view,” Teräsahde says. “It can be used in the orientation of new equality and non-discrimination working groups and Equal Opportunities Officers, and in educations and training materials for university staff,” she adds. “It would be good for every member at the Universities community to know the basics about equality and non-discrimination. “Watching our animation is a good start,” she points out.

The active project has also created a mentoring programme on the part of Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

“In the project, we piloted a mentoring programme for students in the field of engineering and technology,” Rantanen says. “The programme lasted about half a year and involved a total of more than 40 engineering students and expert mentors. The mentoring programme received really good feedback and was considered beneficial and fruitful on both sides,” she adds. “The meetings included job search skills, the importance of gender in career progression, working life skills, postgraduate study opportunities, and questions related to pay and recruitment,” she mentions.

“Based on the commendable feedback received by the programme, mentoring programmes are also planned to continue in the future, both in the field of technology and also in other fields. The next step is to determine how mentoring programmes could be appropriately organised and implemented across degree programmes in a way that the perceived best practices could be amplified and modelled as smoothly as possible,” Rantanen adds.

Equal work culture could be a competitive asset for Tampere Universities

Communication and support for a constructive culture of debate are at the centre of equality work. Equality work that is planned and based on data collection is the right direction for the project.

“More resources would be needed to implement various measures to promote equality, for example, for organising trainings, events and counselling, but it would also be worth communicating more about the actions already taken,” Teräsahde mentions. “The importance of University’s management demonstrating its commitment to promoting equality and non-discrimination through its communication cannot be over-emphasised. The development of equality and non-discrimination are better identified when looked at from a perspective of another issue, for example, well-being at work, quality of teaching or internationalisation,” she adds.

“Equality and non-discrimination should be highlighted as positive, not only as examples of harassments incidents or search for mistakes. The ideal situation would be if a fair and equal workplace culture was seen more as something bringing resources than consuming them. This could be a competitive asset for Tampere Universities when applying for new research funding, students and skilled staff,” Rantanen notes.

The two-year NOW project expired in December 2022. Rantanen and Teräsahde hope that the tools created in the project will be made widely available to the University community.

“January 2023 is a good time to look at our achievements with fresh eyes. Materials developed in the project have already been incorporated into the teaching, guidance and staff training materials at Tampere Universities community and by bringing equality and non-discrimination issues more strongly into teacher training,” Rantanen says.

“We will still publish our latest tools and blog posts on the Equal Career Paths for Women website and communicate the project outputs. We then return to our pre-project (research) work with a stronger area of expertise and new ideas for project plans,” Teräsahde summarises.