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Change management in higher education

That the management should go first and lead the way in change work is of vital importance in achieving change within higher education. This week I took part in a seminar in Oslo where this once again became crystal clear.

I participated in a conference about a new book, that concerns research projects for a more even gender balance and increased gender equality in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Oslo.

The authors of the book spoke on stage and several guest speakers commented on the book or presented related research from several perspectives.

The data gathered showed clear gender-based differences when it comes to both numbers and conditions in the research environment. Women perceived the conditions as significantly more problematical than the men did.

The results were neither surprising nor unusual per se, there is no reason to believe that the conditions at the University  of Oslo are any more unequal than similar male dominated environments elsewhere.

A large part of the project consists of change projects with an action research approach, i.e. that the researchers combine driving change for greater gender equality with documenting and analysing processes and results.

Three extensive projects have been completed, in parallel to an extent, which are described and analysed in the book. A series of seminars that were aimed at management at the departments concerned, a programme with seminars for doctoral student supervisors, and a programme for top female researchers.

My role at the conference was to comment on this part of the book. There were several interesting findings to highlight with regard to how methods can be used and developed.

One example that showed how important it is for management to clearly back and legitimise change work is to ensure other groups will take the problem seriously.

In this case, this showed through in the seminars where the research supervisors expressed strong resistance to efforts to increase gender equality, especially men. In the second round, management had completed the series of seminars, and having done so, communicated in a completely different way, that project work to increase gender equality should be prioritised, which immediately led to less resistance among male supervisors.

Inequality was suddenly taken seriously, which paved the way for entirely different and more constructive discussions.