Celebrating progress on EDI: an interview with Ines Köhler and Roxane Soergel

In the context of the international day of women and girls in science (11 February) and international women's day (8 March), we met with Ines Köhler and Roxane Soergel to take stock on the progress of Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within our association and more broadly.
18th March 2024
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Ines Köhler is leading the gender and diversity management team at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). She has been involved with CESAER, especially in the task force human resources, since last year. Ines studied political science and communication and later on went on to study intercultural education.

Roxane Soergel is part of the gender and diversity management team at KIT. She has a background in sociology with a focus on migration. After her PhD, also concentrating on migration issues, she took over the coordination of a mentoring program for women in special living situations in the equal opportunities department of another university. She started at KIT in 2019 and has been a Member of our task force human resources since 2020.

How did the 2019 CESAER EDI declaration help you to shape the diversity policies at your home institution?

Roxane: In 2019, KIT already had a lot of measures that were going in the direction of the declaration. We had a very comprehensive gender equality plan and numerous actions aimed at encouraging women to study or to pursue a scientific career at our institution, at keeping women working at KIT and at raising gender awareness among our employees. So we already had a lot of measures but official statements on equal opportunities and diversity are always welcomed as they give a boost and encourage us to go further. The declaration spurred new measures and, in 2022 our Executive Committee adopted our Diversity statement and signed the Charta der Vielfalt (a corporate initiative to promote diversity in companies and institutions) the same year.

What does the 2023 EDI survey teach us about the situation within CESAER membership? And what still needs to be done?

Roxane: The survey shows clear progress within the universities compared to the previous survey (editorial note: in 2018). Now most of CESAER universities have gender equality plans. However, there is a substantial proportion of universities who do not have diversity plans, which is still an important aspect to address. This strong focus on gender should not prevent us from also addressing other diversity topics. This means we should have human and financial resources as well as the support from the top management. I would say that the overall situation regarding equal opportunities is very heterogeneous, not only at the European level but even in Germany. This means of course that there are different starting points and challenges. For example, at KIT, as I was saying, we are quite advanced with regard to measures but we still have a very low proportion of women and we struggle to recruit more women.

Ines: In Germany, the focus is broadening, it is not only on gender anymore, but moving towards other diversity dimensions as well. If you look at different funding opportunities, then you can see that the gender focus is getting a little less and the focus on diversity is getting stronger. This does not mean that we can stop with gender equality measures! The issue is that, at least in Germany, the budget for gender and diversity is not increasing: universities need to add diversity measures on top of gender equality measures, but the funding is not following. The challenge here is for them to find options on how to finance those measures. At the end, you will also need committed people to implement these measures. So I think it is important to start from what you have and where you are within your own universities. Involving the people on the ground will allow to understand what is really needed, what can be the next steps and to decide whether or not to pursue one diversity dimension or another.

In five years, how do you see the evolution of EDI in the sector and in the CESAER membership?

Ines: As we mentioned before, we strongly believe that the future focus will evolve beyond solely gender to encompass broader diversity initiatives. Universities that have primarily concentrated on gender issues will need to adapt to remain competitive. Merely focusing on one aspect will likely prove insufficient. Those already shifting their focus towards diversity are likely to continue expanding their efforts.

In addition, we expect a stronger emphasis on internationality and cultural aspects in the future, building upon the already strong presence of CESAER Members all across Europe. Alliances also play a crucial role in enhancing these exchanges and facilitating talent transfer.

It is, of course, improbable that every university will cover all diversity dimensions comprehensively. Each institution will need to identify its own challenges and to determine where to concentrate its efforts in the coming years. This will involve initiating actions and establishing priorities, which may shift over time.

What advice would you give to your fellow CESAER colleagues and to the S&T sector regarding EDI?

Ines: EDI is inevitable. It provides a framework to address various challenges including demographic shifts, international mobility, female workforce engagement, and much more. For me, it is an imperative to maintain an open-minded approach and, for example, colleagues in other task forces can also keep the EDI aspect in mind. We are all working on very crucial topics, and I would not say that EDI is more important than other things but, only by actively promoting diversity, we can uphold the values of openness and inclusion within our home institutions and to safeguard universities from regressive tendencies.

Roxane: We should also keep in mind that the reality faced by researchers, recruiters, and those within research groups may vastly differ from our human resources experts’ perspectives. Conducting a reality check becomes crucial. While we can offer expertise and recommendations, those implementing may lack expertise in gender and diversity. Our actions should hence be tailored to their needs and not the other way around.

For more information, contact Information & Communication Officer Justine Moynat.

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