Celebrating progress on EDI: an interview with Nathalie Wolf

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 Nathalie Wolf to take stock on the progress of Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within our association and more broadly.
21st March 2024
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Nathalie Wolf is part of the Rectorate Staff Unit for Inclusion, Gender and Diversity Management (IGaD) at RWTH Aachen University. She is a diversity consultant and is coordinating different projects on gender and diversity issues. She has been involved with CESAER since 2018 as a Member of our task force human resources. Between 2019 and 2020, Nathalie was the Secretary of the task force.

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

RWTH Aachen University has a long-standing history when it comes to gender and diversity, particularly in tackling gender issues. This is evident due to the traditional underrepresentation of women in technical fields, and, more generally in German higher education. For several decades, Germany has had laws and regulations in place covering gender aspects at universities. The unit I work for has existed since 2007. However, this does not mean we have not benefited from the EDI declaration. We have mainly benefited from the collaboration and exchange within CESAER and the task force human resources, as well as from accompanying measures implemented following the EDI declaration such as the EDI labs and the exchanges within them. Looking at it from a long-term perspective, we have also benefited from the Gender Equality surveys conducted in 2014, 2018, and the 2023 EDI survey. These surveys have provided valuable benchmarking and further allowed exchange of practices and views.

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

Overall, I believe the results of the survey indicate a positive trend, which aligns with the conclusions drawn by the authors. The high response rate and number of fully completed questionnaires, with 51 out of 58 contacted universities participating, is a success in itself. In the 2018 Gender Equality survey, just over 30 universities answered the questionnaire. This increase suggests that EDI topics are gaining interest in technical universities. Another positive development, in my view, is the increase in gender equality and diversity plans developed since 2018. This reflects both the prioritisation of EDI in universities of science and technology (S&T) and the broader trends in the European research landscape, particularly with regard to the Horizon Europe funding requirements. While it is encouraging that universities are developing gender equality and diversity plans, we need to focus on implementation and attracting more diverse talent, particularly women, to technical universities. The recommendations formulated in 2018 remain relevant, as the challenges have largely persisted over the past five years. Retaining diverse talent is crucial, and this requires improving working conditions in academia to make science careers more appealing to a wider range of people.

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

I think we will keep up and reinforce our efforts on EDI because progress is somewhat slow. We may need to become a little impatient because we are facing severe challenges, especially considering climate change, and we cannot afford to lose talented people who can help solve these issues. To make the science and technology sector more equitable and appealing to a diverse population of researchers, we need to continue and intensify measures to make careers in science more attractive and to improve working conditions in academia.

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

We are currently witnessing political and societal backlash in several European countries and beyond, particularly regarding ultra-conservative views on EDI. Voices questioning democratic values and fundamental human rights are gaining strength. From my perspective, the S&T sector and universities, in general, must commit to pluralism and democratic European values. We need to issue clear statements against anti-democratic, misogynistic, racist, and other divisive voices. So, while we must certainly continue and reinforce efforts towards EDI issues, we also need to ensure these efforts and the values underpinning them are visible.

Furthermore, we must maintain and strengthen collaboration and exchange on these matters. Drawing inspiration from good practices at other universities and finding allies in this work are crucial. While there is a business case for diverse perspectives improving research, EDI is also a broader societal responsibility where universities of science and technology can set an example.

Last but not least, when discussing EDI issues, we must consider various diversity categories. Each of us carries different intersecting diversity categories that create individual barriers. In our EDI endeavours, we must promote an inclusive approach while making visible the needs of minority groups and addressing them. Specifically for technical universities, we must promote an inclusive approach while not neglecting the gender dimension, which remains significant due to the persisting underrepresentation of women in the S&T sector.

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

Credits for the photograph of Nathalie: Heike Lachmann

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