Launch of SAGE Charter for Principles of Gender Equality Royal College of Physicians in Ireland

Kildare Street

Wednesday 15th May 2019

Minister, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome, all, to the launch of the SAGE Charter for Principles of Gender Equality.

This is a very important day for us in Trinity, for Ireland, Europe, and for gender equality everywhere. As Eileen has said, it’s now just under three years ago that the Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership – or TCGEL, as we call it – was named the coordinator and leader of the EU Horizon 2020 project, SAGE.

This Charter that we launch today is the result of the seven SAGE partners working together on a model to improve gender equality in higher education, to implement it across Europe. The Charter enshrines 12 principles that further the SAGE goals, and that support structural, cultural and political change to eradicate sexism, bias and other forms of discrimination in research and higher education.

Higher Education Institutions across Europe are being invited to sign up to the Charter. The EU’s position is that demonstrable change for gender equality requires concerted effort and a connected sectoral approach.

Ireland has taken up this challenge. We are fortunate that the Minister for State for Higher Education, Minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor is deeply engaged on this question. She has implemented concrete actions to improve gender equality in higher education, and has been an advocate, raising awareness nationally.  

Trinity aims to be a leader in the field. At the start of this millennium, we realised that we had reached a ceiling in terms of gender equality on campus. Yes, women were now well represented in the staff and student bodies. But they weren’t well represented at senior level – neither in professorships nor decision-making roles on board and council. And in certain disciplines – specifically the STEM disciplines - they remained under-represented at all levels. We realised that this wasn’t going to change through goodwill alone. We needed to take deliberative action.

We set out to do this across many fronts. In 2006 we established the Centre for Women in Science & Engineering Research (WiSER) with the aim of ‘recruiting, retaining, returning and advancing’ women in science, maths, engineering and technology.

WiSER, the forerunner to TCGEL, worked on a number of different levels: from engaging with women academics, to driving good practice at institutional level, to collaborating on initiatives with other organisations, nationally and internationally.

From 2010 through to 2015, WiSER was a partner in two EU projects, TWIST and INTEGER. which highlighted the importance of gender within science research and sought to address gender imbalance at both institutional and departmental-level through the implementation of Transformational Gender Action Plans, based on detailed baseline data assessments. 

In 2015 Irish universities participated for the first time in Athena SWAN, an initiative of the UK Equality Challenge Unit, which recognise progress towards gender equality in higher education institutions. Trinity was then awarded four Athena SWAN bronze awards. This success was down to the many years we put into engaging seriously with gender equality, for which Professor Eileen Drew and her team, deserve great thanks and recognition.

Today I’m proud of the fact that the percentage of women associate professors and women full professors across the college has more than doubled since 2006, when we established WiSER1. And we now have Gender Equality Observers on hand to participate in academic appointments, and whose role it is to be alert to unconscious bias.

And two figures of which I’m particularly proud: forty percent of members of the college board, and 50 percent of the university, or academic, council are women. Board and University academic council are where decisions are taken at top level.

All of this is greatly encouraging. But I wouldn’t go further than ‘encouraging’ – I wouldn’t say ‘superlative’. There is still so much to be done. This isn’t surprising. Gender roles are deeply engrained in our society, and in our civic and political institutions. It’s been like that for all of recorded history, and even down into pre-history. Because of this heritage, we are doubtless unconsciously biased in ways that we don’t even suspect, but which will be glaringly obvious to our successors.

Because of this, and other biases, only a fraction of the talent available to humanity has been used to meet its many challenges. And many live lives of frustration, because they cannot reach their real potential. We are proud of being more alert to this then our predecessors, but, as I say, so much remains to be done. Lest we become complacent, Trinity, like other Irish universities, performed less well in the recent Athena SWAN awards then we had hoped.

As the saying goes, ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of peace’. Which means, I guess, that you cannot rest on your laurels. You must constantly be improving. Vigilance is what the SAGE Charter promotes. Vigilance and action. The 12 principles include targeted, direct actions like ‘eliminating the gender pay gap’ and they include holistic, non-specific actions like ‘promoting family-friendly policies and work-life balance’. This principle is obviously directed at all genders.

The purpose of the Charter is to encourage vigilance in all higher education institutions; to draw attention to the different areas which may be affected by gender inequality; and to establish guidelines and principles in how to address them.

On behalf of the Irish Universities Association, the IUA, and at the request of Jim Miley, the Director-General, I’m delighted to formally endorse this Charter for the IUA and all its members. I thank Jim and the IUA for the leadership they are showing. Ireland is leading the way in signing up to the charter and committing our higher education institutions to furthering its goals.

It’s now my pleasure to invite, to deliver the keynote address, the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.  She was appointed to this position in June 2017, having previously served as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The issue of gender equality is one on which she has engaged throughout her career. In August 2010 she called for reform of Dáil Eireann so that women can work efficiently there. In November last, she announced that 45 senior academic roles would be created over the next three years to redress the gender imbalance in academia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Minister of State for Higher Education.

 

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1 From Speech 16 October 2016 ‘In the decade after WiSER was established the percentage of women associate professors across the university has risen from 26% in 2006 to 41% in 2016, while that of women full professors increased from 13% to 22%.’