The impact of gender at the EUI

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Report on the survey conducted in March 2014  by the Gender, Race and Sexuality Working Group

In the context of the workshop organized on the 12th of March by our group in order to celebrate the International Women’s Day, we have launched a short anonymous survey on gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment. This survey did not aim to be a ‘scientific’ representation of what happens inside the institute, but rather a starting point to raise awareness and discuss about concrete proposals for improvement.

1/ Sample

Thanks to the collaboration of the EUI Communication Service, the survey was sent via email to about 1200 EUI researchers, administration and academic staff. While the administrative staff showed interest in participating and was easy to reach (through emails), subcontracted workers of Villa Viviani, contractually and thus structurally being in a different position, were more difficult to reach. This is why we also distributed a printed version of the questionnaire (in Italian) to the staff working in some of the bars and mensas of the Institute. More than 450 people responded by filling in the questionnaire. The success rate was particularly high among researchers who accounted for more than 75% of respondents.

In general, the reactions to the survey show an impressive divide along gender lines, with women being clearly overrepresented (61,74%) as respondents, and furthermore showing a greater willingness to answer the open questions and leaving open comments. This circumstance and the nature of the answers hint at a clear difference in the lived experiences of men and women working at the EUI. Since only 25 professors answered, and because of their tendency to give a generic ‘none of the above’ answer to questions about their experiences at the EUI, it seems that there is an age and professional divide when it comes to gender experience: people up the social ladder do not have the same experience of discrimination and harassment at the EUI.

 2/ Forms of harassment

Two serious physical offenses (sexual assaults) were reported. 9.9% of respondents reported unwanted physical contact and 7.5% reported suggestive gestures. If we isolate women workers, we reach 11.3%, which means that more than one out of nine women respondents has encountered unwelcome physical contact at the EUI. ‘Unwelcome sexual comments’, such as remarks on their physical appearance and sexual behavior, are reported by 21.2% of them, while 23.1% of women respondents had to face jokes with which they felt uncomfortable, and 10,4% reported intrusive questions about sexuality and private life.

Fig. 1: Percentage of women and men reporting to have experienced forms of harassment

Another important result of this survey concerns the questions of intellectual stigmatization due to gender, sexual orientation, class or geographical origin,  which seems to be widespread for every category of workers (33.5% of respondents signaled having experienced it in some way). Again, most occurrences of intellectual stigmatization are experienced by women, with 38.85% of all female respondents reporting incidences of this kind. Even female professors report occurrences of belittling and being asked to do a specific task according to gender lines. Among the female administrative staff, 15.94% experienced behavior which they identified as belittling according to their gender. Almost 28% of female administrative and services staff had to face jokes that made them feel uncomfortable.

Fig. 2: Percentage of women and men reporting gender-specific discrimination

We believe that this type of stigmatization has to be seen in relation to the importance devoted to intellectual skills in a workplace like the EUI where one’s “intelligence” is highly scrutinized and constantly subjected to question. Several respondents mention the fact that this kind of misdemeanor remains usually unreported, and is often denied and/or belittled by the perpetrators (‘come on, it was a joke…’). However, one should not underestimate the impact of a climate in which intellectual stigmatization happens on a regular basis, for it not only creates an unfriendly atmosphere but furthermore puts people at risk, weighing on their self-esteem, confidence and ultimately affecting their mental health and professional career.

Remarks hinted at a general discomfort with other forms of discrimination, related in particular to class and origin, and asked to raise awareness, for instance, against widespread incidences of national stereotyping. Furthermore, several respondents reported homophobic comments and behavior, and the need for a proper institutional response to this matter.

We would like to highlight that some responses and comments showed misogynist and transphobic views while, ironically, claiming that there were no gender-related problems at the EUI.

A number of respondents made clear links between the dominance of men in positions of power (all heads of departments are male professors), suggesting that this hierarchy not only discourages women from reporting potential incidences, but also creates a general climate in which discriminatory/belittling behavior is not condemned or even encouraged.

3/ Perpetrators and lack of safe spaces

The person of the perpetrator is, in general, more often identified as a peer than as a superior. There is a considerable difference in the answers given by men and women. Only nine men reported problematic behavior from male superiors, whereas 61 women did so.

Fig. 3: Indicated perpetrators in percentage

The distribution of locations in which problematic behavior happens seems to be evenly divided. Although Bar Fiasco appears to take the lead (19,2% of cases are reported to have happened there), it is closely followed by researchers’ working space (18,6%), bar/mensa (17,1%), and other working and academic spaces. Also academic meetings are well represented in the answers (10,8%). Several respondents suggest that email exchange within the EUI community and the outside gardens and outskirts have been experienced as unsafe places as well.

Fig. 4: Percentage of places where harassment/discrimination are reported to have occurred

4/ Comments and suggestions

A lot of people did not know about the existence of the anti-harassment committee (even professors!), but showed interest in it and its activities. No member of the service staff, for instance, was aware of its existence. Among the suggestions addressed to the anti-harassment panel was the need to increase publicity and physical presence within the EUI walls and internet web pages. Some people also suggested that it should be composed of professionally trained members and/or professionals without any link to the institution. In this regard, a lot of respondents suggested the anti-harassment committee to be a permanent, pro-active institution. Some people also suggested mandatory training for every EUI employee and the need for better and clearer rules of assessment and communication.

Other suggestions ranged from very practical, easy to implement solutions such as better lighting on campus to avoid lonely walks in dark surroundings, a wider campaign to raise awareness on gender discrimination and sexual harassment both in and outside of the EUI. Further comments related to the structure of the counseling services.

For confidentiality reasons, we do not feel comfortable including in this survey a number of painful experiences described in the framework of this survey. However, we have taken note and reported some of the problems, of course in anonymous form, to the Academic Services. Joseph Weiler and the Academic Service expressed the will to take further steps against discrimination and harassment at the EUI.