University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute shows the way in gender equality

Marine science like other natural sciences is male-dominated in most countries, with considerably less women in leading and decision-making positions. The Estonian Marine Institute is exceptional in that matter: the number of men and women is equal among academic staff and half of the departments would like to recruit more male scientists. Conversely, all research professors are men.

The University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute was a partner in the Horizon 2020 project Baltic Gender which concluded in August. Since 2016, the project has led to several changes in eight partner institutes in the Baltic Sea region aiming to reduce gender inequality. In the project, indicators were developed for observing gender balance. Also, a brochure on structural changes was published, listing 13 best practises that support equal opportunities, transparent procedures (for example, in recruitment) and fair collaboration.

The main goal of the work package led by Research Professor Tiit Kutser and Senior Research Fellow Kaire Toming from the University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute was to find the best ways to balance work and family life, which is especially difficult in institutes engaged in numerous expeditions and fieldwork. In addition, methods were developed for keeping in contact with employees who are away from work for a prolonged period due to parental leave, military service or taking care of a sick family member, to make sure their research career continues.

Based on the analyses done and experiences shared by partner institutions during the Baltic Gender project, gender equality plans were developed and implemented at the Estonian Marine Institute and the Marine Research Institute of Klaipeda University. These were the first of their kind in Estonian and Lithuanian higher education institutions. According to Director of the University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute Markus Vetemaa, the project led to thorough analyses of gender equality at the institute. “I am pleased to see that our initiative has influenced the development of the strategy of the entire university,” said Vetemaa.

Tiit Kutser said the Baltic Gender project led to interesting discussions on topics which had not been addressed before. An analysis revealed that there is no gender-based wage gap at the institute. In fact, in most positions, the salary of female employees is slightly higher. Moreover, gender equality issues observed in larger universities and countries are not present at the institute. “Unlike many other institutions, the Estonian Marine Institute lacks young male scientists. 75 per cent of our junior research fellows are women, while in science and technology in general, 60 per cent of the students are men,” explained Kutser. Popularizing marine science (especially among men) is also one of the points in the institute’s gender equality plan.

“The main innovation of Baltic Gender on an international scale is the GenderWave method. It contains a list of questions with introductory texts and examples which scientists can ask themselves when planning their projects to determine whether their research might involve gender-related aspects to consider. That is often expected by investors, as well. A digital app has been developed which helps to do that kind of analysis quickly,” explained Dr Helena Valve, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute, who led the development of the new methodology.

According to Kutser, the gender aspect is more apparent in some research than others. For example, subjects from both sexes have to be involved in biological research. In other cases, the gender aspects can be less straightforward. “For example, if fishing is limited in certain costal areas to protect fish stock then it will leave unemployed fishers who are predominantly men and this causes social problems in fishing villages,” illustrated Kutser. GenderWave helps to analyse the content of research quickly and identify possible gender aspects.

More information about the Baltic Gender project is available on baltic-gender.eu. The gender equality plan of the Estonian Marine Institute can be found on the institute’s website.

Further information: Tiit Kutser, Research Professor in Remote Sensing and Marine Optics at the University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute, 671 8947, tiit.kutser@ut.ee

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