Money is a factor too
And of course the fifth point, which is obvious when we talk about resources: cases of discrimination and harassment cost institutions an incredible amount of money – legal fees, procedural costs, compensation for the affected persons, and much more. Prevention, again, is undoubtedly more cost-effective and less destructive to individuals and the institution than dealing with the consequences of discrimination and harassment. Again, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers. I assume that they entrust us with their money so that we will invest it in research, teaching and technology transfer, not in lawsuits and law firms.
There’s a lot to do, so let’s get to work
What can we do about this waste? An important step in finding solutions is to recognise how big the problem is. In July 2020, EPFL published the Commission’s report on the status of women professors.
Important issues such as salary, hiring, but also the culture of the institution were analysed and measures proposed. A comparable and comprehensive study has not yet been conducted at ETH Zurich. Nevertheless, the university is to be commended for numerous steps it has taken to improve diversity and proactively combat discrimination and harassment. This includes three decades of support for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (Equal) and the recent appointment of a Vice President for Personnel Development and Leadership.
There is still an incredible amount of work to be done to effectively combat discrimination and harassment, especially against women, in our institutions. But many people are already taking action. I would like to make special mention of a group called “500 Women Scientists”, with pods in Zurich and Fribourg-Bern, which is committed to establishing a safe and independent platform for complaints.
This group, along with many other internal and external organisations
, also serves as a resource. Universities, institutions and the ETH Domain could use it to better collaborate and to combat discrimination and harassment even more effectively and sustainably. Let’s use our resources, not waste them.