December 3, 2023

The trainer Maru Sarasola, in the center, and director for Equality Elena Leiñena (behind her), surrounded by the participants in the sixth session of the 'Akademe' program at the headquarters of the University of the Basque Country in Lejona (Vizcaya), last April 18.
The trainer Maru Sarasola, in the center, and director for Equality Elena Leiñena (behind her), surrounded by the participants in the sixth session of the ‘Akademe’ program at the headquarters of the University of the Basque Country in Lejona (Vizcaya), last April 18.Fernando Domingo-Aldama

The mathematician Inmaculada Arostegui acknowledges that she signed up “with skepticism” for the Akademe pilot program in the 2015/2016 academic year, with which the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) intends to encourage its academics ―and from this year on to the administration staff ― to occupy those management positions that they tend to shy away from even when they have plenty of merit. But seen from a distance, this specialist in biostatistics declares herself an “absolute fan” of the experience. She maintains that without having completed Akademe, She would “definitely” not have accepted the position of Vice Chancellor for Research in 2020 and has contributed to doing her work in management better. This project, through which more than 200 women have passed in seven editions, has inspired the one that will be launched next year by the Conference of Rectors (CRUE) of Spain.

Arostegui pre-registered in Akademe ―there were many applicants in the selection process― encouraged by her environment, who considered that she had the right profile to participate. She was 49 years old, she was a senior researcher and she was in the middle of her academic career, the perfect age for her. Today it is held in eight face-to-face sessions of five hours at the UPV/EHU headquarters in Bilbao and San Sebastián for four months; and it is complemented with activities on a digital platform to which you have to dedicate about 10 hours with delivery and evaluation deadlines.

The vice-chancellor maintains that the program has given her greater self-confidence ―“when one is comfortable, one can fall into complacency,” she admits―, and it has given her “confidence in making decisions or when doing shared work, It has also taught me tools for detecting and resolving conflicts or complicated situations, or to put distance ”, he enumerates. Techniques that the vice-chancellor acknowledges also using in her private sphere.

yearbook data equality in numbers, published by the rectorate, show the advancement of women in command positions at the UPV/EHU, although it is a very slow process. Elena Leiñena, director for Equality, explains that they have to study the results of a survey that more than a hundred of the 200 participants have answered, but the first impression is very satisfactory. 80% of those who have responded to the questionnaire affirm that they have accessed a position of responsibility after completing the Akademe, “a very high figure”, she enthusiastically values. She, a professor of Commercial Law, secretary of her department for a time and with a previous life in private companies, has not taken it. In her case, she says, she didn’t need the final push. Each of the two groups of the program is made up of 15 women.

“Leadership is learned. It is not something you are born with or not born with”, explains the trainer Maru Sarasola in the explanatory video of Akademe. “You learn by doing it wrong, you don’t learn by doing it well. You have to build muscle by practicing ”, she assures. Since its inception, the university has relied on Sarasola, who has a degree in Sociology and a partner in a gender policy consultancy, to implement each edition of the program.

The talks are structured around the leadership of oneself (strengths and weaknesses, listening), the leadership of others (conflict resolution, toxic relationships) and the support networks, with an individual work plan to apply what has been learned. “On the platform there are certain resources that they have to work on, depending on the roles. There are videos, activities, complementary readings and questionnaires”, continues Leiñena. “The participants get to know each other and their surroundings, share reflections and that greatly reduces pressure and stress. They need to set a goal, which doesn’t have to be the guiding self. Perhaps lead a research team, ”she says in her office, located in the same building, the Library of the UPV / EHU, where the Bilbao group meets until May 17.

As the equality law since 2007 requires parity, at the UPV/EHU they comply with it with six vice-rectors and five vice-rectors, chosen by the rector. Another thing is the deanships or the direction of the department, which are chosen by vote, a step that many interested women do not take. In 2017 there were seven deans and 12 deans; now they are one more. While they head the secretariats of the government team (14 of 19), three more than in 2017, and the sub-directors and vice deans (73 women compared to 63 men).

The gap between men and women is larger within the departments. Only a third (33.3%) of these work structures are directed by women at the University of the Basque Country, compared to 32.4% six years ago; and yet, they are usually in charge of day-to-day teaching and research management: in 62% of the departments the secretary is a woman, 10 points more than in 2017.

“My assessment of Akademe could not be more supportive. So much so that it has inspired a CRUE program that we are going to open in all state universities”, says the rector, Eva Ferreira, who replaces another woman, Nekane Balluerka, in office, something unheard of in Spain. “As in our university the biggest gap was in research -both in project leadership and in the academic career-, we started there; and now we have opened it to Administration and Services Personnel (PAS), where the gap is not that big, but it is needed”.

“We must bridge the gap in academic leadership. Of the 50 public universities, at this moment we are nine rectors. And it is a very fragile percentage, because when there are elections and a rector is lost, a very high percentage is lost,” said Eva Alcón, rector of the Jaume I University (Castellón) in a recent meeting at the remote university headquarters. BIND. “Unlike the private ones, where there are more women, in the public ones we have to dare to take the step of saying ‘I am running for election’ and we must recognize that women’s self-esteem is low, and for this reason it is necessary to promote programs. The conference of rectors and rectors, at this moment, is designing an academic leadership project. He goes through training and will be accompanied by sponsorship of those who take the course so that they can continue advancing.”

High demand

Next autumn the selection of the eighth promotion of Akademe will begin and it is not easy. The demand is very high and it is stipulated that only 30% of the participants may have held a position of responsibility. They seek territorial diversity and qualifications and in the criteria they recognize that they prioritize “those women PDI (Teaching Research Staff) who have a long journey ahead of them at the university”.

For her work, Vice Chancellor Arostegui uses a network of women from her class of Akademe and the following two “informal, but very enriching” and that they have channeled through WhatsApp. “We share many experiences and many concerns; I even ask them for advice on many occasions. I believe that Akademe has an important collective benefit for the university”.

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