2021. 07. 23.

A Brief Talk with Mila Grahovac

Mila Grahovac

  • Associate professor at University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Agriculture (PFNS)
  • Expertise and interest: innovation in plant protection in agriculture, phytopathogenic bacteria and fungi, biological control of plant pathogens, mycotoxigenic fungi, gender mainstreaming
  • Co-Change leader of the RRIzing lab together with Branislava Lalić

The Co-Change Lab called RRizing Lab at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Novi Sad focuses on several RRI keys. In this interview, we are talking about the steps that have been made for the implementation of gender equality at the faculty.

How were you studying the state of gender equality at your faculty?

In the beginning, we had just freely selected some indicators, for instance, pure numbers regarding the number of males and females in certain areas. But later on, when we continued to do the analysis, we considered some other indicators found in the literature. We also widened the number of factors we were observing, and it helped us see some things that we should target in the future. We also surveyed 95 staff members and started dialogues with the scientific and teaching staff of the faculty. But during the interviews, it became clear that figures and numbers are not enough to answer specific questions. It would be best if you had live dialogues because sometimes you can't predict what the right question is. The answers can take you to unexpected results.

Did you find some weak points regarding gender equality at your faculty?

Yes. We found some gaps by looking at the glass ceiling index (the measurement representing the working environment for women). The number of women in top academic positions is quite low compared to the number of women in academia. We also found that at the highest managing positions, there was only about 20% of women involved. So that’s a huge gap. We also found a pay gap: actually, we have the same salaries as men and the same possibility of gaining some additional incomes. Problems come into light when a woman goes on maternity leave. In Serbia, you receive the total but basic salary (only connected to lecturing activities). Unfortunately, the other part of your salary (linked to your activity in different projects and commercial work) disappears. This is the most significant gap we found during our survey. It is not widely known that they will get a different salary; mothers usually realize this when they get their first maternity payment, often a few months late. We understand that this salary difference can’t be solved here, at our Faculty, as this is a public administration problem. We can only hope that we’ll influence the process at the national level. And I must add that it does not only affect women. It also affects men involved in academia as university professors if they go on paternity leave, which is also possible in our country. Finally, we also found a gap in project management positions. If you look at the international level, the project management leaders are balanced regarding genders. But when you look at the domestic projects, you see that women manage only 20% of projects while men 80%. It shows a socio-cultural problem here, but the reason is not completely clear for me right now.

During the interviews or the survey you were making at your faculty, did something change in your mind or influence you in some ways?

Yes, though I have never thought about gender equality before Social Labs. I got involved in it in 2018, and with the Co-Change Project, I wasn't feeling any inequality. I must say that I could do whatever I wanted to do in my professional career here. At least it seemed that way in most cases. But now, I feel happy to be able to change the ecosystem and make it more friendly for others who want to start a family. I think it’s a great thing that they feel some support in the time when you experience a lack of sleep, a lack of time, a lack of everything.

You have already started to build a gender equality board at the faculty.

Yes, we have initiated the constitution of the gender equality board; it became formal a couple of weeks ago. We needed the approval of several faculty commissions and boards. It was a bumpy road because many people found it unnecessary at our faculty. The GE Board consists of really many members: 22, so it is a massive board. I started with the idea of naming one person per cathedra (a teaching unit at the University of Novi Sad) for the board. But then I was told, “oh, it will be a feminist movement,” so we decided to depute one man and one woman from each cathedra into this board. Now we are starting to work on a gender equality plan, first, of course, a draft version as our faculty and university don’t have one.

Did you look at other institutions gender equality boards or plans? Did you find some good examples?

First, I read the gender equality plan of the University of Belgrade. Still, I felt that this was just a well-written document with excellent numbers, but it was hard to follow and understand clearly. I think that such a document should be comprehensive. I have already contacted our Co- Change partners, and they sent me some versions of gender equality plans. I received one from Bologna University, which I like very much, so it seems that this is a model that we will also follow by developing our version.

What do you expect from this board? What will they do for gender equality?

The board members should have in mind that they should transfer the principles of gender equality to their colleagues. They always need to take into consideration this aspect in whatever they do. We want to meet at least the minimum proposals of the European Commission about gender equality to help our board members to support their colleagues in whatever they plan to do at the faculty. I also think that we need regular meetings, discussions about the current state of gender equality at our faculty.

And how do you imagine the institutional change? Having a gender equality board and a plan is not enough to have institutional changes, I believe.

If we write a plan and put it on our website, nothing will change, I guess. So I think that each member of this gender equality board should be responsible for gender equality impact in their cathedra. It would help a lot to see and follow good examples, so probably we should find some places, a website, for instance, to show, record and promote good practices in terms of gender equality at our faculty. But you can’t make an institutional change overnight. First, we should inspire people to think about gender equality, and then we can do an act that consists of rules, maybe sanctions and instructions. I’m sure it won't happen shortly; we have just started the process to institutionalize this aspect.

About the other activities of this lab on the field of RRI, read the interview with the other lab leader, Branislava Lalić.