08 March 2019

Does the Graduate Institute Need a Gender and Diversity Commission?

Elisabeth Prügl, Professor of International Relations/Political Science, is Co-chair of the newly established Gender and Diversity Commission, along with Claudia Saviaux Druliolle, Director of Human Resources. In an essay, she shares the importance of the Commission’s creation to equal treatment and promotion of diversity at the Institute. 

Bureaux de l’égalité, Gleichstellungsstellen, Equal Opportunity Offices and other “women’s machineries” (to use UN lingo) have become a staple of university life. With the launching of the Gender and Diversity Commission, the Institute creates its own institutional structure to advance equality across multiple axes of difference, counteract inadvertent biases and discrimination, and foster a climate where diversity can flourish.

But, does the Institute need such a Commission, really? After all, much has been done already: In the area of Human Resources, we have established policies to ensure work-life balance, such as salary studies, distance work, flexible working time, part-time for managers and a nursing room. We have set up an anti-harassment network (Antenne H), which is well trained and active. At the level of management, our Convention d’objectifs sets a target of 30 per cent women faculty, which we have reached. We have established a Gender Centre, supporting research on the topic, established mandatory gender courses, and now created a gender minor in the MINT programmes. Is it not enough already?
Organisations, such as the Graduate Institute, are structured by difference, and difference easily becomes an excuse for inequality. Even though we have many new women faculty, where are they located in the Institute hierarchy? Even though we have many women employees, how does gender organise the division of labour of the Institute? Even though we have more women students than men, do they get the same floor time in the classroom? We also have been remarkably blind to differences beyond gender. In an international community, race and geographic origin invariably become markers of difference. Does racism follow in their wake? And where are the LGBTQI members of our community – do they need to hide?

In some sense, the purpose of the Gender and Diversity Commission is to ensure that difference does not become a justification for discrimination and for the subtle (and often unthinking) violence we perpetrate as we go through our work lives. The setting up of the Commission is recognition that countering such practices requires constant vigilance, and that appreciating diversity needs to be learned.

The Commission networks individuals from all corners of the Institute. It will bring together information to allow us to monitor how the Institute is doing in the areas of equal treatment and promotion of diversity, and to hold us all accountable. It also will initiate its own projects, providing a space for its members to become creative in advancing our mandate. As the Commission gets off the ground, we invite everyone in the Institute to support our efforts and let us know your thoughts. Send your questions or comments to our e-mail address: