Culture eats strategy for lunch: a better path towards gender balance

Second, this project got enough attention internationally that it became interesting nationally, and is part of the inspiration for the Research Council of Norway’s new BALANSE program, which is focused on funding efforts to move more women to the top.

Third, our work resulted in a national gender equality prize. The award is 2 million Norwegian crowns, which is about 250.000 EUR. One of the important things about this prize is that we are required to use the funds for something that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. I was the head of our gender equality committee, so it was my job to lead a process determining how to use these funds.

I felt that we were already heavily engaged in work on the HR side of the equation. And what I suggested was to think about gender and science — that is, how gendered perspectives affect the science we do, and how they affect the results of our research.

Gendered innovations in Tromsø

The experts on our gender equality committee had seen many successes through the focus on HR issues, so there was some skepticism about using the prize money for a project about gendered perspectives in research. Ultimately, though, they signed off on this especially because of two arguments.

1] Making careers as researchers equally appealing to men and women requires making it clear that the culture we want to develop is welcoming for men and women, for research questions that are of interest to both men and women, and for an inventory of methodologies that are relevant for both men and women.

A focus on gendered perspectives in research is part of this work. It gives enhanced awareness around the development of research questions. And in the pursuit of answers, it both values and makes explicit the reality of gender variation in research questions and methods. This in itself is an act of inclusiveness.

2] The new project on gendered perspectives in science provides a competitive advantage to UiT researchers in the competition for external funds. Given requirements in the Horizon2020 program of the European Commission to address gender issues in research applications and similar developments at the Research Council of Norway, we decided it was our responsibility to engage in developing in our researchers the skills necessary to see gender perspectives in their projects, regardless of the field of research. Internationally, many applicants to the Research Council or the EC will be ill-prepared to speak to these issues. Through this new project at UiT, our researchers can develop a competitive advantage.

[Read more about this project in my post Gendered innovations: making research better]

So a year ago, we started our project. We have a system in Norway where professors at one university or from abroad sometimes have supplemental 20% positions at another university, as a way of building competencies and giving greater breadth in research and teaching; we call these Prof2 positions. We advertised internally that we would award four Prof2 positions to existing research groups that could add a gendered perspective to their work.

One requirement for applying was participating in a seminar with Londa Schiebinger. As a result of that seminar, my colleagues started making discoveries by bringing gendered perspectives to their work.

Over 20 groups submitted applications, and because of the high quality of many of them, I started looking around to see if I could scrape together more money to supplement the prize money. Ultimately, we awarded Prof2 positions to 8 research groups, for a 2-year period, and they’re now in place and hard at work enhancing gendered perspectives in those projects.

One of the positions is used for a colleague who is working across campus to heighten understanding of these methodologies and perspectives.

My motivation, again, was partly scientific and partly to position my researchers to be in a better position to apply for external funds.

In other words, this is already an example of a policy decision at H2020 leading to a specific project at a specific university, with a result that has both led to new knowledge and to cultural change.

Cultures of inclusiveness

To wrap up, let me make one more over-arching comment and a few recommendations.

When we talk about HR issues around gender balance, we often mention the dichotomy between fixing the women and fixing the system.

Then there’s the Gendered Innovations work, which is about fixing the knowledge.

I would suggest that all of these different perspectives and focuses share as a common point that they position universities to better deliver on their promise to society. They position us to better deliver new knowledge and to trigger innovation in ways that ultimately can make societies and individual lives better. And the three perspectives on gender work are ultimately about creating in our organizations cultures of inclusion.


Of course there are individual strategic actions that are being taken and that should be enhanced.

For example, the ERC and everyone in leadership positions should continue using a rhetoric that invites everyone to participate and that invites a variety of research perspectives.

We should encourage career development strategies that counter the tendency for women to wait too long to apply for promotion, through strategies such as those identified in Tromsø’s Promotion Project or the Research Council of Norway’s BALANSE program.

It will be important to have diverse evaluation committees that are trained to recognize and evaluate gendered perspectives in research.

The ERC could be extremely influential in how science resources are awarded if it developed a successful strategy for gender-blind reviewing and if it showed that this eliminates different success rates for men and women applicants.

But all of these things must be seen in the context of the most over-arching recommendation, namely that we must explicitly articulate our work towards cultural change. Be aware — and foster awareness in others — that individual strategic decisions will always have only short-term effects unless they are implemented in ways that feed cultural change.

When we create cultures of inclusion, we give Europe a competitive advantage, since such a culture creates better workplaces and better science.

And it will create situations in which young girls and boys who get a glimpse of the research world will see teams with members that look like them, and will learn about science that one day might directly affect all of their lives.

Thoughts from others on culture eats strategy for lunch:
Shawn Parr at Fast Company
12 reasons culture eats strategy for lunch, by Joe Tye, at SlideShare
Does culture eat strategy for lunch? by Venkatesh Rao, at Tempo

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more


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