Equal opportunity

Technology is not neutral. Robots, drones or artificial intelligence appear neutral, but they are backed by people who put their experience, knowledge and social factors into them. Technology teams that are not diverse can therefore develop solutions that overlook the social and biological differences of different groups and fail to meet their needs. As a result, developing a diverse environment is a growing theme in technology and one that is not neglected by our faculty.

The percentage of female students at FEL has been increasing each year, but quite slowly - by eight percentage points over the last ten years. In 2020, 16.2 % of FEE students were female, and the representation of women decreases in advanced degree programs. For reference, international students accounted for 22.5 % of all students in 2020.

In 2021, FEE conducted a Diversity and Equal Opportunity Survey with the support of a general partnership with ŠKODA AUTO and a partnership with Continental Automotive. In early 2023, the Faculty published the final report of the survey and followed it up with activities that reflect the issues and opportunities arising from the survey.

Why is diversity in tech teams important?

Team diversity is not just a question of ethics, but more importantly of the innovation and economic potential of the institution, the students and their future employers. Moreover, diverse teams mean diverse ideas, which are not only based on knowledge, but also on culture, age, nationality, language, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, economic situation, disability, personal interests, values, degree attainment, etc. 

FEL addresses topics such as electromobility, artificial intelligence, Smart City, Smart Home, eHealth, the Internet of Things, internet safety, 5G networks or the integration of robots into work processes and services. All of these areas bring with them the potential for great change in the lives of everyone around the world. That's why we strive to create a favourable environment for experts with different backgrounds, from different disciplines, cultures, men and women, to help develop technologies to serve different target groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have questions about the topic of diversity, you may find the answer below. If not, feel free to use the anonymous online form to send your comments, questions and ideas.

Willl we introduce quotas?

We will not, and we understand why quotas may be perceived rather negatively. They carry with them a fear of positive discrimination, which can give the impression that other necessary skills and areas of knowledge are not important. In some cases, however, quotas are a necessary way of achieving a state of society in which quotas are no longer needed. Without quotas, some problems would take decades to 'straighten out' naturally.You may believe, after all, that everyone has had the same, i.e. equal, conditions and opportunities for a long time. However, a level playing field does not lead to equal opportunities if the person facing such a playing field has a disadvantageous starting conditions compared to others (because of disability, age, parenthood, gender, language, etc.). We are not about quotas, we are about creating an environment that is friendly and supportive for anyone whose starting conditions are not the same as the majority. In such an environment, where even people from underrepresented groups feel welcome, we will naturally improve the learning and working environment for all. We believe we will achieve this by working together and understanding so that we do not need quotas. 

Diversity survey/gender audit is only focused on women?

No, it examines all selected potentially disadvantaged groups. It is more accurate to talk about an equal opportunity survey. Our priority at the moment is three groups - women, parents and international students/workers. We believe this is a good foundation from which to build. At the same time, we believe that the gender audit and the resulting action plan will indirectly affect other potentially disadvantaged groups. We also want to pay attention to the majority group in the audit. We are interested in their concerns, prejudices, experiences or any other comments.

Can an audit go wrong?

The term “audit” can give a negative impression. However, a gender audit is only a concept which allows us the chance to get it right. This is also why we prefer to refer to it as an equal opportunity survey. Its aim is to examine where we stand on equal access and equal opportunity, to identify opportunities for improvement and to translate these into practice. The findings of audits in other educational and research institutions have led, for example, to the Julia Hamáček Award, return grants for parents after maternity/parental leave, counselling for dual-career couples and an inclusion guide for international PhD students. Equally, we can see through the audit whether we are already doing our best to create an environment that is friendly and supportive for anyone whose starting conditions are not the same as the majority. In all cases, the gender audit will prove to us that we are not overlooking this issue, and at the same time it will help us to meet the new criteria for awarding grants from major institutions such as Horizon Europe.

Are we creating an artificial problem?

Just because we don't know about a problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Therefore, with a gender audit/equal opportunity survey, we want to find out where we stand on this issue and what we can do to create an environment that is friendly and supportive for anyone whose starting conditions are not the same as the majority. Moreover, there are already a number of studies that we can draw inspiration from. Examples from the Czech context include:

  • a survey by Charles University and the Ministry of Education and the resulting handbook Sexual Harassment at Universities: Why It Occurs, How It Manifests itself, What Can Be Done about it
  • the One Size Does Not Fit Allproject, which draws on scientific studies to highlight the importance of diverse teams in research, development and innovation (see Stanford University's website for details, specific examples and guidance on how to incorporate a gender and sex perspective into your research)
  • the Monitoring report The Status of Women in Czech Science by the National Contact Centre - Gender and Science
  • the GENDERACTION project
  • of the National Contact Centre - Gender and Science and the Institute of Sociology of the CAS, which shows that there is a positive correlation between the Innovation Potential Index, the Excellence Indicator and the Gender Equality Index. Countries that are able to harness the potential of the entire educated population (including women/parents) have a higher return on investment for their education and science education budgets

And why is this an issue that should not be ignored? The negative consequence is that particular people who may be exposed to gender-based harassment may feel unwelcome at school. Through gender stereotyping, teachers may apply generalising judgements to them and disregard their individual dispositions and performances. Moreover, these judgements are often ridiculing and insulting. Therefore, if we want to create an environment that is friendly and supportive for anyone whose starting conditions are not the same as the majority, such behaviour is a barrier to this. We may be losing talent and its potential.

In the case of foreign students/workers, it is similar. If it is difficult to get detailed information in a foreign language, the group only speaks Czech, or it is difficult for foreigners to find their way around the Czech environment (for example, moving here with their family for PhD studies), they may feel unwelcome at the school and therefore prefer to choose another institution. 

In the case of parents, especially if both parents are pursuing scientific careers, we may again encounter loss of talent, prolongation of studies, problems with publishing, failure to meet grant conditions, etc.

Are we supposed to be afraid to hold the door for someone or tell them they look nice?

This is more of a rhetorical question that unwittingly makes light of the issue of equality and gender-based violence. The aim of the gender audit/equal opportunity survey, or the resulting action plan, is certainly not to create a handbook of do's and don'ts. It is important for us to open up the topic, to talk about it and, above all, to think critically about it. Our current attitude can only be the result of a lack of information on the issue or subjective experience, but we cannot form generalised conclusions and opinions on the basis of this.

Why don't the people in question speak up when something bothers them?

The reasons for a face-to-face confrontation can vary from fear or respect to a hopeless acceptance of the majority rules. The gender audit/equal opportunities survey touches on several areas, some of which may be more sensitive to learners and workers than others. These can include unpleasant remarks, stereotyping, language barriers and the inclusion process (in the case of foreigners), grant conditions (in the case of parents), as well as bullying, exclusion from the collective or sexual harassment.

For example, the relationship between teachers and learners is inherently unequal in power (as are the hierarchical relationships between workers, to which the following information also relates). Lecturers have a major influence on the educational trajectories of particular learners - awarding certificates, preparing recommendations for placements abroad, etc. At the same time, teachers are often informal authorities for learners, whom they look up to and respect for their professional qualities. Teachers (and colleagues) who abuse their position and start behaving in an inappropriate way are therefore difficult to confront. This is partly due to the fear of the power advantage that teachers have over learners by making decisions about their studies. It is also difficult for learners to admit that lecturers, for whom they have had respect until now, are behaving in unprofessional and morally problematic ways. It may also be behaviour that is insulting and ridiculing, but with apparent hyperbole or humour, so learners do not usually object to it or initially perceive it as unpleasant or annoying.

Another barrier may be the fear of secondary victimisation, where a victim who speaks up becomes a victim again, for example because they are accused of exaggeration, hysteria or false accusations. 

It is also not insignificant that disadvantaged groups may see acceptance of the "rules of the game" of the prevailing majority as the only way to integrate into the collective. Behaviour or conditions that do not suit them are then seen as a necessary and inseparable part of the environment in which they move. At the same time, they reject any act of favouritism because it might degrade their knowledge and experience. They also often dismiss helping other members of a potentially disadvantaged group with arguments that downplay or deny the existence of the problem.

Awareness-raising, a declaration of unacceptable behaviour in the code of ethics, a special section on the website with guidance on how to deal with unpleasant incidents, ensuring confidentiality, counselling (e.g. even if it feels like a false accusation), and the general atmosphere of the institution where the obstacles/problems mentioned will not be repeated frequently and regularly can all help with the above obstacles.

Why do we need special procedures and processes for this?

The objection is often raised against the introduction of special measures to addresscases of sexual harassment in education, for example, that it is a rare phenomenon. On the rare occasion that such a case does arise, it is said to be possible to assess it on an ad hoc basis and/or through existing mechanisms that relate to student-teacher relations in general. However, experience has shown that this is not a helpful approach, as sexual harassment and other types of gender-based violence, including bullying, etc., is a relatively widespread but very specific problem. If measures are developed that deal exclusively with this phenomenon, they can better prevent and resolve cases of harassment.

It is important to note that awareness of standardised mechanisms for preventing and dealing with harassing behaviour gives students and workers a sense of security and confidence in the institution at which they study. These measures send an important signal to the entire academic community that the school is aware of the problem, takes it seriously and works to address it. Strict measures to prevent abuse are an essential part of these mechanisms.

In addition, the procedures and processes are central to the other target groups of the audit - international students/workers and parents. In order not to deal with these cases individually, standardised mechanisms can facilitate and unify our work. At the same time, they will signal that these groups can find a supportive environment for their work or studies at our faculty, which may be the reason why they choose to work at our faculty.

How was the gender audit conducted and who facilitated it?

The gender audit/equal opportunity survey used quantitative and qualitative social science research methods and was conducted by external consultants associated under the Gender Expert Chamber of the Czech Republic. Experts of the Chamber had to go through a demanding recruitment process and had to be included in the official database of the Gender Expert Chamber of the Czech Republic as a confirmation of the expertise of individual members. Their qualifications for the proper conduct of a gender audit are also derived from the Gender Audit Standardissued in 2016 by the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.

The gender audit/equal opportunities survey was carried out between June and December 2021. In the first phase, already available gender-segregated data (e.g. number of male and female students) and documents (e.g. Code of Ethics) were analysed. On the basis of these and in combination with already published studies on gender issues in science and higher education, hypotheses were formed. These were then tested using a quantitative questionnaire survey. The data collected via the questionnaire helped to identify areas that the consultants explored in more depth through focus groups and structured interviews. The focus was on three primary groups - women, parents and international students/workers.

The gender audit/equal opportunity survey resulted in a final report and a draft action plan. 

All this was done in line with the EU's equality strategy: the Union of Equality and the 2021+ Gender Equality Strategy, the Cabinet Office and the European Commission's science policy through the new Horizon Europe framework programme. However, we are not merely going through the motions of formally meeting commitments and recommendations so that we have 'delivered', so to speak. 

What does this mean for us in practice?

From the beginning, we wanted to communicate the topic of the gender audit/equal opportunity survey openly, clearly, transparently and towards all interest groups at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. We will also make sure that the audit itself and its output is truly beneficial to all. Our efforts will thus be long-term and systematic. We want everyone to feel invited to contribute to the issues, so we appreciate cooperation in the analytical and research parts, our own initiative, comments, criticism, feedback, and help with dissemination of information and awareness. 

Why can't we accept the fact that girls are not that interested in technology?

This statement is not determined by biology, but by social attitudes, education and upbringing. It is these factors that then shape the starting conditions that can disadvantage certain groups. If girls have only so-called “girly” toys available to them from a young age, they have no room to develop their interest in technical subjects, for example. It is not for nothing that many Czech women who are successful in technology come from an environment where they have been surrounded by technology from a young age. This does not mean that other women do not have a "head" for technology, physics or mathematics. Rather, this statement is instilled in them by their environment and therefore the path to technical education is often more difficult for them than for boys.

Moreover, from the age of 6, girls think that boys are more likely to be exceptionally gifted (2017). Research repeatedly confirms that we unconsciously evaluate women's performance more critically than men's (e.g. 199719992011201220132014). Our perceptions of what women can do and what men are suited to co-create conditions in which girls and women are not attracted to science and, if they do enter, may face disparagement, invalidation and mistrust.

What all is referred to as gender-based violence?

According to the legal definition (Anti-Discrimination Act No. 198/2009 Coll.), which corresponds with other professional definitions, there are two basic types of sexual harassment: 1. sexual coercion and blackmail associated with obtaining benefits or, on the contrary, with punishment ("quid pro quo"); 2. creating a hostile environment for women or men as a group and/or for specific persons because of their membership in a group of women or men. This includes any prolonged, repeated, unwelcome and unsolicited behaviour.

Gender-based violence refers not only to sexually motivated harassment, but also to victimisation, exclusion, refusal to greet someone, so it is not exclusively an assault situation, but creates an unequal environment or promotes power hierarchies.  

Behaviours that create a hostile environment include the application of stereotypical ideas about women and men. In the research carried out on which this handbook is based, learners specifically pointed to frequent comments made by teachers about the different abilities of women or men or the spheres in which they should operate. For example, they found unpleasant and hostile comments by lecturers that women did not have the skills to study certain fields, or that their professional skills mattered less than those of their male colleagues, as they would be working in the home anyway and not in the field they were studying. Another example is the remarks about students with a homosexual orientation. The forms of behaviour described are specifically referred to by the term gender-based harassment. This represents negative, insulting, hostile or derogatory attitudes towards women or men that are not explicitly sexual in nature.

The downplaying of sexual harassment occurs, for example, through the pejorative use of the term 'harassment', the explanation of men's orientation and sexuality in terms of evolutionary and sociobiological theory ('it's male nature, it's in their genes'), references to feminism ('such behaviour is only a problem for feminists who hate men', 'if it goes on, men will be afraid to help a woman into her coat or hold the door')

The whole issue is tabooed, downplayed by pointing out the provocations of the learners and the possibility of abuse, or generally presented as an irrelevant topic.

Low awareness of sexual harassment consequently reduces the ability to notice, recognize and name such acts in reality.

Additional resources

Examples of the importance of diverse tech teams: One Size Doesn't Fit All | NKC - Gender & Science (genderaveda.cz)

Responsible person Ing. Mgr. Radovan Suk