Following the publication of this article on 7 October, Politiken published a petition where 689 researchers state they have experienced or witnessed sexist behaviour at the universities.
- For me, the debate on sexism is an expression of the fact that we have a really bad workplace culture [in Denmark - Ed.] where some believe they have the right to speak to others – in this case women – in a degrading, condescending way. I find that totally unacceptable.
Such is the opinion of Per Michael Johansen, Rector of AAU, who stresses that AAU has zero tolerance for offensive and abusive behaviour such as sexism and sexual harassment. With zero tolerance, he believes that the university simply will not accept that this kind of thing takes place at the AAU. The university takes such cases very seriously and addresses the cases that the organisation becomes aware of.
OFFENSIVE AND ABUSIVE BEHAVIOUR HAS CONSEQUENCES AT AAU
- If a staff member violates the rules we have on offensive and abusive behaviour then there is a set of rules and a system for how we handle such cases. The injured party will initially be called in for an interview about the case with their immediate manager who will then be able to use various tools to deal with the offending party. The options range from reprimands and warnings to firing – depending on the gravity of the case, explains Per Michael Johansen, referring to the procedure for dealing with abusive behaviour towards employees at AAU.
In light of the recent debate on sexism and sexual harassment, the president has asked the university's HR department to investigate whether AAU can do more to expose and act on such behaviour at AAU. The annual staff APV includes questions on experiences of harassment. Specifically, the Rector has asked the HR department to examine whether the questions are correctly formulated and whether more should be asked. As it stands today, the APV typically reveals 1-2 cases a year, but the Rector has no doubt, based on many examples in the media, that the scale of the problem could potentially be even more extensive.
- Unfortunately, I believe that this kind of offensive and abusive behaviour takes place in all organisations, and I’m not so naïve as to think that it is not also happening at AAU. And we have to act on it, says Per Michael Johansen.
In the examples of sexism and sexual harassment that have been reported on in the media, the relationship between the offending and the injured party has often been marked by an asymmetric power relation. For example, in in Danish TV host Sofie Linde's case, the offending party was a media mogul who could potentially influence the development of her career. The Rector points out that in academia there are also asymmetric power relations – including between students and teachers as well as between PhD students and supervisors.
STAFF MEMBERS MUST BE ABLE TO GO TO MANAGEMENT SAFELY
The headmaster has noted that several women in the public debate have expressed they are reluctant to complain about abuses such as sexism. The reason being, the women explain, they fear that reporting abusive behaviour could have negative consequences for their future careers.
- I would like to stress that there is no way there will be any employment or career consequences for a staff member who reports being subjected to offensive or abusive behaviour such as sexism. Staff members can have full confidence in management that such cases are taken seriously, acted upon and handled according to the rules. We're not going to shoot the messenger. On the contrary, says Per Michael Johansen.