Promoting equality and diversity with determination
As we state in our strategy, the university promotes equality and diversity with determination. Bullying and harassment are not tolerated. No one should perceive differences related to ethnicity, nationality, cultural background, or language as an obstacle to their activities.
“Experiences of inequality weaken the sense of community,” says Dr. Taina Pihlajaniemi, Vice Rector of Research who leads the Equality and Diversity Committee of the University of Oulu. “We need to ensure together an inclusive work and study community where everyone experiences a genuine sense of belonging.”
This is, in fact, both a legal requirement and a value-based policy. The Equality Act and the Nondiscrimination Act define the collective responsibility of the entire university community to promote equality and diversity at all levels and in all operator roles of its basic duties. University values, on the other hand, specify that we treat people equally and support the wellbeing of the community. We also encourage everyone to take responsibility and debate in a constructive manner.
Everyday actions count
The persistent work on equality and diversity at our university aims at mainstreaming. This means that we arrange our operational practices, development, and assessment of decision-making in such a way that we promote openness, equality, and diversity in all actions and all levels.
“Anti-racism works best through everyday actions, and we want to promote open and appreciative encounters between people from different parts of the world and with different cultural backgrounds without prejudices and assumptions,” Pihlajaniemi underlines. “As a community, we want to promote an atmosphere that allows constructive intervention in racist behaviour, in all of its forms.”
Training and information-sharing are other key tools for mainstreaming issues related to equality and diversity as they aim at building understanding and competencies. Contents on diversity and gender equality are included especially in orientations of personnel and the pedagogic training of staff with teaching duties to ensure that in each unit there are people who have received the training. Similarly, undergraduate, and postgraduate students are encouraged to include study modules related to equality, diversity, and ethics in their studies.
“We encourage university management and personnel, as well as students, to join communication and training sessions and to explore the information distributed by the Equality and Diversity Committee, the Equality and Diversity Workgroups and other functions within the University,” Pihlajaniemi says. “This broad engagement is the best way for everyone to recognize their own roles and possibilities to contribute towards a more equal university community.”
Intervening is everyone’s duty
All of the personnel and students must intervene in any faults that they detect in the community such as racist incidents or hate speech, but, in particular, those in leadership positions have the main responsibility in this regard. The leaders must prevent improper behaviour and intervene immediately in any discrimination, gender-based or sexual harassment, and abuse or bullying at the workplace.
The Equality and Diversity Committee of the University of Oulu has prepared guidelines for handling situations that can be interpreted as sexual harassment, abuse, or bullying. The guidelines for the Prevention of Bullying and Harassment at the University of Oulu are intended for those who have been subject to any harassment, and for the responsible parties such as heads of unit or supervisors who must always immediately intervene in harassment, whether it is targeted at a member of personnel or a student.
If you, as a member of the University of Oulu community, experience any bullying or harassment, act immediately. The guidelines clarify what the victims of bullying and/or harassment should do without delay. You can tell the individual concerned, or you may take up the issue either verbally or in writing. Solving challenges and misunderstandings directly between individuals is possible when the involved parties are capable of receiving and handling constructive feedback and observing their own behaviour from others' point of views.
If you cannot or do not want to contact the individual concerned or if the improper behaviour continues, you should report it to someone you trust. The faculties and the student union have appointed their own contact persons who can be contacted in case of improper behaviour. For personnel, a trustworthy person could be either your immediate supervisor, an occupational safety and health representative or, e.g., the human resources manager. Students should contact their tutor teacher, the service manager for academic affairs, the harassment contact person(s) at the University of Oulu student union, or a study psychologist.
You can also report bullying or harassment with a web report “Announcement from experienced bullying/harassment”. With the announcement, you can start the handling process or acknowledge that the handling process has begun. After you have completed the announcement, you will be contacted within the week with details on the process.
In 2021, 38 announcements regarding experienced bullying/harassment were made at our university – 27 by our personnel and 11 by students. All reports of bullying and harassment are immediately handed to the Occupational Safety and Health Manager and the Study Counselling Psychologist for next steps. The Manager takes forward cases concerning personnel and the Study Psychologist cases where at least one of the parties is a student. The practical process is handled by the service manager for academic affairs for students and the HR manager for personnel.
The early support model adopted at the university since autumn of 2011 is a tool for detecting, addressing, and solving various kinds of challenges related to an individual’s behaviour, the work community, or the whole organisation. “Early support promotes an atmosphere of attention and caring, and it is thus a part of the safety net of a well-operating work unit,” Pihlajaniemi notes.
Support measures for students are available through the university’s guidance network. “Peer tutors, tutor teachers and the university’s counselling services for students are parties that can be approached on a low threshold in any concerns related to the study environment,” says Pia Partanen, Study Counselling Psychologist at the University of Oulu. “The student union is also strongly involved in the student's affairs, offering various support measures and guidance.”
Intervention procedures clarified
The equality and diversity plan for 2022-2023 of the University of Oulu focuses on topical and practical procedures and means to promote both equality and diversity. The development actions in the plan include, for example, increasing and widening discussion and information on equality and diversity. During the two-year period, training, and communication on the zero-tolerance of bullying/harassment is expanded.
Another action in the plan focuses on careful analysis of survey results and statistics of the anonymous web reports to ensure fast reactions in individual cases. “We want to follow the progress of mediation and possible sanctions based on the reports filled both by personnel and students,” Pihlajaniemi says. “Our goal is to systematically improve our early preventive methods which will help in strengthening experiences of belonging and wellbeing.”
It is imperative that the management supports and sets an example for the work on equality and diversity. All essential intervention procedures are presented in the Equality and Diversity Plan, and it is the duty of the management to promote and supervise their implementation in all units. Moreover, the implementation of correct procedures requires that all members of the community, the personnel as well as the students, are committed.
“The University of Oulu is an excellent place to study and carry out research, and we strive to further improve our attractiveness as a place of study and an internationally significant research environment,” Pihlajaniemi concludes. “I firmly believe that our high aspirations can best be reached in an environment that honours equality and diversity and is free of bullying and harassment.”