“The culture needs to shift”

21.10.2020 von Katrin Löwe in Featured, Science
Professor Johanna Mierendorff has been the university’s Vice-President for Strategic Resource Planning since September 2018. We talked with the educational scientist about the challenges of career and junior staff development, gender equality, and a strategy for MLU.
Johanna Mierendorff
Johanna Mierendorff (Foto: Markus Scholz)

You have been in office for two years. What has been the biggest challenge for you when it comes to human resources development?
To fully comprehend what human resources development can mean for universities. That it is actually an overall strategy rather than just a collection of individual measures. It is something that hadn’t been established at universities until recently. Halle, too, is only just beginning to systematically develop such a strategy.

Is there an area where you feel there is the greatest need for action?
Human resources development needs to be on the radar of more than just the Human Resources Department and the Prorector’s Office; it has to permeate into day-to-day business. The process I went through must also be implemented to a certain degree in the faculties where they know the employees. Another big challenge is to devise an HR development concept for the science-supporting departments similar to what has already been developed for the scientific departments. To do this, we have established a separate working group as part of the Rectorate Commission for Human Resources Development, which was established in 2019.

If we could touch briefly on the concept’s specific areas of action within the scientific departments, the keyword being young scientists. What changes have already been made and what is the goal?
There has been much more scrutiny about career dead ends and career opportunities. But more needs to happen. For example, we need to begin talking to doctoral students one and a half to two years before their contracts end. What are they planning to do next? Is there a way forward in science if that is what they want to pursue? If so, what is the next step? Which professional circles do I need to become active in? As a young scientist, where do I need to become visible? Jobs do not simply fall from the sky.

In 2019, the university was awarded nine assistant professorships with tenure tracks. How significant was this for human resources development and career planning?
First of all, they offer young people real prospects. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has found that more women stay in science when they have career prospects after they finish their doctorate; a job that allows them to think about family leave - of whatever length. This seems to increase the rate of those who choose to remain after receiving their doctorate.

Women make up about half of all doctoral students at MLU. In contrast, they account for only 34 per cent of those who are doing their habilitation. What else can be done?
They need good advice and mentoring. Once I attended an event at the Leopoldina with scientists who were receiving an ERC grant. There was only one woman at the podium and she was asked how she had managed it. Her answer has stuck with me. She told that, at the points on her CV where she had to make a decision, she always had someone behind her telling her that she could do it. When I did my habilitation, none of the women around me had children. Things have moved on since then, even for doctoral students. The more women there are in science who have children and who have gotten to positions like mine, the more this may encourage others. But this is only one part of the picture. There still needs to be family-friendly working times; consideration needs to be given to the fact that children have certain rhythms and that one needn’t always be having to apologise about this. I think the MLU is doing pretty well in this regard. Another point is that when vacancies are being filled, there needs to be a stronger recognition of child-raising periods. Maternity leave is maternity leave; there’s not a lot you can publish during this time. It would be detrimental to only count the number of publications - the culture needs to shift.

What do you think of the term “promotion of women”? Critics say that it suggests that women have deficits and can’t manage otherwise.
I do understand women who say that. For a long time, I also thought that it was just a new form of discrimination. However, the support that is provided here by gender equality programmes is extremely good - mentoring and coaching, for example. That ties in a little with what I previously mentioned: having someone external who mirrors, reflects, demonstrates the way forward. Whatever names we give them, these are important instruments for supporting women which can be developed to become part of the regular programme. But I need to insert a semicolon here: Men need this too! There are also fathers, men, who have to decide whether they want to remain at the university, go into non-university research or switch to industry. Both men and women must be given the time to concentrate on their own coaching and careers - that is human resources development. Now we’ve come full circle.

You mentioned a path towards non-university research or industry. How dramatic is it to leave a university after graduating with a doctorate?
These are different life paths. You have to want to stay in science and it must be viewed as a fulfilling path. At the same time, conditions need to be established to make it actually possible. My aim would not be for a quota. But if you enjoy science, it has to be possible and gender issues cannot be what’s stopping you. For example, some faculties have started actively recruiting women when a professorship is advertised. I think this is very good.

Finally, please briefly complete this sentence: It would be desirable to have more women in science, because...
… I believe that it is encouraging for young women to see that there are women in science.

 

About

Professor Johanna Mierendorff was born in Berlin in 1966. After studying educational sciences at TU Berlin, she received her doctorate from the University of Bremen in 1996. In 2009 she did her habilitation at the University of Hildesheim and, in the same year, she accepted a professorship at MLU in social education with a focus on early childhood education. Johanna Mierendorff is a mother of two.

Professor Johanna Mierendorff
Vice-President for Strategic Resource Planning 
Telephone +49 345 55-21460
Mail: johanna.mierendorff@rektorat.uni-halle.de

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