Dr In 2021, Tanja Gnosa was appointed by the Koblenz Senate Committee as Central Officer for Equal Opportunities at the University of Koblenz-Landau for the Koblenz campus and the Mainz administrative site. He is entering an office that is receiving more and more attention and is more important than ever. In the interview, Tanja Gnosa reports on the daily challenges of her work, the importance of work in the field of gender equality and her own experiences with injustice.
How can you imagine the work of an equal opportunities officer?
As the university’s equal opportunities officer, you are tasked with implementing gender equality across the university. This includes supporting recruitment and appointment procedures from an equality perspective, but above all lobbying committees such as Senate or University Council. I am also the contact person for questions regarding the compatibility of family and work or studies, as well as for sexual harassment and violence in the context of the university. Unfortunately, too few people know this.
Provided and attached is the best way to go through life. We’ll show you where to find support on campus.
Have you always had the confidence to be an equal opportunities officer?
On the contrary. (laughs) In retrospect, however, it can be said that I encountered culturally constructed gender inequalities early on. At the beginning of my studies in the nineties at the technical university, there were many stories from engineering fields. Approximately 900 men were greeted by a few women entering the hall with a concert of whistles. I shook my head at that, but nothing more. At the time, I took for granted what I was told was normal: that men are like this and women have to deal with it.
Even during my studies, I didn’t feel at first that I had to do more than my classmates. Today I believe that was not the case. The professor I graduated from and worked for as a student assistant was mostly male. He praised them to the skies, even though I don’t think they were any better than me in terms of content. I had to try harder to get recognition.
How did you get into office?
At the founding meeting of the Council at the Institute for German Studies, my predecessor Professor Dr. Helga Arend, in the meantime, has a new decentralized equal opportunities officer been found for Ward 2. Before I knew it, I was elected. The office of Equal Opportunities Officer for the Koblenz campus and the Mainz campus then became vacant. Initially, I declined the inquiries because I still hoped for an academic career without fully sacrificing myself for it. (laughs) I decided at the end of 2020 and at the beginning of 2021 I was appointed by the Koblenz Senate Committee.
Does your job present challenges for you?
In each case. Equal opportunity workers have to overcome obstacles every day. Funding measures to promote equality is one of the biggest challenges. But even at committee meetings there are always people who are not so convinced that work on gender equality is necessary “today”. When setting up committees and commissions, I also try to observe equal representation, which often does not play a major role in the nomination of candidates. Here I am in demand in my capacity.
That sounds like a busy day’s work. How do you balance everything?
Just hard. (laughs) I am constantly trying to pursue gender equality, family reconciliation and protection from sexual harassment. I am responsible not only for professors, secondary academic faculty and all students, but also for university secretaries, all administrative staff and employees in central institutions and projects. You would have to know almost everything that happens on campus and in Mainz – that is obviously impossible. I am therefore confronted with new challenges every day, which I like to face.
You are released from teaching and research for the duration of your work as an equal opportunities officer. Do you ever miss this job?
Having always loved explaining the world to others, I naturally miss learning. (laughs) At the moment, however, I feel that I can achieve more in the office of the equal opportunities officer than as a lecturer and researcher.
Why is the deployment of equal opportunities officers in universities so important?
Basically, I think it is very important that all institutions have equal opportunities officers. Universities and colleges of applied sciences have a special social obligation to work for gender equality. Educational institutions fulfill a multiplier function. What is exemplified here has an important bearing. If we do not make it very clear that all genders have equal value and equal opportunities, that family and career or studies can be reconciled without one parent having to give up, that sexual harassment and violence are dealt with openly, equality of opportunity, a democratic Society has no place – so where please?
What advice do you have for women who feel disadvantaged in the university context?
I advise all women who feel discriminated against because of their gender to contact either my colleagues in the departments or me directly. We will record the complaints and agree on the next steps to take. Very important: We are bound by law to confidentiality and do not do anything unsolicited. No one has to worry about an unstoppable ball rolling.
Because of your professional expertise, do you deal with discrimination differently when you experience it yourself?
It probably sharpened my eye to the many, even subtle, forms of disadvantage that members of marginalized groups must contend with on a daily basis. As a white, middle-class western woman, I am quite privileged. Being aware of the downsides means I’m better able to recognize them when I’m concerned. But that doesn’t automatically mean that I handle it more confidently in every situation.
Do you have an example of such an everyday situation?
I would say that mansplaining is a phenomenon that affects me quite often. This means the man’s didactic statements towards others who assume that he knows more about the subject of the conversation and that he has to instruct his counterpart. If it’s too much for me, I’ll say so.
Do you feel appreciated in your work?
Yes and no. As an Equal Opportunity Officer, you are often a necessary evil because I and my colleagues exist because the Higher Education Act requires it. I don’t know if universities would afford to have equal opportunities officers if it weren’t for legal compulsion and political will. We’re also tightening up the administrative and commission processes a bit, which aren’t particularly smooth anyway. On the other hand, there are many people who fight for gender equality, against discrimination and violence, and that supports me.
How likely do you think it is that full gender equality will ever happen?
The principle of human perception is the perception of differences. Based on these differences, we create categories. The putative gender binary is one of the most effective and enduring categories in human history. I am afraid that this in itself makes it impossible for all people to have equal rights. Perhaps we can soften the boundaries of these categories. However, as long as they exist, we will assign ratings, attributes, and expectations to them.
What do you say to people who think that working for equality is futile?
The constant dripping wears away the stone and that we must imagine Sisyphus as a happy man.
Interview: Elena Panzerer