Inequality between men and women is considered by many to be the most long-standing form of social injustice (Saleiro and Sales Oliveira 2018
). Although important changes have occurred in recent decades, the global situation is still far from the ideal situation where all people, despite their sex and/or gender, are free to be and do what they wish, and have the ability and resources to move from one place to another, the right to attend school, to have a bank account, or to own assets (HDR 2019
; Saleiro and Sales Oliveira 2018
). Furthermore, big asymmetries remain between countries and regions (European Institute for Gender Equality 2019
; World Economic Forum 2020
; Cascella et al. 2022
). This situation is a main concern in the international political agenda, and justifies the definition of strategic priorities in organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU). For the purpose of promoting gender equality, some instruments of measure of inequalities have been created, one of them being the Gender Inequality Index (Young et al. 1994
; Harvey et al. 1990
). A gender inequality index is a composite index that measures the inequality between women and male achievements in several dimensions of life in society. Despite broadly using the term gender to name these mechanisms, in most of them the focus is on the situation of men and women in a certain context. This focus is still the dominant use of the term not only for the general public (Morgenroth and Ryan 2021
) but also to experts and especially in the national and international framework of equality and inclusion policies. In this paper, we will use gender in the sense of the man-and-woman dichotomy, despite the authors identifying with a broader conceptualization of gender that includes LGBTQI persons. The reason for this option is the current unavailability of data about diversity. Some projects are already making operational proposals to address gender diversity at workplaces (Pichardo Galán et al. 2019
), but it is still far from being frequent and these initiatives tend to face much resistance. In fact, the collection of data disaggregated by sex is still a recent achievement in several HEIs (Clavero and Galligan 2021
). Furthermore, as Bonjour et al.
) state, without hard data there is no way to address diversity. Therefore, for the time being, we proceed with a binary approach, but we stress the importance of broadening the perspective in which gender is addressed in public policies in general and HEIs in particular.
The debate about the validity of the indicators used to measure gender equality in different contexts has received increasing attention over time. Permanyer
), for example, using data from the United Nations, showed that the choice of indicators can have an important impact on the ranking of countries, especially for those that achieved high levels of gender equality (Cascella et al. 2022
). In this respect, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 5 concerns gender equality and aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2021
). However, progress in achieving this goal and its detailed targets has been uneven. While much advancement has been achieved in enrolling girls in primary education, other areas such as discrimination and violence against women, reproductive health, ownership rights, and technology are far from reaching an acceptable level. Promoting change faces several obstacles, one of them being the operationalization of the goals. In this respect, scholars have argued that many SDG targets are so conceptually complex that they cannot be translated into measurable indicators, particularly SDG 5 (Breuer et al. 2019
; Eden and Wagstaff 2021
Prominent international governance institutions have created their own mechanisms to track data on gender equality and thus be able to monitor progress over time: gender equality indexes. Some of the most distinguished are:
The Gender Inequality Index (GII), created by the United Nations Development Program to assess inequalities between women and men in three important aspects of human development: health, empowerment, and economic status (GII 2020
The Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), created in 2006 by the World Economic Forum to identify gender disparities and to monitor progress over time (GGGI 2020
The Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) Index, created by the World Bank in 2009 based on laws affecting women at every stage of their lives (WBL 2020
The Gender Equality Index (GEI), a tool developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) which presents historical data on the advancement of gender equality in the European Union countries, giving more visibility to areas in need of improvement and providing subsidies for more effective gender equality policies to be designed (GEI 2020
The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), created by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2009 to measure discrimination against women in social institutions in about 180 countries. Its four dimensions cover socioeconomic areas that affect women’s lives considering account laws, social norms, and practices (SIGI 2020
Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women developed in 2010 to provide a holistic framework for empowerment of women and girls. The WEPs Tool—Gender Gap Analysis Tool of Women’s Empowerment Principles, launched in 2017 (WEPs 2020
), aims to measure gender equality in the workplace, market, and community by verifying adherence to the WEPs. This tool does not have the word index in its nomenclature; however, it evaluates how companies are promoting gender equality worldwide using surveys (WEPs 2020
), constituting an index in practice.
The aim of creating these mechanisms was to provide robust statistical evidence of gender inequality that was at the same time easy to read, illustrative of the transversal nature of the inequalities, and comparable in different geographical realities (Permanyer 2013a
). A recent proposal aims to add a longitudinal perspective, claiming that it has the ability to shed new light on gender inequality analysis (Dilli et al. 2019
). At the same time, work is being conducted at a more micro-level, with strategies and measures designed and implemented for promoting gender equality in companies and institutions (Jeanes et al. 2012
). At this level, gender equality plans are the more used instrument because they present big advantages in terms of operationalizing the change at an organizational level (Sales Oliveira and Augusto 2017
; Barros et al. 2018
). Nevertheless, both for assessing gender inequality and monitoring its progress at organizational level, statistical evidence is an important asset.
Gender equality indexes are still not usually applied at organizational level, despite the long existent recommendation for their development (Moser 2007
). Some companies—especially those that claim to have social responsibility concerns and policies—are disclosing their data to global indexes such as Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI). From our point of view, this represents an example of how gender equality promotion can be used for brand management. While accepting that these initiatives can have the merit of promoting the public visibility of the theme, we believe that actions that are more profound and deeply embedded in strategic management are required for effective organizational change towards equality. In this sense, individual indexes developed and applied at internal level can be powerful instruments.
Specifically, higher education institutions (HEI), which in recent decades have strongly invested in the implementation of GEPs, do not have an instrument that allows gender equality to be easily measured within these institutions. The existence of an index for HEIs could facilitate procedures, simplify monitoring GEPs, and capacitate them to better target their intervention. It can also facilitate comparison between different HEIs and contexts, following patterns of use of the global indexes that are already widely used and accepted by the international community. In order for each higher education institution to assess and gain a view of gender equality in its environment, it is necessary for data to be collected, used, and understood by this institution with relative ease and constancy, so that the monitoring of progress is not discontinued. Progress in these questions is remarkable, but the availability and quality of data remains an issue at some HEIs (Clavero and Galligan 2021
). Gender assessments are usually the first step for developing a GEP (Sales Oliveira and Vilas-Boas 2012
; Clavero and Galligan 2021
). Monitoring evolution through the years is a current necessity for organizations with a gender equality plan, but this is typically achieved by annual reports based on the initial assessment with more or less detail as is recommended, for example, by GEAR (Gender Equality in Academia and Research) toolkit step 5.1
Academia and higher education is a very specific area in terms of work organization culture and power. The prevalence of symbolic power, in the sense of Bourdieu, makes universities strongly hierarchical (Clavero and Galligan 2021
) and uneven. To address gender equality in HEIs demands profound attention to a large complexity of more- or less-hidden inequalities such as “glass ceilings” and “glass cliffs,” “sticky floors”, and a “wheel of precarity” (Clavero and Galligan 2021, p. 1117
). The manifestations of these phenomena are deeply connected to the specific cultural context, which is very important to keep in mind when working in international consortiums or conducting cross-national comparisons (Le Feuvre 2009
). The current complexity of job formats and career paths in academia (Kwiek and Antonowicz 2015
) presents challenges to developing cross-national comparisons.
The literature presents very few studies related to the construction of indexes for gender equality in higher education institutions—we found just two references: (Addabbo et al. 2019
; Mignoli et al. 2018
). We were able to find proposals for the evaluation of gender equality organizational interventions, such as the inspiring case of EFFORTI (Schmidt and Graversen 2020
), but the purpose of an index is different from that of an evaluation framework.
In this scenario, the aim of this work is to propose a framework for assessing gender equality in higher education institutions, GEHEI—Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions. The composed index aims to evaluate gender inequalities in these institutions through data that can be provided by the institutions themselves, enabling user-friendly application and understanding by the academic community. An important feature of the index is the possibility of monitoring both the organizational progress in gender equality in a given institution and a comparative ranking of equality between different institutions. Therefore, our GEHEI proposal was built based on a detailed study of the gender equality indexes which are widely accepted by global society. Based on the knowledge about the dimensions and component variables of these indexes, a set of dimensions and indicators that are adequate and can be applied in a practical way in higher education institutions was selected to compose GEHEI.
4. GEHEI Mathematical Model
Each dimension has an equality index calculated individually, and the results in this step indicate at the level of the respective dimension in the GEHEI evaluation. The user assigns a percentage value to each variable, according to the scale shown in Figure 3
For GEHEI calibration, we consider (i) a Laplace–Gauss distribution with the parameter media μ = 0.5 and standard deviation (σ = according to research data), and (ii) error of 2%. The validation took place from the survey completion and analysis of two universities (in Brazil and Portugal).
Perfect equality is reached when the parameters are 50:50%
First Quartile: 48% < GEHEI < 52% represents equality; the variation comes from the 2% error
Second Quartile: 34% ≤ GEHEI ≤ 48% (inequality toward women) or 52% ≤ GEHEI ≤ 66% (inequality toward men) represents inequality, with probability p = 11.2%
Third Quartile: 34% ≤ GEHEI or GEHEI ≥ 66% represents high inequality, with probability p = 87.2%
This assumption is incorporated in the description of each variable from Table 5
This type of perceptual system is especially used when it is needed to quantify a complex problem with simple numerical information, facilitating the application of parametric tests.
In practice, the use of dichotomous systems easily summarizes data and can help in the decision-making process, especially regarding the next path to take. After calculating each dimension, a unique GEHEI index is determined.
From Equations (1)–(5), all the variables H, Ep, Ed, V, and T will have a value assigned between 0 (zero) and 1 with α, β, ρ, θ, and being weight factors between 0 (zero) and 1 according to the user’s priorities towards specific dimensions.
This freedom allows each entity/specialist/user to prioritize each dimension. If the user wishes all dimensions to have the same significance, their weight factors will be assigned with “1”.
GEHEI Framework Application
To validate the GEHEI framework, two universities from different countries were chosen and evaluated, and they are used in the present work as examples of the application of the GEHEI framework model. These universities were selected primarily because the authors are based in them. It is not easy to obtain institutional data from HEIs, so to be insiders was a clear advantage. Additionally, we consider that they represent good case studies since they are organizations situated in very different contexts and characterized by much-differentiated structures and cultures. This enable us to test the index in two very specific contexts and to validate if it can be successfully applied to both cases.
Presenting the two case studies used to test our framework, University of Beira Interior (UBI) is a public institution of higher education founded in 1986 and located in the center of Portugal. It is dedicated to integral education, which means that in addition to the objectives of academic teaching and research, it assumes the responsibility of contributing to the development of culture, citizenship, and social development in the local community. It has an academic community currently composed of 9509 people, of which 8479 are students, 762 are teaching staff, and 268 are non-teaching staff integrated in 5 faculties and 18 research units (Sales Oliveira and Vilas Boas 2021
). It is a small and young university, bubeen increasingly gaining visibility due to specific expertise in research areas such as management and economics, cinema, and health sciences. It has also been undertaking strategic investment in internationalization. UBI was the first Portuguese university to develop a gender equality plan in 2011.The project to develop a GEP for the University of Beira Interior surged in 2009 as an outcome of a research project funded by funding from the strategic framework (through the QREN-POPH). It was a groundbreaking initiative in Portugal that inspired the former development of GEPs in Portuguese HEIs. Currently, all but one of the public Portuguese universities (13 universities) have a GEP, most of them developed in the context of international projects in partnerships funded by EU funds. UBI remains a pioneer in gender equality promotion at HEIs, because after the end of the funded project in 2013 the university maintained its commitment with Gender Equality. Since 2018, it has a dedicated commission for equality organizational promotion. CI UBI is embedded in the organizational structure and reports directly to the rectory. Since 2011, UBI produces annual reports on the UBI Gender Equality situation and the last two editions have introduced a barometer. All these initiatives were developed without external funding. UBI assumes Gender Equality as its own mission. The availability of all these data created very good conditions for testing our index.
In Portugal, the development of gender studies was a late, scattered, and somewhat conservative process (Augusto et al. 2018
). As a result of the constraints of the dictatorship and other reasons linked to the delay in the development of higher education in the country, only at the end of the 1980s did an area of studies begin to emerge. This emergency was greatly driven by the existence of a so-called State Feminism (Monteiro 2013
). In Portugal, the existence since 1977 of a Commission for the feminine condition enabled the creation of this field of studies that until then had only the isolated work of a few social scientists carving gender issues within the framework of their own disciplinary area. It was only from the end of the 1990s on that we can refer to gender studies as an area in Portugal (Augusto et al. 2018
). Some landmarks include, in 1999, the creation of APEM (Portuguese Association of Women Studies) and the publication of a journal (Ex Aequo) which remains the only existent journal in the country that is entirely devoted to gender research. In 1995, the first gender studies program was created in Portugal and only in 2012 the first and, thus far, only interdisciplinary research center on gender was born—CIEG (Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies). As one could expect from this background, there is a certain degree of conservatism about Portuguese gender studies (Augusto et al. 2018
). For a long time linked mainly to family studies, gender research in Portugal is currently more interdisciplinary, but a strong tendency towards some dominant areas still remains. Work and employment is a good example. In the last decade, the fight against domestic violence has generated a proliferation of research in this area. Nevertheless, this research is closely related to the work of state organisms and to the elaboration of public policies. This tendency presents advantages, such has a strong applicability of scientific research. Yet, at the same time, this determines the main lines of research and funding. Thus, for example, unlike what happened in Brazil, in Portugal gender studies do not much connect with the fields of body and sexuality studies. One other important feature of Portuguese gender studies is the influence of EU research frameworks. Gender mainstreaming arrived later than in other European countries but it is now dominant in what concerns gender research (Pereira 2016
The Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB) is a Brazilian federal public higher education institution located in the state of Paraíba. Its headquarters is in the city of João Pessoa, having also three campuses in the inner country and two neighborhood units in the metropolitan area of João Pessoa. UFPB is recognized for its excellence in teaching and technological research and is currently among the best universities in Latin America. It is composed of a community of about 48,655 people, of which 39,000 are students, 2700 are teaching staff, and 3055 are non-teaching staff, integrated in 5 faculties and 18 research units (UFPB 2021
). The UFPB does not have a plan or body directed at promoting gender equality.
Obtaining the necessary up-to-date data was a time-consuming process, made possible due to the strategic position of the researcher.
We can say that in the Brazilian context, the development of gender equality initiatives for HEIs is still in its very early beginning. We were able to identify only four cases (in 302 public universities in the country) that we briefly present in Table 6
In Brazil, the emergence of gender studies was relatively early because the country suffered important societal changes with the entry into dictatorship, which curiously gave public space to women (Rodrigues and Assis 2018
). In the 1980s, many women entered the academy and developed the gender studies area. This trend was concentrated in the Humanities and Social Sciences. It was inspired by the American model of women studies but not following exactly the same model due to other influences such as the French (Zirbel 2007
). Despite some tensions, the relation between activism, academics, and scientific departments was less conflictual than one might expect, since “the university was understood as a place for the formation and development of feminist action” (Nuernberg et al. 2011, p. 115
). There was a rapid creation of feminist studies centers or groups all over the country because social changes had made research more important than teaching (Zirbel 2007
). The basis for the development of these institutions were working groups. However, several study programs also emerged. Two interesting features of these groups were being composed only by women—which has raised some critics of ghettoization—and the existence of an interdisciplinary approach, albeit within the social sciences and humanities (Nuernberg et al. 2011
). Parallel to the development of gender studies, sexuality studies have also developed, and they too are strongly linked to activism—feminism, Queer, and LGBT movements. They had a big boom in the 2000s (Simões and Carrara 2014
). Thus, we can say that Brazil has a tradition of research and reflection on gender based on civil society and academia. The action at the level of HEIs has been more at this level than at a top-down level. However, in recent years, there has been an increasing presence of Brazilian HEIs in European projects in consortia in line with the EU claim of being a role model in what concerns gender equality promotion (Woodward and van der Vleuten 2014
The GEHEI calculated for UFPB in 2019 was 63.3% of unbalance in favor of men and in 2020 it was 63.7%, which places the University in the second quartile: 52% < GEHEI < 66% (inequality towards men). In other words, in the general context of the dimensions considered, there is an inequality favoring men. Additionally, the values obtained are close to the lower limit of the third quartile (66%), indicating greater inequality (Figure 4
The GEHEI calculated for UBI in 2019 was 60.6% in unbalance in favor of men, and in 2020 it was 64.8%, placing the institution in the second quartile: 52% < GEHEI < 66% (inequality towards men). Both values obtained indicate inequality, but surprisingly also reveal that inequality was higher in 2020. The value obtained for 2020 is closer to the lower bound of the third quartile (66%), indicating greater inequality (Figure 5
presents the results for each dimension calculated for the two institutions.
When we analyze the GEHEI components individually, we realize that the greatest inequalities found in UFPB (Brazil) were in the dimensions Violence, which reached 70% in both 2019 and 2020, and Education, which was 69.7% in 2019 and 71.2% in 2020, both unbalanced in favor of men. These results for Violence are in line with what we know of the national context, where gender-based violence presents itself as a serious problem and disproportionately affects women (Maito et al. 2019
). Regarding Education, it is worrying to note a worsening, and therefore it is urgent to identify what is at its root.
On the other hand, the dimension that reveals greater equality is Empowerment, where in 2019 the value calculated for men is 57.4%, and in 2020, 57.7%. As the definition of the index establishes, the ideal situation is 50%/50% meaning power is equal for both sexes; however, from 52% it is already possible to consider relative equality, due to the standard deviation of 2% to be considered in the calculation. Thus, the value calculated for Empowerment is the closest to equilibrium for this institution. A possible justification for this fact is that salaries are fixed in this public institution in Brazil (component EP2, Table 4
); the other justification is that, while men occupy more leadership positions in the technology areas, women do so in the humanities and social sciences, bringing some balance to this dimension. If is reason is the latter, it means UFPB faces gender horizontal segregation, and that demands intervention. The situation changed very little in each of the dimensions analyzed between 2019 and 2020.
When analyzing the individual dimensions for UBI, we realize that the greatest inequalities in 2019 are concentrated in the dimensions Time (72%) and Empowerment (69.2%), both disadvantaging women. In what concerns empowerment, this situation reflects the later entrance of women into an academic career. Only now, with the existence of a second and third generation of women in academia, are Portuguese women academics reaching the top levels of the career hierarchy (Associate and Full professor). In 2020, while the Time dimension revealed an increase, reaching 73.5%, the Empowerment dimension fell to 66.2%, revealing that the situation has become a little more balanced. We can see in more detail in the institutional data that this corresponds to cases of career progression of women (Sales Oliveira and Vilas Boas 2020
The Time dimension worsening at UBI is concerning. The existent data do not allow us to strictly identify the causes of this worsening situation, but it is probable that the pandemic context and the confinement requirements in terms of child and family care were important factors, since we can see in the institutional data that the propositions of leave taken by women workers increased. Unfortunately, data on the number of workers in telework were not made available (Sales Oliveira and Vilas Boas 2021
On the other hand, the Health dimension, which stood at 57.4% in 2019, went to 76% in 2020; that is, this was the dimension where there was the greatest setback in terms of gender equality. Moreover, the figures reveal that the institution went from median inequality in 2019 to high inequality in 2020, as it is in the third quartile, which starts from 66%.
The dimensions that showed greater balance in UBI were Violence (50%–50%), both in 2019 and 2020, and Education, 54.6% (2019) and 58.1% (2020).
However, it is important to remember that, as we discussed before, violence is still a rather invisible phenomenon at HEIs. In fact, the number of complaints at UBI have increased in the recent years, due to greater internal and national awareness of the problem. These complaints are probably a drop in the ocean of the real situation of violence and harassment (Sales Oliveira and Vilas Boas 2021
We can see that the index makes it possible to reveal inequalities in various ways, either within the same period, where it makes it possible to evaluate its components and thus focus on which to address in order to obtain improvements, or in the sense of allowing a longitudinal follow-up, making it possible to follow progress from one period to the next.
5. Final Remarks
GEHEI is a framework that can easily assess gender inequality disparities in higher education institutions. It is a pioneering methodology, and it is an innovation in this area of studies because although nowadays several HEIs have defined gender equality policies, there is no register in the literature of experiences of using a specific tool for measuring inequality in universities and only two recent proposals of indexes are available.
The GEHEI tool has a very strong theoretical basis in its conception because its dimensions and variables were incorporated from a bibliometric analysis about the more relevant gender equality indexes that resulted in a base of 37 papers.
These papers indicated that the main indexes used in the area are the Gender Inequality Index—GII; the Global Gender Gap Index—GGGI; Women, Business, and the Law—WBL; the Gender Equality Index—GEI; the Social Institutions and Gender Index—SIGI; and the Women’s Empowerment Principles Tool—WEPs. From these indexes, the dimensions and variables of the proposed framework were captured using the technique of importance of use and triangulation of the data. In order to properly contextualize our instrument, we carefully reviewed the main references about the specific challenges of measuring gender inequality in academia. Later, we incorporated this knowledge into the design of our proposal.
The GEHEI frames five central dimensions: Health, Empowerment, Education, Violence, and Time with 21 variables, and is markedly different from the indexes from which it originated:
Despite the GII indexes GGGI, WBL, GEI, SIGI, and WEPs being consecrated, they are not the best choice for measuring gender inequality in higher education institutions due to their complexity; instead, they are adequate for nations and require a large and complex number of measurements, with a lot of research time;
The GEHEI shows in a user-friendly way if there is inequality in higher education institutions, because all research is summed up in a single number;
The GEHEI allows a longitudinal follow-up, making it possible to follow the progress from one period to the next;
The very way of handling the GEHEI tool is very simple because it is an assignment of percentage values to the variables.
It is also very different from the two existent proposals of gender inequality indexes for HEIs, since its scope goes beyond the narrower and more specific approach of educational and management dimensions, choosing to address university community from a holistic perspective.
In the test cases that were performed, the application of GEHEI in UBI (Portugal) and UFPB (Brazil) showed the efficiency and ease of the tool, where it pointed out that both universities present gender inequality in the first instance.
However, when the results are analyzed variable by variable, UBI presented high inequality in the dimensions Health, Empowerment, and Time, and UFPB shows high inequality in the dimensions Education and Violence. It is important to keep in mind that these results must be read in the specific context of each institution. The GEHEI index aims to be a user-friendly instrument to inform what is the point of situation of both men and women in the five dimensions.
The instrument cannot show the determinants of inequality, it simply points out what is the situation for both sexes and where inequality is more present. Then, once the GEHEI is used, the possibility of further investigations in the institutions for the analysis of causes and possible solutions should be conducted. In the two case studies conducted, the application of GEHEI raised the existence of several points of deterioration from 2019 to 2020 that need to be addressed internally.
Understanding the meaning of the index needs to be emphasized in the academic community where it is applied, so that its results can be shared in the community and inform action for strategic change. The index needs to make sense in the specific organizational context, including dimensions that faithfully represent the multiple aspects of the institutions and are able to promote the construction of equality. Only in this way can it effectively show where problems and inequalities exist and where it is necessary to intervene. The existence of and access to organizational data is a key point for the success of the instrument. In the cases where fewer data are available, the results will necessary be statistically weaker. This has conditioned the authors to introduce only data that are available more frequently in the academic context. Improving availability of HEI organizational data in the future will allow improvement of the index.
In future research, new case studies will be necessary to perform a finer measurement of the limits measured in this research. The obstacles and impacts of concrete experiences of introducing this tool will also bring central contributions to improving the index framework.