Mission: Equal opportunities

21 Jan 2021

Viola Lind is the Equal Opportunities Officer at LMU. Defying even the most stubborn clichés, she sees what she does as “both job and vocation”.

Viola Lind, Gleichstellungsbeauftragte der LMU


Fresh as it is at eleven o’clock on this fall morning, the sun at least manages to peek through the cloud cover from time to time. A good thing, too, because Viola Lind is fond of welcoming her visitors outdoors. “I haven’t really got around to setting out my stall,” she laughs. That is partly due to the coronavirus and the associated need for mobile working, but also simply because there has always been so much to do in the months since she took up her current position at LMU Munich.

Everyone knows the job title. But what exactly does an Equal Opportunities Officer do? The German Wikipedia defines it as “A function […] which concerns itself with promoting and enforcing equal rights and the equal treatment of women and men”. “In Bavaria, the focus is on monitoring and overseeing compliance with the Equality Act,” Viola Lind adds.

Lind has been with LMU since 2014. She started out at the University’s Dual Career Service, where she helped scientists’ partners find their feet at their new workplace. This was another position she accepted because, as she puts it, she saw having both partners able to work as an expression of equal rights. Whether or not children were involved, or whether a couple moved to the University for only one or the other partner was immaterial.

Impressions from Sweden

Lind has never known anything other than having equal rights lived out in the family and in child-rearing. She lived and worked in Sweden from 2005 to 2014 before moving back to Munich with her husband, a native of New Zealand. “Sweden gave me a lot,” she reports. “The traditional breakdown of roles is largely a thing of the past in this country.”

Walking along the gravel path in the Salinenhof courtyard, she stops suddenly: “We might bump into my son. If we do, we will have to briefly interrupt the interview.” Her son is two years old and attends the Campus Kinder (Children’s Campus) childcare facility for employees and students at LMU. The children have a playground with a small hut and climbing frames here in the courtyard. “But mum is always more interesting whenever she turns up,” Lind happily explains.

For her, there are several aspects to the subject of childcare: the impressions she brought with her from Sweden, her experience as a mother and her role as an Equal Opportunities Officer. “Ensuring a healthy work-life balance is certainly one of my main themes,” she affirms. “But LMU already scores high marks on this issue. Especially now, during the coronavirus crisis, mobile working and family services have brought real relief to many families.”

Much of her work involves informing people and raising awareness. What options do men have to go on parental leave? Or how does childcare work in the context of mobile working? Or how can the parental leave phase be split?

“Things often fail to work out not because people are unwilling, but because they don’t know what is available,” the Equal Opportunities Officer explains. “That’s why I try to share information that can get things moving.” In these areas, Germany certainly has room for improvement. To take just one example: Men in Sweden often take parental leave of between three and nine months — compared to just two in this country.

A process of change

Viola Lind sits down on a bench from where she can see the children’s playground. What is she currently working on? “Right now, I am spending most of my time on a new equality concept for the period from 2021 to 2025,” she says. “That is a big job for which I am working closely together with the University administration.”

The first step, she continues, is to inventory the status quo, which essentially means talking to lots and lots of colleagues and poring over statistics. Only then can she design new measures and map out fresh objectives.

“One of my goals is definitely to raise awareness of equality issues among employees and the administration,” Lind notes. “I’m also thinking about how we can create an environment that, in the long term, can encourage more women to apply for management posts.”

It is no surprise to learn that being an Equal Opportunities Officer is not an easy job. “The very nature of the job means initiating change processes,” she explains. At the same time, she wants others to see her not as a source of irritation, but as a channel of support and advice.

Someone people trust

How does she do that? “I think it’s easier if I come across as optimistic and enthusiastic than if I project a complaining attitude,” she laughs. “At least then it’s fun to talk to me.” Be that as it may, one does not get the impression that she has to pretend to be upbeat.

There is another reason why that is important: In her capacity as Equal Opportunities Officer, Lind is also the go-to person for her colleagues whenever problems arise. “Employees who are single parents, for example, come to me when they have part-time positions but would really need a full-time job to get by,” she says, outlining one of the scenarios she encounters.

In collaboration with other LMU units, she then sets about finding a solution. Viola Lind is happy to be able to count on the support of experienced colleagues throughout the University: “I have the capabilities I need to provide advice. But in special cases and administrative procedures, I have to depend on the experience of the people around me. Working together in this way is a lot of fun, though.”

Although the chilly fall mood has now given way to bright sunlight, it is nearly time to go. As much as she likes being outside and talking about her work at LMU, the work itself still awaits her indoors. “And I really enjoy it,” she confesses in closing. “It is more than just a job for me. It is my pet project.”

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