Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

Sveinn Guðmundsson

University of Iceland


Being an Equality Officer at the University of Iceland (which includes being a part of the CoP on gender budgeting) has made me aware of my administrative power. My role in the TIP at my institution revolves around being a part of the team that shapes the project, decides what to investigate, what questions to ask, getting access to data and coming to some conclusions. Although I am not the one doing most of the work in the project, I am finding out that I contribute most by getting information and arranging connections because of my position within the administration.

Having been a researcher I remember spending a lot of time emailing and calling people in various institutions day in and out asking for information. It can take a long-time getting answers or just reaching the right person who could possibly give access to the data needed. Now, as a part of the administration of my institution I am not seen as an outsider and therefore, maybe less of a threat. So, most of the time, I get my emails and calls answered and usually I get the desired information. That is, my job makes me a gatekeeper with at least some administrative power.

Working as an equality officer is an opportunity to engage with people from different parts of the university population. Deans as well as radical members of student associations acknowledge me in the hallways of the campus and engage in small chat (the rector knows my name and some of my hobbies). Sometimes I feel a bit like a shapeshifter, I am a part of the administration and I can blend in pretty well being a privileged, able bodied, white, straight, male. At the same time, I also have the opportunity to work side by side with students working on Equality Days (our 5 day long annual equality-festival aimed at promoting discussions and understanding of issues of equality) or on various other projects og committee work. There I have the chance to hear about experiences different from mine.

As a privileged man working as an equality officer, I am benefitting a lot from the work of the women’s movement (and various other rights movements) in my country who have paved the way (and sometimes paid a price) for me having a job where a lot of people listen to me when I ask for information about equality related matters. I think the state of affairs in my institution at the moment is that equality and diversity issues are being taken more seriously today than before and that makes my job a lot easier than it probably was for my predecessors.

So, I sometimes feel insecure about being a privileged man talking about the affairs of groups of people whose experience I do not share. But I think that I have to get used to being insecure about it. If I get too secure about it I would probably be doing something wrong. That is, if I started speaking on behalf of people whose experience I do not share and acting like I am an expert in their experiences, which I am not. So, at the same time that I feel good about realising that I have a chance of using this administrative power to get things done and make progress, I have to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in my job.