Kristiina Mäkelä: My stride is generally brisk, motivated and positive

In this ‘Walk in my shoes’ interview, Kristiina Mäkelä hopes that everyone in the Aalto community will take equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) into account in their everyday lives.
Kristiina Mäkelä, photo by Linda Lehtovirta

Kristiina Mäkelä works at Dipoli. Did you know that there’s a staircase that ends in a wall? According to Mäkelä, Dipoli was supposed to have a third floor, but the money ran out. The building was designed by architects Reima and Raili Pietilä and built by the student union of the Helsinki University of Technology in 1966. Photos: Linda Lehtovirta.

Can you share a story about your work?

The title of provost arouses curiosity because it’s not a familiar one in Finland. When I introduce myself as a provost, brave people ask what that is and the less brave just roll their eyes. Then I explain that the provost is responsible for the academic activities of the university. I speak a lot at various events and meet a lot of people. I also often get to have the cake first.

Only two universities in Finland have provosts, Aalto and the University of Tampere. The role of provost is very common internationally, but it’s still new in Finland.

What’s it like to walk in Kristiina Mäkelä's shoes?

Whenever possible, I say yes when someone in our community invites me to an event. I'm involved in so many things, and I move around the campus a lot. I would say my stride is generally brisk, motivated and positive. I mainly walk with with a spring in my step because I find it really meaningful to serve the Aalto community.

My stride is lightest when I get to do things with students. That's the best part of my job. For example, I recently got to work with students to open the Otaniemi Wappu, which lasts for two months. I also cut the ribbon with the Aalto University Student Union when Raide-Jokeri arrived in Otaniemi for the first time.

My steps become heavier when dealing with difficult personnel matters or financial issues, but those are also part of my role as provost. The most challenging situations are resolved by the university's management.

Kristiina Mäkelä, photo by Linda Lehtovirta

I’ve never experienced discrimination myself, but I wish we had more female professors in both engineering and business.

Kristiina Mäkelä

In your free time, do you do anything in particular to maintain a work-life balance?

I exercise a lot in my free time, and I also often walk to work. I do yoga, play tennis and do weightlifting. I'm also a mother of four. Three of the four are students, and the last has already graduated. Three of the four children are also Aalto students and two of them are currently in Otaniemi.

Why is equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) important to you?

Aalto was founded in 2010, and at that time we were a very Finnish community. We've been around for 13 years now, and our internationality has really grown. We currently have over one hundred nationalities on campus. I’m a professor of international business, so international issues and an international approach to things have always been close to my heart.

The community is Aalto's most important asset and heart, and we need to take care of it. That requires multiculturalism and multilingualism. Our EDI work is all of this.

I’ve never experienced discrimination myself, but I wish we had more female professors. They are currently in the minority. It is important to attract more talented women in both engineering and business.

What does the student culture look like from an EDI perspective?

For example, if you look at the old ‘Äpy’ and ‘Julkku’, the student Wappu magazines, they may have had jokes that are no longer appropriate. Society was different back then. The students responsible for Äpy and Julkku today are very aware of what kind of joke culture is appropriate and inclusive.

A similar trend is evident in the student culture overall. There’s a lot of singing at student gatherings and annual parties. If you look at the songbook from, say, when I was a student in the 80s and 90s, there is a huge difference.

Students certainly have all sorts of individual experiences, but I think that overall, our student culture has done a great job of taking EDI forward. Progress has been incremental, and young people are at the forefront of change. The public debates about the changes have also influenced how people think.

What advice do you want to give to the Aalto community on EDI topics?

Our focus areas are raising awareness, inclusive teaching, recruitment and staffing practices, quality systems and accessibility. Our challenge is that this is a very large community. We still have a long way to go to ensure that everyone in the community takes inclusivity into account in their daily life. At the university level, we can make processes, policies and guidelines, but their value is limited if the day-to-day experience in our own community isn’t inclusive.

We have processes in place to tackle inappropriate behaviour and awkward situations, and I would encourage everyone to raise issues at a low threshold – for example, by contacting the harassment liaison officers. These are confidential discussions.

The results of our last staff survey were really promising overall. The level of inappropriate behaviour had decreased compared to the previous survey. In addition, staff satisfaction returned to almost the same level after incidents of inappropriate behaviour were addressed.

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Walk in my shoes

Inspired by the saying that you should walk a mile in someone’s shoes to understand them, the ‘Walk in my shoes’ series aims to share some of the experiences, thoughts, perspectives and challenges faced by another Aaltonian.

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Walk in my shoes, illustration by Anna Muchenikova.
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