Skip to main content

KTH’s foremost manager moves on

Published Jan 27, 2011

This month, KTH’s foremost manager Ingrid Melinder is retiring after 27 years as department head and dean. But does anyone believe that she will really retire to live the quiet life of a pensioner?
Well not exactly.

The Director of Education Ingrid Melinder prefers to call herself Dean. This is to emphasize leadership rather than power.

“That part, about being a leader, seems more important - I used to be a scout! The thing about being a “manager” has never been particularly interesting for me. Although I do like the job it seems,” she says.

Obviously. Ingrid Melinder has been a manager longer than any other person at KTH. First as head of NADA for 22 years and then when the school organization was introduced in 2005, as head of the School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC).

She is also the KTH’s “Manager with the mostest” in the sense that she has devoted herself wholeheartedly to leadership”, says Margareta Norell Bergendahl, former Deputy President with responsibility, among other things, for gender equality issues.

“Her profession has been as a leader. An extremely professional leader and a representative for her school,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl.

Unlike other directors of education, Ingrid Melinder did not combine her work as a manager with research. When she was offered the job as head of department in 1983, she was working as a teacher at Nada. Her youngest child was one and a half years old, and after her disputation four years earlier, she had not had any real opportunity to continue her research.

“Then the head job began to take up more and more time. Nada underwent huge growth from 1983-1984 and I committed myself to one project after another.”

Neither an engineer nor a professor

Ingrid Melinder states objectively that she is “unusual in many ways” as a leader at KTH.

“I’m not an engineer and I’m not a professor. It’s hard to be a manager at a university without being a professor and it has not always been clear that I would remain here. I have created my legitimacy in the profession,” she says.

In the meantime, she has seen KTH grow and the organization has changed repeatedly. From the initial division of 75 departments when she started as a department head to half that (30-37) following the reorganization in the 1990s and finally to today’s 10 schools.

But it’s not just the number of units and the size that distinguishes then from now. In 1983, KTH’s organization was strictly governed via a comprehensive regulatory framework.

“Even the room size was regulated. An ordinary employee would have a room of 9 sq m; a lecturer would have 12 sq m and a professor 15 sq m,” she says.

Ingrid does not miss the small but highly regulated organization. On the contrary, she has been deeply involved in the process of changing and developing KTH’s organization.

“The organization of the university into schools is a good thing and I hope that it will remain, even if some changes still need to be implemented. It was a fundamental change at KTH, but internationally, and especially in the USA, Schools form a natural part of how universities are organized.”

Always a “present” leader

Nowadays, no one questions Ingrid Melinder’s legitimacy. A few years ago she received the Janne Carlsson scholarship for outstanding efforts in academic leadership. In the explanatory statement as to why she received the prize she was described by Dean Folke Snickars as “the obvious node for KTH’s activities in computer science”.

In the same statement she was also described as “an ever-present leader who put her employees at the centre of change and quality work that just continued to flow with ideas”.

The bit about being a present leader is something that Viggo Kann, main Director of Studies at CSC is happy to endorse.

“Ingrid has had a profound influence on everything that has happened at CSC. And she has taken care of everyone, given thought to every individual and tried to get to know each and every person at the school,” she says.

“Straight, very strategic, very wise,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl, when she describes Ingrid Melinder as a person:

“She always has a clear plan for what she does. And she has provided excellent support in the promotion of gender equality, an area that we have wanted to work with at KTH level, and an area which she has essentially implemented at her school”.

Ingrid Melinder is the only woman among KTH’s directors of education. When she leaves she will be replaced by a man, and the Head of Education Group will therefore become an all-male congregation. Something Ingrid Melinder regrets without questioning the choice of her successor.

“It would not be fair to ask this particular school to insist on having a female manager in the future. But if KTH in the future wants to have more equal representation, you have to be active in the schools’ nomination process,” she says.

Justice solves everything

Equality and diversity does not come about by itself, she points out - whether it be through the recruitment of managers or students. It is something that is achieved through a lengthy process.

“It requires both long-term planning and the ability to seize the opportunity through creativity when employment opportunities arise. Due to the fact that we were well prepared, we were able for example to broaden recruitment here at CSC by hiring several junior researchers and senior lecturers when we received many good applicants,” she says.

But what she really thinks is that neither gender equality nor diversity policies are needed.

“Basically, what is needed is justice for the individual. That solves everything”.

The money from the Janne Carlsson Scholarship, SEK 50,000 and SEK 10,000 SEK from KTH’s gender equality prize, which she had previously received, was used to partially finance a study trip to the USA last autumn. Together with four other KTH employees, she visited three universities that are successful in recruiting female students.

Recruit from new environments

The experiences from the trip will also be of benefit to KTH. For some, Ingrid Melinder will continue to have one foot on campus even in the future. In the spring, she will work to build up an organization for a diversification of recruitment, SIKT - Students in IKT, Information and Communication Technologies (Studenter inom IKT, Information– och kommunikationsteknik).

“We do a lot to attract more applicants to the computer technology programme, in particular female applicants but also applicants from environments where people have a lack of familiarity with studying. But we have no organization for our activities”.

This is therefore now about to change. The idea behind the creation of the organization she has partially taken from an American organization called “Women in Computer Science”.

“But at KTH, we will appeal to both sexes. Whatever’s good for recruiting women is usually good also when you want to recruit other students who do not view KTH as an obvious choice,” says Ingrid Melinder.

One recruitment idea that she would like to realise is the “Future Train”, a travelling student exhibition that can go out to places where studying at a university is not perceived as a natural course of action following upper secondary school.

Up to 40 percent of a full-time position is what SIKT will take up of her time. During her other wakeful hours she is considering more hands-on construction work to repair her ceiling at home.

“I also want to learn how to polish walls and to paint using marbling techniques. I am part owner of two 100-year-old houses, one is my father’s parental home and there is a lot to do there. Last autumn I painted 11 doors and there are 35 still left to paint.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius