Gender equality in research

The Nordic countries come out on top in most statistics on gender equality. The proportion of women in the workforce is between 72 and 87 per cent. But what is the status of gender equality in the realm of academia?
Gender equality in research

Eighty per cent of all professors in the Nordic countries are men. The percentage of woman researchers in mathematics, the natural sciences and technology subjects and in industry is low. Even in fields where women comprise the majority of students and fellowship-holders, most of the professors are still men.

Gender equality in the Nordic landscape

A new report commissioned by the Committee for Gender Balance in Research (KIF) shows that Norway and Sweden have done the most with measures aimed at promoting gender balance. Nevertheless, of all the Nordics, Finland has the most women in higher research positions while Iceland has the highest percentage of women professors.

Further measures needed

The report, co-funded by NordForsk, concludes that there is a need for Nordic cooperation and gender equality measures at the Nordic level. It identifies three areas in which the implementation of measures at the Nordic level is required:
- policy development
- research
- statistics.
Solveig Bergmann, author of the report, states in an interview published on the KIF website that cooperation on gender balance in research is also needed at the European and international levels. “The EU has a long tradition of discussing structural factors and difficulties that impede gender equality in research,” she says.

Why does gender equality in research matter?

According to a report published by the European Commission in 2012, the quality and degree of innovation of research is dependent on the recruitment of talented candidates. Such candidates will become experts in their fields and members of creative research groups attentive to the needs of society. Gender-balanced research groups have proven to be more successful than teams comprised of only men or women. A variety of backgrounds and experience boosts the group’s level of creativity. In addition to improved quality, the democratic aspect of gender balance is vital as well.


Representation of women in management and on boards

Compared with the EU, the Nordic countries are unique in one area: the number of women rectors and the number of women on the boards of the national research councils. This is due to quota provisions. At least 40 per cent representation of both genders in public committees and commissions is required in most Nordic countries.

NordForsk adopts gender equality policy

“Awareness of gender equality issues enhances the quality of research and research cooperation,” says Gunnel Gustafsson, Director of NordForsk. It is precisely to improve research quality and research cooperation that the NordForsk board recently decided to adopt a gender equality policy. The guidelines will be implemented this autumn and the board will follow up activities to promote gender equality on an annual basis. The board’s decision was based in part on the findings of the KIF report.
In addition, issues related to gender equality and gender perspectives in research comprise an important point in NordForsk’s Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission, which was signed almost exactly one year ago.

Text: Anne B. Heieraas
Image: Nordforsk

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