About half of all qualified doctors are women, but the percentage of female researchers becomes less and less as you go up the hierarchy. Only one professor in four is a woman.

Inequality is part of the culture

Svenska 2016-03-03

Academia is the last bastion where it is still believed that recruitment and meritocracy is gender-neutral, despite three of four professors being men. Political bodies have come much further. Drude Dahlerup, Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University, states.

Academia is the last bastion where it is still believed that recruitment and meritocracy is gender-neutral, despite three of four professors being men. Political bodies have come much further. Drude Dahlerup, Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University, states this in the first of three articles on recruitment from a gender perspective.

Drude Dahlerup has done a lot of research into the representation of women in political bodies as well as in academia. She says there has definitely been progress made in terms of gender equality, but mainly at lower levels.

Among students there is equality within the margin 40-60 percent. This also applies to doctoral studies and disputation. After that things change.

“The higher up in the hierarchy you go, the more barriers there are. Sometimes people conclude that since gender equality has increased at lower levels, it is only a matter of time before it reaches the higher levels. But the delay theory does not generally hold up to scrutiny. This is not something that happens by itself. It requires analysis and work.”

More studies are needed.

Several studies have shown that in a group of men and women who have defended their thesis at the same time and on the same subject, men were far more likely to become professors than women. Why? There are barriers here that we must identify,” says Drude Dahlerup, who underlines the need for more comparative studies.

“I recommend, for example, that departments with the same subject area compared at different HEIs. Why has one succeeded and another not? We must analyse cultures, especially in the area of recruitment, and find the invisible – what is part of the furniture.”

One factor that many researchers have drawn attention to is how advertisements are formulated. If the criteria that an applicant must fulfil are very narrow and precise, then probably only a small group will match these criteria, or in some cases only one person.

The way of formulating the advertisement can be a means of recruiting a specific person. A Danish study that was carried out a few years ago showed that for half of all professorships advertised, there was only one qualified candidate.

“In cases like this, you may well suspect that a specific person is wanted for the post. From 1 January 2015, Copenhagen University has introduced a rule that there must be at least one candidate of each sex for every post advertised. If not, the advertising process must be repeated. This is for professors and senior lecturer posts. They have put their finger on one of the major problems that we also have. But no one has done this in Sweden yet.

Does striving for equality work?

From 2004 to 2014, the percentage of female professors increased from 16to 25 percent in Sweden. Among Swedish HEIs, Malmö has the most female professors at 35 percent. Umeå University has 29 and Stockholm University 25 percent.

“There is a lot of work done for equality. But does it work? This is an area for research to illuminate. It is often enthusiasts that drive these issues. But they become ill, or change their jobs, and the wind goes out of the sails.

Gender equality must be included in everything you do, not just something that happens on the sidelines. Things can even go backwards if we do not work very hard with this,” stresses Drude Dahlerup.

She welcomes the fact that the government gave all HEIs the task of raising the level of gender integration at the end of the year, and granted SEK 5 million annually over four years to support this work.

Every HEI must have drawn up a plan by 15 May next year, showing development needs, objectives and activities in the area of equality. The plan must also describe how gender integration will be part of the institution’s ordinary activities.

Management must drive the issue

The SEK 5 million will be given to the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the University of Gothenburg, which has the task of supporting other HEIs’ work in the area. Kerstin Alnebratt is manager of the secretariat. She believes that one essential condition for the success of gender work is that HEI management must drive these issues and allocate resources.

“It is they who have been given the task of executing the job, while we have a support function. Our role is in providing a systematic method of working, not least in terms of identifying the problems. We will also produce joint materials and research summaries, arrange courses and organise networks.”

Kerstin Alnebratt believes that there are problems in a wide range of areas and mentions the assessment and qualifications system, career paths and career patterns, education and teaching, gender-segregated study options and the content of educational programmes. But she also sees good reason for broadening the understanding of the whole concept of gender equality.

“At the moment, we easily fall into the trap of counting heads. How many women and how many men at different places… but the concept of equality is more complex than that. Questions about class and ethnicity are also involved, as well as our understanding of notions like quality and excellence.”

Kerstin Alnebratt agrees with the fairly common description that the lack of equality in academia is rooted in elusive, informal structures that are “part of the furniture”.

“Absolutely – that is the picture that emerges from some previous studies and you have to be able to formulate your ideas around this. You have to define what is in the furniture. It’s difficult, but it is possible.”

Text: Yvonne Busk
Photo: Kennet Ruona

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