Carin Boalt (centre) was the first female professor appointed at a technical university in Sweden (Lund) in 1964. 55 years later, female professors are still a minority – just over one in four professors at Sweden’s HEIs is a woman.

Mostly men at the top in academia

Svenska 2019-08-21

Men continue to dominate the top level of academia, a report from the AllBright Foundation shows. At technical universities in particular, women are heavily under-represented. At Chalmers University of Technology, more than 80 per cent of the professors are men. The university is now investing 300 million SEK over ten years, to increase the percentage of women and to change the culture in the long term.

The report Vetenskapsmannen inte kvinna (“Scientists are not women”) ranks 17 Swedish higher education institutions (HEI) based on the percentage of their professors who are women. Not a single HEI achieves a gender equal level (at least 40 per cent of each gender).

“The figures are remarkable. Although women now form a majority at several universities, it is primarily men who reach the top,” says Amanda Lundeteg, CEO of AllBright.

At the HEIs included in the mapping, women make up 60 per cent of students overall, 47 per cent of the doctoral students, 46 per cent of the senior lecturers – but only 28 per cent of the professors.

Besides collating the statistics, AllBright has also interviewed students, researchers, and administrators from several different HEIs. The overall picture of academia is of a place where men are given advantages and women are pushed out.

The report describes how female researchers are slandered, discarded in unfair recruitment processes, and excluded in environments where men support each other. It even provides examples where the research conducted by women has been sabotaged, for example through laboratory animals being killed.

“We have heard dreadful witness statements during our work on this report. Women in academia encounter both unconscious and conscious resistance,” says Amanda Lundeteg.

Chalmers is bottom of the list

The technical universities are right at the bottom of AllBright’s ranking, with Chalmers University of Technology in last place. There, only 14 per cent of professors are women, or 17 per cent if you discount those who are 67 years or older.

“It is no surprise to us that we are last. We know that we are the worst in Sweden,” says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, professor of chemical biology at Chalmers.

She knows of several cases where women have chosen to leave Chalmers, as they have not thrived in the environment.

“We have no statistics for how often women leave, but we are about to start collecting these figures and lots of other ones now. We need to work on our culture, so that we achieve an environment where everybody can thrive and feel good. Then our research will also be more successful.”

In its report, AllBright warns that recruitment processes in academia risk favouring men, as they are usually based on unspecific criteria, such as “leadership ability” or “potential”; concepts that are traditionally associated with men.

“With a clearer focus on actual merits, recruitment becomes fairer.”

Initiative towards increased gender equality

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede is leading a large-scale project towards greater gender equality, where the university is investing 300 million SEK over a ten-year period. The Gender Initiative for Excellence (Genie) project began this year, and one of its aims is for 40 per cent of professors to be women by 2028.

“This goal aims high, and it will be difficult to achieve. To succeed, we must both recruit more women, and retain those we have.”

Chalmers has introduced new rules that entail, among other things, that candidates of different sexes must always be interviewed for every recruitment. The university is now also purposefully aiming to recruit female top researchers from all over the world.

Chalmers will also issue internal calls for grants for projects with a gender equality focus, and is planning an international visiting researcher programme. Regular seminars and lectures will also be arranged within the framework for the initiative, to increase knowledge of gender equality issues on campus.

The goal of Genie is to both directly increase the percentage of women at Chalmers, and to change the culture in the longer term. Each department will receive support in the form of tailored measures to remove obstacles that impede women’s careers.

Female top researchers are important role models

At Chalmers, and also at the other technical universities, women are not just a minority among professors. There are fewer women than men among the researchers at all levels, and also fewer female students. Of the senior lecturers, 26 per cent are women, compared to 33 per cent of doctoral students and 34 per cent of students.

Against this background, it could be asked whether Chalmers’ goal of having 40 per cent female professors is not a case of beginning at the wrong end.

“The gender distribution varies very much from programme to programme. In physics and electrical engineering, it is still mostly men, but in chemistry the distribution among students has been 50/50 ever since I started studying. So it is not a case that the problem only arises from the base,” says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede.

Recruiting more female top researchers is one way for Chalmers to show that it is possible for women to have an academic career within technology, she thinks.

“We must get role models to come here, or else we will never manage to attract young women to our programmes.

University of Gothenburg tops the list

AllBright’s ranking covers all higher education institutions with university status, and also the Stockholm School of Economics. Top of the list is the University of Gothenburg, with 33 per cent female professors.

“Of course is feels great to be top of the list, but we aren’t satisfied with our situation, and realise that we need to continue working,” says Professor Mattias Goksör, who is responsible for work environment and equality issues at the University of Gothenburg.

He cannot give a simple answer to why they are top of the ranking.

“We have worked on gender equality issues for a long time, and regard it as a priority area. In the end, it is all about increasing the competitiveness of the university, and the quality of the research. If individuals are excluded due to gender instead of competence, then we won’t have the best research.”

A glass ceiling here too

Although the University of Gothenburg tops AllBright’s list, the university’s gender equality statistics still indicate that a glass ceiling exists. Only one in three professors is a woman, despite women now being in majority at lower levels within the university: 55 per cent of the senior lecturers are women, as are 58 per cent of the doctoral students and 66 per cent of the students.

To ensure everybody, irrespective of gender, have the same opportunities to make a career in academia, we need patient, systematic gender equality work focusing on long-term results, says Mattias Goksör.

“Every person in a leadership position must recognise and communicate that these are important issues. Then we must actively support the department heads in their work at departmental level to remove obstacles and gender-unequal terms and conditions for our staff and students. It is at departmental level that the work goes on and changes occur,” he says.

He sees the lower percentage of female than male professors as an expression of the gender inequality in academia. At the same time, you must not concentrate uniquely on statistics, he considers.

“We must penetrate deeper than this, otherwise we miss the core of the gender equality work. Gender equality isn’t guaranteed just because the distribution is 50/50. It could still be the case that women and men have different conditions, and encounter different obstacles in their careers,” says Mattias Goksör.

Text: Charlie Olofsson
Photo: Olle Karud / Stenbergs bilder / TT Nyhetsbyrån

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