Minister demands faster pace of change for women in HE

Male researchers employed by Danish universities outnumber women researchers by almost 2:1, according to the Danish ‘Talent Barometer’ published on 20 September. In addition, only 34% of university lecturers and 23% of professors are women.

This is despite the fact that women accounted for 56% of graduates at the universities in 2018 and 50% of PhD candidates.

Minister for Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen said that progress towards gender balance is too slow and that she intends to “turbo-charge” future development.

She made her remarks in the conclusion of the 110-page report, Men and Women at Danish Universities – Denmark’s Talent Barometer 2019, published (in Danish) by the ministry.

“Danish research is in need of all talents, regardless of gender. With the deficit of women we see among experienced researchers, we are losing out on knowledge and the perspectives that women researchers could bring to Danish research,” Halsboe-Jørgensen said.

“We have many women students and PhD students. But we are too weak in ensuring that they enter the research track. This worries me as the responsible minister. Progress has improved over recent years, notably at PhD and professorial levels. But we are a long way from our goal,” she said.

The minister said that, because development had been too slow, “we have to realise that we cannot just sit back and wait for time to solve this problem”. She added that “new political tools” were needed to spur on the inclusion of more women in research.

Last year, the ministry introduced the talent programme named after Inge Lehman (the woman seismologist who discovered the inner core of the Earth), with DKK20 million (US$3.1 million) in order to create a better balance between the sexes in research.

“The interest and applications to the programme have shown that there is a need for it, and this we will have to take into account when planning next year’s budget,” Halsboe-Jørgensen said.

Key findings

The report found that:

• In 2018, women accounted for 23% of professors; 34% of university lecturers and 41% of adjunct positions;

• There were 7,348 men and 3,829 women employed as researchers in Denmark in 2018;

• There were no woman applicants for 35% of announced researcher positions in 2016-2018 and for professorial positions this percentage was 44%. Only 14% of announced positions were not applied for by men.

• In the period 2016-18 in Denmark, 5,744 research positions were filled, of which 37% were awarded to women, while women represented only 34% of staff at universities;

• Three Danish research funds in 2018 allocated DKK512 million to woman researchers and more than twice as much to men (DKK1.24 billion); and

• Only 24% of the leaders at Danish universities were women in 2018.

Nordic comparisons

The proportion of women in research positions in Denmark (43.7%) calculated for this publication is lower compared to Iceland (53.1%), Finland (48.7%) and Norway (48.7%) but, for the first time since 2017, higher than in Sweden (43.5%).

The proportion is also higher compared to those countries Denmark is often compared with, such as Switzerland (39.1%), France (39.9%), Austria (40.8%), Belgium (42.1%) and the Netherlands (43.1%).

Based on the She Figures of the European Commission (2019) with data from 2016 or later, Denmark has a significantly lower proportion of women professors (20.7%) compared to 29.4% in Finland, 27.9% in Norway and 25.4% in Sweden.

International comparisons

Using Eurostat and OECD statistics with a different definition of researchers, the Danish study presents one chapter and several tables demonstrating great variations between countries.

The highest proportion of women researchers are seen in Lithuania (55%), Latvia (53.9%), Iceland (53.1%), Bulgaria (52.4%) and Serbia (50%). Denmark is slightly higher than the EU-28 average with 43.7% and in the larger countries the percentages are 45.5% for the UK, 39.9% for France and 39.1% for Germany.

The five countries with the lowest proportion of women researchers are Japan (27.1%), South Korea (31.7%), The Czech Republic (34.7%), Malta (35.1%) and Luxembourg (37.1%).

Only one country has a majority of professors being women, namely Romania (54.3%), followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina (45.1%), Latvia (41.4%), Croatia (40.6%) and Malta (40%) with an EU-28 average of 23.7%.

The lowest proportions of women among professors are in Cyprus (13.7%), Israel (14.3%), Czech Republic (14.6%), Luxembourg (17.7%) and Belgium (18.3%).

The average percentage of women professors across EU-28 countries is 18.1% in the natural sciences, 12% in technology, 27.5% in the health sciences, 28.1% in the social sciences and 32.1% in the humanities.

Innovator and author Lisbeth Odgaard Madsen, who is founder and CEO of Potential Co, author of Ambitious Mothers: Seven insights that prepare you for the tug-of-war between work and family life and a member of the Gender Diversity Roundtable Denmark, told University World News: “Some of the key reasons seem to be [the lack of] access to external funding for research, an arena still dominated by male researchers, and the [poor] distribution of parental leave and care for the family, which is still dominated by the mothers, in general.”

She said the career track in academia still seems to be defined by an “old fashioned masculine, competitive career logic that leaves no room for care responsibilities or collaborative job modes like shared researcher positions”.

“In my view, if we are not able to create change in these fields, we will not be able to accelerate the presence of female researchers as the minister calls for,” she said.