Under the incentive scheme, the institutions received NOK 300 000 for each woman they hired for senior-level positions in the MST subjects. But this did not lead to a significant change in the percentage of women, and the scheme was discontinued. (Illustration: www.colourbox.no)

No more carrots for gender equality efforts

Now that government award schemes for gender equality efforts in academia have been discontinued, it is up to each individual institution to improve the gender balance in senior-level academic positions.

January 19, 2015

In 2010, the Ministry of Education and Research introduced an incentive scheme to increase the number of women in senior-level positions in mathematics, natural science and technology (MST subjects). Nine universities and university colleges received NOK 300 000 if they hired a woman for a professor or associate professor position, except in cases of internal promotion. NOK 30 million was set aside for the scheme, distributed over a three-year period.

In 2013, it was decided that the scheme would not be continued after an evaluation showed that the scheme had not worked as intended.

An odd scheme

“We concluded that the scheme was not successful because the rate of increase in appointments of women in senior-level positions did not change. But we also found that many people we spoke with when we conducted the evaluation didn’t know about the scheme. And in order for a scheme to have an impact, of course people need to know about it,” says Lars-Erik Becken of Proba Research. He was the project manager for the evaluation, which was presented in summer 2013.

Becken also asks whether the incentive scheme was well thought out from the beginning.

“A hiring process in academia is among the most objective because it’s based on qualifications and publications. At the same time, it’s unlawful to advertise positions only for women or to hire a woman because she is a woman. We thought that an incentive scheme that takes effect only after an appointment has been made was an odd way to do it,” he says.


“Academia as a whole is organized in a way that favours men, with its system of temporary appointments and credit-giving activities. In order to truly change the gender balance, completely different and more fundamental steps must be taken,” says Lars-Erik Becken, the general manager of Proba Research. (Photo: Erik Ruud)

KIF gets more responsibility

The percentage of women in senior-level positions has increased in recent years, but is still low, and the Proba report concluded that the incentive scheme did not lead to any increase beyond what could be expected under normal circumstances. Based on this, the previous red-green government decided to discontinue the trial scheme. Since then, the current government of Prime Minister Solberg has also decided to discontinue the Gender Equality Award for the university, university college and research institute sector presented by the Ministry of Education and Research. The award has been presented annually since 2007.

Instead of schemes at the institutional level, the government has expanded the mandate and allocations for the KIF Committee.

“The committee has been given a new mandate that also includes diversity, because this kind of activity to improve the gender balance in academia is also relevant for counteracting other types of discrimination in academia. But it is also important that expansion of the mandate does not weaken the efforts to improve the gender balance,” writes State Secretary Bjørn Haugstad of the Ministry of Education and Research in an e-mail to kifinfo.no.

White paper in 2015

He also states that the Ministry of Education and Research supports the efforts to improve the gender balance through the BALANSE programme under the Research Council of Norway. Moreover, it was decided in April 2014 that the government will prepare a white paper on gender equality, which will be presented in 2015.


State Secretary Bjørn Haugstad says that the financial framework for the incentive scheme was not earmarked for gender equality. According to Haugstad, universities and university colleges themselves must work actively with measures to increase gender equality. (Photo: Ministry of Education and Research)

“In particular, the white paper will discuss the factors, including biological and cultural, that are important for learning and development, traditional gender choices regarding education, drop-out from upper secondary education and training, a lack of male role models in pre-schools and schools, and the low percentage of women in senior-level academic positions,” writes Haugstad.

Must follow up appointments

In the evaluation of the incentive scheme, Proba Research proposed several measures that could help to increase the percentage of women in MST subjects within the same financial framework that the incentive scheme had. One proposal was to set aside funding for resource persons who can follow up specific hiring processes from start to finish.

“The incentive scheme had an allocation of NOK 10 million per year, and we thought: How could this money be used in a way that gave a better outcome? More consciousness-raising among the institutional leadership is unnecessary because managers at that level are already well aware of the problem. We thought that what was needed was to follow up specific hiring processes. Starting from how the job advertisement is worded, someone must ensure that certain things are emphasized so that women feel welcome to apply. A great deal is already being done today, but a resource person who is responsible for follow-up is needed to carry it through,” says Becken.

The practical organization of such alternative measures lay outside of the Proba’s mandate, but Becken says that they wanted to propose simple measures that did not require a lot of reports and bureaucracy. But since the financial framework of the incentive scheme is now gone, the individual institutions must decide whether they will make use of the proposals in the report.

“The institutions must work actively”

“The measures proposed by Proba are similar to ones that many institutions are already using, such as search committees and measures to help women qualify to apply for promotion to professor. Moreover, the financial framework for the incentive scheme was not earmarked for gender equality. There’s no doubt that it is the universities and university colleges themselves that must work actively with measures to achieve more gender equality. This is why the ministry requires universities and university colleges to draw up action plans for gender equality,” writes State Secretary Haugstad of the Ministry of Education and Research.

Lars-Erik Becken points out that in order to make a fundamental change in the gender balance among senior-level positions, a more thorough approach that looks at the entire organization of the sector is needed.

“Academia as a whole is organized in a way that favours men, with its system of temporary appointments and credit-giving activities. If you become pregnant, you aren’t able to publish anything that year, while your male colleagues can build up their bibliographies. If you have more children, you as a woman fall even further behind. If we truly want to change the gender balance, completely different and more fundamental steps must be taken.”

Translated by Connie Stultz.

Read more about the incentive scheme

The incentive scheme for recruiting more women to senior-level positions in mathematics, natural science and technology (MST subjects) was introduced as a measure to improve the gender balance in these subjects in 2010.

In 2013, the incentive scheme was evaluated by Proba Research, and the previous red-green government planned to assess the scheme. The current government decided to discontinue the scheme.

Proba report 2013-10 (Norwegian only)