New figures from the research sector show that gender balance has almost been achieved in many academic positions, with the exception of professors. Only one-fourth of professors are women. (Illustration: iStockphoto)

Slowly but surely: more women at the top

There are many indications that something is about to happen with the gender balance in Norwegian academia. But it takes a long time for the changes to reach the professor level, which is still heavily male dominated.

June 26, 2014

Publication and professorships are two important keywords for the lack of gender balance in Norwegian academia today, which is clearly shown in this year’s recent survey report on higher education. Women comprise the majority of both students and research fellows, and they hold almost the same number of academic positions as men. 

But before reaching the senior level, something happens: Men still hold three-fourths of all professorships, and male researchers publish more than their female colleagues.

“It will take a long time before we get close to gender balance in professor positions,” says Steinar Johannessen, Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Education and Research who was responsible for the content of the survey report Høyere utdanning 2014 (“Higher Education 2014”) which the Ministry presented on 7 May 2014.

“By the same token, the figures show that there has been a steady increase in past 10 years, and there are many more female professors in terms of both percentage and number than there were 10 years ago,” emphasizes Johannessen.

The report underscores a tendency that is already well known: Over half of the academic staff in lower level positions in Norwegian academia – research fellows, assistant professors and associate professors – are women. However, women comprise only 25 percent of the professors.

“But in 2004 the comparable figure was 16 percent,” says Johannessen.

The report gives a comprehensive overview of the situation in wide range of areas for the entire sector. Consequently, the report does not delve into causes or propose solutions, including with regard to figures on gender balance. What can be stated, however, is that there has been a slow, but steady improvement at the highest levels of the hierarchy.

“But it is important to remember that the improvement which in fact is occurring will reach the professor level last,” notes Johannessen.

“Although half of the research fellows are now women, this is not reflected in the percentage of female professors yet. After all, the time span from research fellow to professor is many years,” he notes.

Professor title and publication go hand in hand

Research and publication are also areas where gender balance challenges are resistant to change – although there has also been stable improvement here in recent years. In 2013 women were responsible for only 33 percent of the publication points in the higher education sector on a nationwide basis.

It is well known that female researchers publish less than their male colleagues. This problem was alluded to in a previous article about a study of women’s and men’s time use in academia, published on our English website. The study showed, among other things, that one reason for the gender imbalance in academia was an imbalance between career and family and that women on average still spent more time on unpaid work at home.

Read also: Researchers assume traditional gender roles

“This imbalance impacts women’s work day more than men’s because women must often get done what they need to do during regular work hours – which is not always possible,” said Research Director Cathrine Egeland when she was interviewed previously about this issue.

The recently released report shows that women’s lower research productivity is also connected with the fact that women are under-represented in senior-level positions. Of all of Norway’s universities, UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø has the highest percentage of women with regard to publications. It is also the university with the highest percentage of women in professor positions.

“Does this mean it is now confirmed that lower publication rates among women are due to the fact that women are under-represented at the highest position levels and do not get as much time to conduct research and write?”

“I can’t say that for certain, but at the traditional universities women are responsible for a higher percentage of publication points at those institutions where women are best represented among the professors,” says Johannessen.

“In general, the higher up a researcher comes in the hierarchy, the more he or she publishes.”

Many cultural subjects, but few women at the top

There is a general tendency throughout the country that gender imbalance in academia becomes more pronounced at the senior position level, and this is also connected with the opportunity to spend time on research and publication. However, there are vast differences between the institutions. It is especially difficult to recruit women to mathematics and technology subjects. In those areas the percentage of women is low at all position levels.

But there are also few women across subject areas in the higher positions, and an overwhelming male dominance is not restricted to technology subjects. Lillehammer University College has a strong academic orientation towards the humanities and social sciences, areas that usually do not have problems attracting female students and research fellows. In spite of this, the school’s percentage of women in professor and associate professors positions is as low as nine percent.

“This is not a new problem, but something we have been aware of and not least worked to improve for a long time with concrete measures,” says Lars Petter Mathisrud, Director of Personnel at Lillehammer University College.

Mathisrud confirms that changes are occurring slowly, but surely. The measures implemented already appear to have had a positive impact, even though it will take time before the effect can be seen in the statistics on professor positions.

Qualifying grants and search committees

The university college has worked systematically to establish search committees for all associate professor and professor positions it advertises.


Lillehammer University College has a very low percentage of women among professors and associate professors, but Director of Personnel Lars Petter Mathisrud says that the school is actively searching for qualified women. (Photo: HiL)

“We have done this for two job advertisements so far, but we have already seen that we have received more applicants in general – and more female applicants in particular,” says Mathisrud.

“So it seems that search committees are an effective measure for us.”

“It is also easier to recruit expertise to the larger cities. Although Lillehammer University College is an attractive school, we are not exactly located in the centre of Oslo. In many of our subject areas we have not hired people with professor-level qualifications yet. In those cases it is even more important for us to actively recruit expertise like we are now doing with the search committees,” he says.

Mathisrud also says that the school has established permanent, annual qualifying grants for female associate professors who want to gain qualifications at the professor level. The candidates are assessed by an internal committee, and the grant is valid for two semesters.

“We have had similar grant schemes previously, but now we have given it more clout by making it an institutional measure that our action plan stipulates as mandatory,” he explains.

“One female associate professor has already received a grant, and a new qualifying grant will be announced in the autumn.”

“But how can you actually explain that a university college oriented towards cultural subjects, which generally have a high percentage of women, has only nine percent female professors?”

“The average age of our professors is high, which has been pointed out in previous reports. Most of our professors got their positions through personal promotion, and the first ones who became professors at our school had been at the institution a long time,” says Mathisrud.

“And most of them were men. So what we are doing now is working with promotion, and of course assessing all the time whether there are some systemic, biased conditions that result in men acquiring professor qualifications more quickly at our school.”

No matter what, Mathisrud is confident that the university college will reach the target set in its action plan for gender equality – that is, 25 percent of the professor positions will be held by women by 2016.

“Yes, it is realistic,” says Mathisrud.

“We also have a programme for associate professors that helps them to qualify for higher positions. Today the programme as 12 employees, and eight of them are women.”

Most temporary employees are still women

Another main assessment in the report is that there are too many temporary academic positions and that this is a challenge in terms of managing the research talents. The widespread use of temporary positions still affects women more than men.

“The number of temporary positions is declining,” says Steinar Johannessen of the Ministry of Education and Research.

“But it is a fact that more academic positions held by women are temporary. The difference is less than it was 10 years ago, but there are still more women in temporary positions.”

One possible reason noted in the report is that temporary positions are more prevalent at the assistant professor and lecturer levels.

Although the findings show that many traditional patterns are hard to break, Johannessen is certain that we are seeing a definite improvement.

“Although women comprise a large percentage of students and research fellows, and are not particularly visible at the professor level, there is absolutely an improvement,” he says.

“The number of women in professor positions has increased dramatically in recent years.”

If the percentage of women at the top continues to rise at the same pace as in the past 10 years, 40 percent of professors will be women in 2028.

Translated by Connie Stultz.

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The survey report Høyere utdanning 2014 (“Higher Education 2014”) was presented by State Secretary Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Ministry of Education and Research on 7 May 2014. The report is prepared on an annual basis, and provides an assessment of the public and private university and university college sector.

The report concludes that there are still too few women in senior-level academic positions. The report states that the percentage of women has increased by about one percentage point annually in recent years and that this is was also the case for 2013.

Gender equality statistics from the report:

  • Total number of students: 60 percent women, 40 percent men
  • Total number of employees: 52 percent women, 48 percent men
  • Academic staff (excluding recruitment positions): 44 percent women, 56 percent men
  • Administrative positions: 69 percent women, 31 percent men
  • Research fellowships: 53 percent women, 47percent men
  • Professors: 25 percent women, 75 percent men

Publication: In 2009, women accounted for about 29 percent of the sector’s total publication points. In 2013, this figure increased to about 33 percent.

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