Gender equality in 30 years?

The number of women in academia in Norway has increased, yet they are still a minority, and the target that women should make up half of all academic personnel in permanent positions has not been achieved. If the current rate of change in the higher education sector continues at the same tempo as it has in the 1990s and the current decade, it will take another 25 to 30 years before half of those in permanent positions are women. These figures emerge from a new report compiled by NIFU STEP.

In the report 'Likestillingsscenarier for UoH-sektoren' (Gender equality scenarios for the higher education sector) researchers from NIFU STEP analyse both the quantitative and qualitative prerequisites for when the goal of gender equality in academia can be achieved. The report concludes that much remains to be done in order to achieve this goal. The study reveals, moreover, great differences between different academic fields and types of institution.

The overall future demand for qualified personnel in the higher education sector is uncertain, but if the rate of change continues as it has in the 1990s and so far in the new millennium, it will be many years before gender equality in academia is achieved. According to the report it can take as long as 25 to 30 years, and that is if 50 per cent of all appointments in academia each year are women. By 2020 a target of 40 per cent women is possible, but this assumes that many more women are appointed than is the case today.

A prerequisite for achieving the goal of either a 50 or 40 per cent proportion of women in academia is that there exists a recruitment pool of enough women to occupy the positions. According to calculations from NIFU STEP, the supply of qualified female candidates is likely to be sufficient within medicine and health-related subjects, and within humanities and social science. These are academic fields that are approaching gender equality today. In the fields, mathematics, the natural sciences and technology, on the other hand, the supply of applicants will be more sparse. In these fields gender equality is, today, a long way off. The proportion of women is generally so low that a gender equality target of 50 per cent women can scarcely be achieved over the course of 25 years. The same applies to a target of 40 per cent.

"Several universities and university colleges have emphasized that the coming generation shift in the higher education sector is an opportunity to do something about the one-sided gender balance, especially at the level of professor," says Kari Melby, leader of the Committee for Mainstreaming – Women in Science.

She adds that the committee commissioned the report to get a demographic projection of the recruitment pool in academia, and so obtain a realistic picture of how many women actually need to be recruited in the future if the sector is to achieve its target for a balance between the sexes.

"The report shows that there are qualified women in the higher education sector, even though they are fewer within mathematics, the natural sciences and technology. But it also shows that the institutions must increase their ambitions in respect to appointing women."

In 2005, only 17 per cent of all professors in the higher education sector were women.

Translated by Matthew Whiting, KILDEN

Facts about the Report

In the summer of 2006 NIFU STEP was commissioned by the Committee for Gender Mainstreaming – Women in Science to carry out the project “Likestillingsscenarier for UoH-sektoren” (Gender equality scenarios for the higher education sector). NIFU STEP has analysed the quantitative, and also qualitative, prerequisites necessary for achieving gender equality in the higher education sector.