Career paths and career development

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“This is not about sexual harassment or outright discrimination. It’s not even necessarily about a lack of good intentions. It’s more a matter of unconscious practices that play a role in making academia a gender-divided place,” wrote Minda Holm, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (Forskerforum, 2019).

Female students are the majority, and the overall male-female balance among PhD graduates has been balanced since 2012. Among associate professors as well, the balance between women and men is quite even. But this changes at the level of professor – women hold fewer than one-third of full professorships, while men hold more than two-thirds.

More statistics

Many academics early in their career path are in their 30s – an especially hectic time of life. In their 30s, academics are expected to focus on career and laying the foundation for further advancement, yet it is also the time when many choose to start a family. Studies  describe competition, internationalization and tough working conditions as part of a “masculine” research model common throughout academia – a model that tends to favour the lifestyles of some men.

Read No discrimination against women whose CVs are as good as men’s

The extensive use of temporary employment is another challenge that many researchers face in their careers. More women than men are hired into temporary positions. Temporary status and uncertainty about the future can make both women and men quit a career in research.

How can these challenges be overcome? Below is an overview of measures either proposed or implemented at universities and university colleges in Norway. The measures are categorized as follows:

Doctoral students

On the whole, the gender balance among PhD candidates is good – but there are large differences between disciplines. In the humanities, social sciences and the medical and health sciences, most doctoral degree candidates are women, while in the science, technology and mathematical (STEM) disciplines, women are in the clear minority. Doctoral students are often in a phase of life when it is hard to balance work and care responsibilities. Doctoral students are also vulnerable due to being employed in temporary positions. A national survey indicates that female doctoral students are subjected to sexual harassment somewhat more than other groups.

  • Career development for doctoral students

The University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) has a number of measures relating to career development for doctoral students. Its action plan states that the university is to offer a mentoring programme for female doctoral students and female post-docs, and that newly hired women are to be given preference when filling fellowship positions in subjects where the proportion of women is low.

  • Integrate a gender equality dimension when selecting doctoral students

Molde University College integrates a gender equality dimension when selecting doctoral students and also mandates a review of the students’ working conditions in order to find possible areas for improvement.

Recruitment and hiring

In academia, the winners are those who publish the most and the best material, according to a report on hiring practices by the Fafo Research Foundation entitled Rettmessig forskjellsbehandling? (Justified differential treatment?). But scientific staff are also members of a professional community, with teaching and advisory duties. Job interviews and, at some institutions, trial lectures have therefore become more common in the hiring process, in addition to an assessment of candidates’ published works.

Many institutions are in need of improved gender balance in permanent scientific and senior-level positions, and measures to promote gender balance in scientific positions can help to make the career tracks of men and women more equitable.

  • Introduction of moderate gender quotas and fact sheets about bias

A basis for recruitment measures at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) is the university’s target of having at least 30 per cent female professors. Steps to achieve this include formulating job vacancy announcements that appeal to women and providing hiring committees with fact sheets about the gender equality principle and implicit bias. In cases where no woman is recommended, the recommendation must be presented to the head of the NMBU gender equality and diversity committee prior to being forwarded to the university’s hiring committee.

Another measure implemented at NMBU is to apply moderate gender quotas favouring qualified women for permanent scientific positions until the 30 per cent target for female professors is achieved. The application of gender quotas gives preference to applicants of the underrepresented gender when multiple applicants for a vacant position have essentially equal qualifications.

More about laws and regulations

  • Requiring an accounting if both genders are not included among qualified applicants

When hiring for a temporary or permanent scientific position at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), a special accounting must be provided when the qualified applicants do not include both genders.

  • At least 40 per cent of each gender

A recruitment measure at UiT calls for awarding at least 40 per cent of tenure track positions at the university to each gender.

  • Diversity statements and incentive schemes

The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH) takes steps to be more inclusive to underrepresented groups, such as requiring diversity statements in all job vacancy announcements. Incentive schemes are used to increase the number of employees from underrepresented groups. Also, in cases where underrepresentation is extreme, the school is to employ the practice of nominated appointment – that is, filling positions without announcing the vacancies – after having encouraged underrepresented groups to apply.

  • Extra sabbatical

A measure employed by Molde University College is to grant extra sabbatical leave when circumstances warrant.

Financial support for equipment

Support for initial costs is intended to help women in predominantly male disciplines. Such funding for equipment and operating costs is welcome in fields such as science and technology, which are often more costly than other research fields and predominantly comprised of men.

  • Financial support for women in male-dominated disciplines 

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) provides financial support for women in male-dominated disciplines. Researchers may apply for up to NOK 300 000 in funding for equipment, operating costs and research assistance.

NMBU makes financial support available to female researchers in departments with a low proportion of women.

  • Financial support for female researchers hired into permanent positions

The University of Bergen (UiB) Gender Equality Action Plan highlights financial support for equipment for women hired into permanent scientific positions; it is one of the university’s main steps to achieve gender balance and gender equality in research.

  • Various financial support packages

When recruiting women to UiT, units where women are underrepresented can provide initial support in the form of doctoral students or post-docs and/or additional funding for operating costs and equipment.

Mentoring programmes

A mentoring programme enables experienced, respected researchers who are influential in their environments to serve as advisors and discussion partners for their mentees (typically doctoral/post-doc fellows or associate professors). Mentors can help with everything from career advice to insight into an organization’s formal and informal structure and management.

Mentors are to serve as a professional resource, and to listen and provide advice and support to their mentees. Such a programme is also meant to be a learning experience for both parties. Mentoring schemes can be vital for women researchers’ career development and for achieving gender balance in senior-level academic positions.

  • Mentoring programmes for academia 

The University of Bergen (UiB) and the University College of Western Norway (HVL) jointly published a 2018 guide to share lessons learned and tips from a mentoring project in Bergen. The project was under the Research Council of Norway’s Programme on Gender Balance in Senior Positions and Research Management (BALANSE) and the guide is designed for stakeholders responsible for mentoring programmes in academia.

The University of Oslo (UiO) has a mentoring programme for female post-docs. For over a decade, this programme has been offered annually to female post-docs to help develop their research careers as part of the university’s efforts to promote gender equality. The mentors are men and women in senior management positions who come from a different research environment than the female post-docs in the programme, who are the mentees. The programme comprises mentor-mentee meetings as well as gatherings with all participants in the mentoring programme.

NTNU has a mentoring programme for female associate professors. Objectives include network-building, knowledge-sharing, strategic career development and increasing the female proportion of full professors.

The University of Stavanger (UiS) offers mentoring to women in recruitment positions (doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships) at its Faculty of Science and Technology in order to reduce attrition among women during the post-doc period.

  • Mentoring programme for female doctoral students and post-docs

UiT has a mentoring programme for female doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, and participants in the university’s job promotion project can have a mentor as well. Participants who wish to apply for promotion to professorship can take a course on application writing, have their trial applications assessed, and receive a mentor.

  • Mentors provided

One measure in the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences action plan is to use mentors to encourage women in scientific positions to earn qualifications for promotion.

  • Academic mentors

At NHH, academic mentors are involved in a number of measures to facilitate the qualification and promotion of women at the institution.

  • Mentoring programme

At Molde University College, the mentoring programme is an integral part of measures to build expertise. Newly hired women who want to qualify for researcher positions are offered a local mentor, and female researchers working in highly male-dominated parts of the institution are offered international mentors.

Career and family life

Research shows that women still bear the main responsibility for children and family life, and that this affects career opportunities. But many researchers, both women and men, have care responsibilities, and a number of universities and university colleges have action plans for gender equality and diversity that contain measures geared to the work-family balance.

  • Varied leave-of-absence schemes and individualization

The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences allows for individualized work duties that serve the school’s needs while accommodating an employee’s circumstances and life phase. This may entail flexible work hours, customized work tasks or varying types of leave of absence.

  • Temporarily reduced teaching responsibilities

NTNU facilitates a healthy balance of career and family life through such measures as temporarily reducing someone’s teaching responsibilities without hurting their promotion prospects.

  • Combining work and family

VID Specialized University employs a number of measures to ensure equal opportunities for all employees and applicants. One measure is having discussions about work tasks and work hours in order to help employees juggle job and family obligations in the best possible way.

  • Adjusting study and job commitments

The Norwegian Defence University College is willing to adjust student and employee commitments to better combine them with family life. One of the institution’s objectives is to recruit, keep and develop employees of any gender.

Salary and gender

There can be many reasons for pay differences between women and men. Differences in salary may be due to men and women being concentrated in different fields and positions, or to age and seniority. Studies of salary and gender in academia find that pay differences between men and women are greatest in senior-level administrative positions.

In 2020, UiT was found by the Norwegian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal to have applied differential treatment in the case of a woman and a man. The tribunal found that pay differences may be justified by differences in work tasks or in the value of work, but that those did not apply in this case. UiT accepted the decision.

There are many examples of salary measures implemented at universities and university colleges as a means of recruiting and keeping women in scientific positions.

  • Education and practical experience are to be weighed the same for both sexes

The University of Agder emphasizes that during salary negotiations, education and work experience are to be given the same relative weight, regardless of gender, and that both genders are to be subject to the same salary considerations.

  • Relaunch grants

For doctoral students and post-docs who have taken parental leave for more than six months continuously, NTNU awards relaunch grants as a financial measure to facilitate work-family balance.

  • Subsidizing half the pay of women hired for Professor II positions

The Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) uses gender equality funds to cover 50 per cent of women’s salaries during their initial years in Professor II positions. This measure applies to departments where the proportion of women in scientific positions is below 40 per cent. In addition, female post-docs and female associate professors receive an annual grant to be used for enhancing their qualifications.

  • Active equal-pay policy

To better coordinate its gender equality efforts, UiB actively incorporates an equal-pay policy, with a special focus on lower-salaried groups.

  • Salary statistics

The University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) seeks to rectify unjustified pay differences between the genders, and is to consult salary statistics when determining starting salaries for new employees.

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Also see Norway’s laws and regulations to prevent differential treatment and promote gender equality.