The Gender Equality Award for 2009

Assessments and recommendation

Administrative procedures and information activity

In a letter dated 26 May 2009, the Ministry of Education and Research states that Minister Tora Aasland plans to continue efforts to promote better gender balance in the higher education and research institute sectors by presenting the Gender Equality Award again in 2009. The ministry also asks the Committee for Mainstreaming – Women in Science (the Kif committee) to announce the award, assess the candidates and make a recommendation to the ministry.

The purpose of the award is to encourage the higher education and research institute sectors to make active, targeted and systematic efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace (cf. Section 1a of the Gender Equality Act). In its letter the Ministry states that the award is aimed at increasing the percentage of women in academic positions.

The Gender Equality Award is a visible stimulus and a clear political signal that this is an issue of great importance. However, the Kif committee believes that an evaluation of the scheme is called for, e.g. the committee stands by its proposal from last year that an evaluation of the scheme should be conducted after the award has been presented for the third time, which would be following the award for 2009.

This year’s Gender Equality Award was announced in June and the final call for nominations was sent out in August. The deadline for submission of applications was 13 November 2009. All the institutions were sent information in writing. The award was also announced by Women in Science – Norway, on the websites of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions and the Ministry of Education and Research, and in a notice posted on the Forskerforum website. In connection with last year’s announcement, the secretariat drew up guidelines for the nomination of candidates in order to clarify the selection criteria and application procedures. The guidelines were sent to the institutions along with the call.

The Kif committee appointed a working group to make a recommendation for the award based on the applications received. The group was comprised of Gerd Bjørhovde (University of Tromsø), Karen Lise Knudsen (University of Agder), Kjell Bratbergsengen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and Ernst Kristiansen (SINTEF). The secretariat consisted of Nina Widding and Linda M. Rustad (both of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions). The recommendation was adopted in a meeting of the Kif committee on 8 January 2010. Since the University of Agder was a candidate for the award, the group discussed the issue of impartiality. Karen Lise Knudsen was not present when the group discussed the application submitted by the University of Agder. Since the other group members found the school’s candidacy to be of interest, Knudsen did not take part in the assessment of applications.

The following six institutions had applied for the award by the deadline of 13 November: the University of Agder, Bergen University College, the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Telemark University College, Lillehammer University College and the Norwegian School of Management (BI). This comprises 1 of 7 universities, 2 of 8 specialized university institutions, and 3 of 28 public university colleges. All the candidates fulfilled the eligibility requirements. None of the independent research institutes applied. There was one less candidate than last year.

The independent research institutes have not had the same focus on gender equality, action plans and measures as the higher education sector. This may be one reason for the lack of participation by the institutes. Participation by the universities could have been better. Although several of the universities have previously received the Gender Equality Award or have applied for it, this does not prevent them from submitting a new application or applying on the basis of an underlying unit as the University of Tromsø did when the Department of Marine Biotechnology was selected as one of the award winners in 2007. Even though the public university colleges are represented this year, their participation remained very limited. This may indicate that this segment of the sector does not give priority to gender equality efforts and that it is not in full compliance with the duty to promote gender equality as stipulated by the Gender Equality Act. The Kif committee has gathered statistics showing that the university colleges face challenges related to qualifying women for top-level positions, including in subject areas and disciplines where women have traditionally been in the majority.

Again this year as last, the Kif committee will submit a request that the Ministry of Education and Research enter into a dialogue with the public university colleges to investigate this situation. Last year the Kif committee advised the Ministry of Education and Research to ask the university colleges to submit their action plans and measures well in advance of the dialogue on the administration of subordinate agencies to be held in the spring. The committee has not been informed whether this has been done.

Basis for the assessment

The previous Kif committee (2004-2006) conducted a systematic survey of the gender equality situation at the university colleges and universities. This survey was based primarily on the institutions’ action plans for gender equality. One of the conclusions from the survey was that the degree of success depends on the institutions acknowledging that a lack of gender equality is a complex social problem and that the institution itself is part of this society. Moreover, an action plan appears to be feasible when it is well incorporated in the top-level administration and at the departmental level. To achieve the objective of a better gender balance within the sector, the plans must be ambitious and realistic at the same time. An indicator of this is the amount of resources set aside for gender equality efforts, both in terms of staff and for specific measures to promote gender equality.

When assessing the candidates, the committee has attached importance to the following:

  • ambitious and realistic target figures
  • creativity and originality
  • the amount of resources allocated to gender equality efforts
  • basis in the organization and top-level administration (mainstreaming)

Assessment of the candidates

The Norwegian School of Management (BI)
The Norwegian School of Management (BI) specifies target figures for the various position levels in the school’s action plan for gender equality. Many of the targets have been reached, or are close to being reached. However, a good deal of work remains before the targets for leadership positions are achieved, a situation that will be given special attention in 2010. The action plan is divided into sub-objectives that focus on a variety of gender-related issues, including salary. The school’s reports show that salary differences between the genders are being monitored. The measures described in the action plan are followed up by the responsible unit.

The school has set aside NOK 750,000 for gender equality measures in 2010, which up until now have been used for qualifying grants. An incentive scheme has also been established which allocates NOK 100,000 to departments that recruit women to professorships or that help them to gain qualifications at this level.

The Norwegian School of Management (BI) has a clear aim to increase the number of women in higher academic positions. However, its action plan is ordinary and lacks the weight needed to implement gender equality efforts throughout the organization. It is positive that the school monitors salary trends and has intervened when it sees that women’s salaries are lagging behind, and that it focuses on qualifying women for top-level positions. On the other hand, women comprise a very small percentage of the school’s leadership, and the committee agrees with BI that this is an area that should receive greater attention in the future.

Bergen University College (HiB)
The school’s action plan for gender equality for 2008-2011 is referred to in the action plan for research, development and innovation at Bergen University College from 2008 (p. 7). The action plan for gender equality only contains a general statement that the school has a long-term objective to increase the underrepresented gender to 40 percent in all departments. In other words, the plan does not specify target figures for the various position levels, although there is gender balance among the top-level administration, the deans and the research leadership for the strategic research initiatives. The proportion of female professors rose from 25 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2008. The action plan states which units are responsible for the various measures, but it does not give a timeline for when these are to be implemented. In 2009, funding was allocated for payroll compensation for women seeking to gain qualifications at the professor level. The efforts described in the action plan are targeted at qualifying women for top-level positions in general. A total of NOK 2 million has been prioritized for gender equality efforts in 2010 (not yet adopted).

The candidate takes an offensive, well-considered approach to the issue of gender equality in higher education and research. The school has a satisfactory number of women in leadership positions at various levels. The challenge, which the school itself acknowledges, lies in the technology subjects – a challenge in which they are not alone. The action plan is especially noteworthy for its multifaceted nature, and the school shows its strong commitment to setting aside resources. As a result, the school appears to be serious about turning words into action. The committee notes that the school recognizes the value of appointing women to associate professor II positions in the technology areas, and believes this is a good idea.

Lillehammer University College (HiL)
The action plan for gender equality, inclusion and anti-discrimination at Lillehammer University College for 2008-2011 aims to strengthen gender equality efforts and combat discrimination on a variety of fronts, including gender. The action plan mostly contains target figures for various groups and position levels, as well as the distribution of responsibility within the organization. The proportion of women among professors rose from 2.5 percent in 2007 to 4.6 percent in 2009. The proportion of women among associate professors declined from 35.1 percent in 2007 to 30.8 percent in 2009, while at the assistant professor level the proportion of women increased from 23.1 percent in 2007 to 31.4 percent in 2009. The measures for reaching the targets will be developed during the plan period. Among other things, the school has set aside NOK 750,000 to help women gain qualifications at the professor level in addition to NOK 1.4 million for various measures and personnel costs related to enhancing diversity within the organization.

Lillehammer University College has an action plan that consists mainly of target figures but not proposals for how these targets can be reached. While the application letter does outline a proposal for measures, a number of questions remain unanswered. For instance, it is unclear whether the school has actually set aside NOK 750,000 or whether this is something the school would finance with any Gender Equality Award money it might receive. The salary statistics presented are not convincing, in part because they are not adjusted for seniority. The school has an alarmingly small percentage of women among its professors, and the percentage of women at the associate professor level is on the decline. This has been the case for some time, which shows that the school lacks the commitment to strengthen opportunities for female researchers to qualify for higher positions or to recruit women through new appointments.

Telemark University College  (HiT)
The action plan for gender equality at Telemark University College, adopted by the board on 25 September 2009, sets a target of having 40 percent of the underrepresented gender in academic first-level, top-level and leadership positions. In 2008, 23 percent of professors were women, which was an increase of 11 percent over 2005. The measures laid out in the action specify the responsible units and timeline. During 2009, the school will identify which female researchers could qualify for professorships in the next round of the process. The issue of gender equality will be incorporated into leadership training activities and newly appointed employees will receive information about gender equality. The timeline shows that many of the measures are to be implemented during 2009-2010. The budget of NOK 125,000 is placed at the disposal of the gender equality committee. An additional NOK 150,000 has also been earmarked for efforts to recruit young women to technology subjects.

The action plan was adopted in 2008, but it states that the measures will be launched in 2009-2010. The fact that the measures do not begin in the first budget year makes the candidate appear to waiver slightly in its commitment. One reason may be that the measures are not followed up with funding aside from the budget placed at the disposal of the gender equality committee. As a result, even though the action plan itself is specific and contains many good measures, the overall gender equality efforts are not well incorporated throughout the organization. The committee notes that the issue of gender equality is a component of the leadership training activities, which is a positive step.

Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH)
Gender equality has been a key focus area at NIH since the school was established in 1968, and is currently incorporated into its strategic plan. The action plan for gender equality at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences for 2007-2010 sets target figures for new recruitment to various academic positions. The rector is the chair of the gender equality committee. The school states that one of its objectives is to practice preferential treatment for the underrepresented gender when all other factors are equal. Although reports to the board indicate that the targets for the percentage of women at various position levels have not been reached, figures for 2009 show that women comprise 34.2 percent of all professors. NOK 350,000 in ordinary gender equality allocations has been set aside, as well as three person-years related to qualifying women for professorships and funding for research that incorporates a gender and gender equality perspective. Internally, gender equality is viewed in connection with the school’s social responsibility to educate women and men to assume society’s many professional roles in the field of sport and physical activity.

The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences has a good gender balance, including at the professor-level, compared with the higher education sector as a whole. The school’s efforts to recruit women to and qualify them for research positions are linked to the school’s decision to prioritize gender and gender equality perspectives in its research. This not only strengthens the recruitment of women; in broader terms this type of research produces valuable knowledge for the field of sport. Other institutions are beginning to understand the connection between their research profile and the recruitment of women. NIH, however, shows that they have done something about this, which makes the candidate appear to be serious as well as innovative. The school has established clear target figures, and has taken the opportunity to recruit women to professor II positions. The school documents that it has good reporting procedures to its board, which indicates that the school has an operational plan. The fact that the rector chairs the gender equality committee demonstrates that the issue is well incorporated into the top-level administration. An overall challenge for the school is to encourage female coaches who have completed their education to work in the field of practice. The school also has a targeted focus on, and conveys healthy attitudes about, issues related to sexual harassment.

University of Agder  (UiA)
The University of Agder states in its application that gender equality is to be an integral part of the organization’s structure, strategy and culture. The challenge to achieve gender balance at the school can be viewed in connection with the clear challenges that the region as a whole faces in this area. One of the school’s objectives is for 50 percent of all new appointments to academic positions to be filled with the underrepresented gender. According to the action plan for gender equality for 2008-2011, the school was to establish targets for the plan period 2008-2011 by 31 March 2008 at the latest, but these targets have not been attached to the application. The university’s board has earmarked funding for grants for which women in the qualifying phase of their careers may apply. The grants comprise NOK 1 million over a two-year period for 11 women. UiA writes that it has used stepwise recruitment measures to increase the percentage of women, but it does not give the results of these efforts. The action plan does not specify which units are responsible for carrying out the various tasks, nor does it provide a timeline for when the various measures are to be implemented. The school has made a special effort to recruit young women to engineering studies, and the project “women and technology” has resulted in a 400 percent increase in the number of young women who have enrolled in this study programme. In 2009, UiA set aside NOK 1.525 million for gender equality efforts, which includes personnel resources and events focusing on gender equality in a broad sense.

UiA is a contender for the Gender Equality Award, as its application reflects a commitment to the issue and gives the impression that the school is willing to make a concerted effort to promote gender equality. It appears that UiA focuses on gender equality in a broad sense, which is positive in a larger societal perspective. It is unclear, however, the degree to which the school’s gender equality efforts are actually applied to the organization as a whole. There is therefore some question as to whether the candidate falls partially outside of the award’s mandate. With regard to the action plan, the committee would like to have seen specific target figures for the various position levels. The focus is on recruitment, which is positive, but in order to improve the gender balance it is important to view student recruitment in connection with measures to recruit women to positions higher up in the system. In the committee’s view, it is positive that the school states which measures it would fund with the prize money if it were to receive the award.


This year two candidates stand out as frontrunners for the Gender Equality Award for 2009:  Bergen University College (HiB) and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH). HiB plans to set aside a large sum for gender equality efforts; it demonstrates good understanding of the issues involved, and is willing to make a strong commitment to meeting the challenges in this area. Although NIH has not set aside an equally large sum, the school has nonetheless made more progress in promoting gender equality. This may be related to the fact that its efforts are well incorporated into the organization and that these are followed up closely with thorough reports to the board. This shows that integrating gender equality throughout the organization is just as important for achieving results as the actual measures that are implemented. NIH has worked more quickly over time to achieve gender equality than HiB can demonstrate. NIH has also initiated research that sheds light on gender and gender equality-related issues in its own academic profile, which the school also views in connection with its recruitment of women to research. The committee recognizes NIH for actually setting research priorities that both generate knowledge about gender equality and recruit women to the field.

The winner of the Gender Equality Award for 2009 is the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.

Translated by Connie Stultz.

Winner in 2009

The Gender Equality Award 2009 went to The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.