Qualifying for professorships

(Illustration: iStockphoto)

The roundabout routes to career success for many women, and the heavy attrition suffered along the way, have been explained with metaphors such as glass ceilings, leaking pipelines and sticky floors. But gender inequality is not ordained by nature, as Sofia Moratti has said in an interview published under the headline “We decide whether the glass ceiling exists ”.

More than half of Norway’s students and doctoral fellows are women, and among senior lecturers and assistant professors the gender balance is almost even. Among professors, however, the proportion of women varies greatly from discipline to discipline. While a rough gender balance exists among professors of medicine, women account for just over one-tenth of professors in technological disciplines.

In 2018 women passed the 30-per-cent mark nationally among all who hold the rank of professor. That is up from 20 per cent a decade ago. The percentage of female professors varies considerably by discipline, despite an abundance of qualified candidates. We tend to lose women in the transition from associate professor to professor – which is why the Ministry of Education and Research attaches such importance to the proportion of professorships held by women in its administrative dialogue with universities and university colleges.

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On this page, we present a variety of qualification measures that higher education institutions can implement for professor-level positions. The examples are sorted into the following categories:


Numerous universities and university colleges employ recruitment measures designed to increase the percentage of women in scientific positions as part of their effort to achieve gender balance among the institutions’ senior personnel.

  • Recruiting more women to Professor II positions

The University of Agder (UiA) seeks to increase the number of Professor II positions and to use those positions primarily to recruit women.

  • Recruiting more women to leadership and senior-level positions

One of the University of Bergen’s (UiB’s) goals is to increase recruitment of women to academic leadership positions and senior scientific positions, in part through the use of qualifying grants.

  • Announcing permanent positions as associate professor positions

Both the University of Oslo (UiO) and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) announce vacancies for permanent scientific positions as associate professor positions. This constitutes a female recruitment measure, as the number of women applicants is likely to be greater than if a professorship were announced. UiO is also one of several institutions that employ nominated appointments as one of their recruitment measures. (More on nominated appointments below.)

  • Contacting academic communities to generate applicants

Recruitment policies at both the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH) call for consulting relevant academic communities or networks in order to seek out qualified applicants.

Search committees

A search committee is an initiative to identify potential women applicants before announcing permanent scientific positions in disciplines where women are underrepresented. The intent of this measure is to seek out suitable women candidates and encourage them to apply.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) began with “search committees”, and eventually called them search and discover committees. According to its action plan, NTNU will use such committees to identify women applicants prior to announcing permanent scientific positions.

UiO uses search committees actively to ensure gender balance and diversity in its applicant pool as well as to attract candidates of top quality and improve gender balance in senior scientific positions and diversity in academia.

AHO’s standing search groups are a measure to increase the proportion of women in senior scientific positions.

USN employs a search committee to find qualified candidates.

The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) uses a search committee as a tool to increase the proportion of women in senior scientific positions and leadership positions. As part of a promotion project, the university will be looking for motivated women with the potential to be promoted to the rank of professor. (More on promotion below.)

UiA employs search committees in connection with appointments to scientific positions at institutes where fewer than 20 per cent of such positions are held by women.

When filling permanent scientific positions, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) recommends the use of search committees to achieve the goal of increasing the share of qualified female applicants to at least 30 per cent.

Qualifying grants

Qualifying grants can serve as a compensatory measure for women researchers who have taken on official tasks, advisory duties, committee work or other responsibilities. The grants are to be used for dispensation from teaching and administrative duties, thus providing researchers more time to publish their own research.

Time-usage surveys of researchers and academic staff at Norway’s universities and colleges have shown that women and men both work significantly more than 37.5 hours a week. Among PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, women work an average 1.5 hours less per week than men. Time spent on R&D (research and development) is what tends to be reduced when women work less. Male associate professors spend an hour per week more than women on teaching and advising, while female associate professors spend almost one hour more on R&D and 20 minutes more on administration than men. In all subject areas, women professors spend somewhat more time advising than men do.

Qualifying grants are used in a variety of ways at Norwegian universities and university colleges.

  • Qualifying grants

UiB provides qualifying grants for women in scientific positions, while UiO, NMBU and NTNU have qualifying grants for female associate professors who want to apply for promotion to the rank of professor. Every year UiA announces individual qualifying grants to facilitate such promotion of women with a doctoral degree.

Mentoring programmes

  • Mentoring programme for female research fellows and post-docs

UiT offers mentoring programmes for women in research and post-doctoral fellowships, but also for participants in the university’s promotion project. (More on promotion below.)


Promotion to senior positions such as professorships is often a crossroads where the gender balance skews markedly and women end up a distinct minority. Specific promotion projects designed to enhance gender balance exist at multiple institutions, but they are practiced differently.

Universities, university colleges and research institutes have a range of measures they use to encourage promotion. These include promotion courses, regular meetings for associate professors, coaching groups or mentoring, writing courses and pre-assessment of promotion applications. In recent years a number of institutions – including the University of Stavanger (UiS), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) – have implemented a common set of measures using funds from the Research Council of Norway’s Programme on Gender Balance in Senior Position and Research Management (BALANSE).

  • Promotion projects 

UiT was early to adopt such a model, and the university won a national gender equality award in 2011. The promotion projects have helped to increase the proportion of women professors, but UiT still faces challenges, as its action plan acknowledges. The objective is for women to hold at least 40 per cent of senior scientific positions by 2022. Promising female candidates in disciplines where women are underrepresented are to be offered the chance to participate in a promotion project. UiT provides a mentor and help in formulating a promotion application as well as knowledge exchanges, networking meetings, writing workshops and trial reviews of scientific work.

  • Promotion project including mentoring

NUPI received funding from the BALANSE programme for the three-year project Advancing female leadership in the institute sector. One initiative is a promotion project including a mentoring project and close follow-up to help women qualify for promotion to research professor.

  • Promotion project

In pursuit of the goal of having 30 per cent of associate professorships help by women by 2020, NMBU has had a promotion project to identify female associate professors who are nearing the point in their careers when promotion to professor is a possibility. Another NMBU measure is the establishment and follow-up of career development programmes for these candidates.

  • Promotion

Both UiO and UiA announce funding for qualifying grants aimed at female associate professors who wish to apply for promotion to the rank of professor.

  • Mentoring scheme for promotion candidates

Oslo Metropolitan University has a mentoring scheme for promotion candidates.

  • Project to increase the number of women professors

In PRIO’s three-year BALANSE project Positioning women for research professorships (POWER): Early interventions at PRIO, the goal was to increase the number of women professors at the institute. Programme measures included interviews, writing groups, trial evaluations, writing grants, mentoring and leadership training.

  • Promotion course

In a policy document tied to its action plan, UiB points to a promotion course as one of several measures it employs to help increase the number of women who choose an academic career.

  • Qualifying for promotion

One of USN’s measures is to establish a qualification programme for promotion to professorships in which women in particular are encouraged to apply.

  • Motivating candidates to seek promotion

Motivation is a key aspect of promotion-oriented measures employed at a number of universities and university colleges. AHO is one of the institutions with measures designed to motivate candidates to apply for promotion.

Nominated appointment

Nominated appointment is a tool for enhancing gender equality and gender balance. Norway’s Act relating to universities and university colleges states: “When special grounds so indicate, the board may make academic appointments without prior advertisement of the vacancy. Such appointments may not be made if more than one member of the board objects.”

Nominated appointments are most often employed when hiring external candidates for part-time (20 per cent) Professor II positions, rather than ordinary professorships.

  • Nominated appointments of women to professorships

As part of its emphasis on gender balance and gender equality in research, UiB has introduced an action plan measure allowing for the nominated appointment of women to professorships. This measure is especially applicable in male-dominated parts of the university.

  • Nominated appointments of women to Professor II positions

UiT’s appointment-related measure falls under the university’s action plan item on stimulating academic environments. As part of UiT’s commitment to providing good role models of both sexes for employees and students alike, the nominated appointment practice will apply to women seeking Professor II positions in parts of the university where women are underrepresented as well as to gender equality activities in research.

UiO uses its appointment discretion to hire women for Professor II positions – because gender balance in scientific positions is the objective.

  • Nominated appointments for gender balance

The University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) employs nominated appointment as a gender balance measure when filling professor-level positions.

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.

Want to learn more, or provide input for this page?

Are you a student or staff member in higher education with an idea for measures or projects that belong on our list? Email us!

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The Research Council of Norway’s Programme on Gender Balance in Senior Positions and Research Management (BALANSE) has issued 12 recommendations and measures to improve gender balance in academia (in Norwegian).