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Need for Research on Gender Equality in Nordic Academia

A joint Nordic research programme for gender equality aims to improve the gender balance in senior positions in Nordic academia. NIKK contacted Jesper Werdelin Simonsen, executive director at the Research Council of Norway and chair of the programme committee.

Jesper Werdelin Simonsen. Press photo
 Jesper Werdelin Simonsen. Press photo

‘The share of women in senior academic positions at Nordic universities and other research institutions is not proportional to the share of women in society at large. The gender balance in research and innovation is no better than the European average. The gender balance might be good in the overall management of academic institutions, but this is not reflected in the top academic positions. This is the background for the programme,’ says Simonsen Werdelin.

Better statistics

The research programme is a follow-up to the report Norden – et steg nærmere kjønnsbalanse i forskning? (the Nordic region – a step closer to gender balance in research?), drawn up in 2013 on request by the Committee for Gender Balance in Research in Norway. In addition to establishing a joint Nordic research programme, the report recommends that the Nordic countries work systematically to develop better statistics on gender balance in academia. This statistical endeavour will be included in the new programme.

‘The EU has a big programme called She Figures, where they collect data on the gender equality situation in research and innovation. The goal of creating a Nordic She Figures is both to create better data for ourselves and to contribute to higher quality of the European She Figures,’ says Simonsen.

Compare the Nordic countries


The report points out that the research-based knowledge on gender balance in Nordic academia remains weak. The report mentions a number of areas where more knowledge is needed, including research funding and gender, work environment studies in a gender equality perspective, and publication and citation patterns in a gender perspective. The programme will not just gather information about the gender dynamics in academia in each individual country, but also facilitate studies of differences and similarities among the Nordic countries and between the Nordic countries and the rest of Europe.

‘The main argument for improving the gender balance in academia has always been that if we don’t, we’ll waste a lot of important talent resources. So the focus is not primarily on discrimination or discriminatory structures in academia, although there are probably some good examples of that. What’s important is that an improved gender balance will raise the quality of Nordic research,’ says Simonsen.

Call for applications next autumn

The programme was established in early March by the board of NordForsk, a body under the Nordic Council of Ministers that funds Nordic research cooperation. Currently, the Research Council of Norway, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte) and the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture have agreed to fund the programme along with NordForsk. Several other Nordic institutions are also considering contributing.

‘The programme committee will hold its first meeting shortly, but the first call for applications can’t be expected until next autumn. The programme will be action oriented and not focus on basic research. We therefore need to identify the areas with the greatest need for action when preparing the project documents,’ says Simonsen.

Updated 3 May 2020