Gender equality in academia

Despite the fact that there are considerably more female than male students in Swedish higher education, men are vastly overrepresented among professors. Some areas in academia are at the same time dominated by women, while others are dominated by men.

A wide range of aspects of the Swedish higher education sector are characterised by a lack of gender equality; research funding, salaries, conditions of employment, career paths, sick leave and educational choices are some examples. In addition to the fact that this runs contrary to the national gender equality objective of women and men being able to pursue education on equal terms, it affects the quality and conduct of the overall operations. Another aspect is that few study programmes integrate gender equality as an area of knowledge. As a result, those who get a degree in, say, psychology, education, law or journalism may completely lack this type of competence.

The widespread gender segregation in the labour market, where women and men are found in different areas and in different positions, can also be seen in the higher education sector. It affects both researchers and administrative and technical staff and is expressed in differences in gender representation across both levels and disciplines. For example, there are significantly more female than male students, yet considerably more male than female professors. Another example is that nursing science is strongly dominated by women, while the opposite is true for technical subject areas. Strategically important issues such as management and recruitment have also been found to be rather gender unequal in practice.

Gender equality always concerns gender, obviously, but never gender alone. The higher education sector is characterised by inequality also when it comes to educational background and class, race/ethnicity, age, sexuality, functional variations and gender identity. This affects for example who gets to do research, on what, in what way and under what conditions. It also leads to differences in economic conditions across academic groups.

Gender mainstreaming instead of projects

Almost all Swedish universities and university colleges operate as government authorities. As do the research councils and Vinnova. Since 1994, all Swedish government agencies are required to work with gender mainstreaming. This means that a gender equality perspective must be incorporated into all decision making at all levels and in all parts of the process, by the actors that normally participate in the decision making. All public sector activities must be fair, equally distributed and of the same quality for everybody regardless of gender.

The gender equality work in higher education has historically, since the issues were first acknowledged in the 1960s, been focused around HR issues and targeted training schemes. The work has often taken the form of projects of various types. It has rarely concerned the core operations – research, education and outreach – or the management systems, which is the whole idea of gender mainstreaming.

The Swedish Council for Higher Education concluded in its evaluation of the Delegation for Gender Equality in Higher Education 2014 that the gender mainstreaming work needs to be strengthened and clarified in the entire sector. Two year later, the Government gave all universities and university colleges a special assignment to develop their gender mainstreaming work. The assignment will last until 2019, and the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research has been tasked to support their efforts, in the same way it is already supporting 60 government agencies within the framework of the project Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA).

Author Swedish secretariat for gender research. Published 31st of March 2016
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