Science still designed by men?

Science still designed by men?

- in Feature story, News, Student life

The progress that the University makes in the direction of gender equality is slow. Several projects are working on increasing the pace.


The International Women´s Day on the 8th of March celebrates women´s achievements throughout history. In its light, the initiative Step Up (see link) holds its first network meeting three days later to help women in academia to find mentors and role models. The event raises attention to still existing male dominant structures at Lund University.

Asking the expert of mentorships, Cecilia Agrell, if the University works for equal opportunities, she answers:

“In terms of policy yes but in practice not always.”

Agrell is in the committee of Lund University post-doctoral program (luPOD – see box) which supports postdoctoral employees in their career development.

“Things have changed since I was a PhD student in the 1990s. Today people look for diversity. But I think that we do not all have the same opinion on what equal opportunities mean in practice.”

Especially professor positions remain unequally distributed. Job vacancies recruited just eleven percent of female professors in 2012. Among the promoted professors 36 percent were women.

“We need to look at ourselves from another angle. We need to admit there is a problem and then work on it,” says Kajsa Widén.

She is responsible for the gender integrated leadership program AKKA at LU (see box). AKKA started with only female participants and then changed to include both women and men. The fourth program had an equal distribution, like luPOD.

“Working with gender issues means to me to include all in the process of change,” says Agrell.

Since the creation of AKKA, Widén has been invited by other Swedish Universities and abroad to present the program. Uppsala University already adopted some of the ideas in AKKA.

Widén says:

“When we started in 2004, one woman was found among eight deans at LU. Our aim was that within a year, nobody would be able to say that there were no women available for the position.”

Today half of the faculty directories, deans, are female.

Also LU has a stable equal distribution within students and PhD positions since 2002. Female lecturers have increased by five percent since 2010 and eleven percent since 2002 (see graphics) to a total of 40 percent.

Widén says: “It is not a quick fix,” and does not only refer to gender but also to inequality within ethnicities and sexualities. She raises the rhetorical question: “What is the norm at the University? It is the white heterosexual male.”

Or as Agrell puts it:

“The science world is designed by men.”

Both university representatives see the dominant nepotistic system as responsible for the slow change.

“There is a ‘networking’ going on, which is not called so. You pick certain people and you offer them the job,” says Widén and Agrell emphasizes:

“We usually look for someone who resembles us. There is a fear of difference.”

But the awareness of that is increasing. “That’s why we can do our work,” says Widén. Next to AKKA , other projects have been implemented by the University over the last decade in order to strengthen this awareness (see boxes).

The projects are promising and the trend is positive, but Widén believes:

“We can do an even better job.”

Agrell sees two main obstacles:

“There is no true dialogue. People don’t talk about gender at work. And the biggest problem: there is no time to be as professional as you might wish”.

She believes that it is often easier to fill a position with someone already known or suggested by colleagues, than to follow a more open recruitment procedure.

Therefore, Widén would suggest a women´s quota and agrees with the university board chairperson Margot Wallström, who said:

“I am for a quota. Why would it be more degrading to women, than a system where men choose men?” (in Sydsvenskan 14. Feb. 2013)

Whether a quota will be adopted by Lund University or not, Widén says:

“All projects have to work together and continuously. That makes the difference.”

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  1. Pingback: ”Gender quotas feel a bit degrading” « Lundagård

  2. Lund University is trying to hire more women, which should be applauded. However, their solution is typically Swedish: address gender discrimination by hiring more Swedish women.

    Meanwhile, we ignore the large elephant in the room, which is discrimination by nationality and preferential hiring of Swedish candidates, male or female.

    The chances of being hired at Lund University as a foreigner are still minimal, with over 70% of tenured positions at the university Lund filled by persons who gained their PhD at Lund University. The university wants to be a major centre of international research, but this is quite frankly a joke when nepotism prevails.

    1. That’s very true, on other hand most prof takes their favorite students into phd programs. The applications is just a protocol. I don’t know when all these going to end in the great Lund university

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