In the lead up to International Women’s Day, Euroscientist is running a series of short articles looking at the state of women in research throughout Europe. The first in this series looked at Southern Europe and the second looked at Western Europe.
Look at any map of the countries with the most gender-equal societies, and you will often find northern Europe in some shade of dark green. Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all rank in the top five in the World Economic Forum’s list of the world’s most gender equal countries.
A similar ranking can be found in the EU’s She Figures statistics of women in European science. When measuring the proportion of women researchers, all countries in northern Europe score above the EU average of 33% except Sweden (which is only slightly behind at 32.63%).
However, problems persist in the Nordic countries. The #metoo movement in the late 2010s led to the #Akademiuppropet (call on academia) movement in Sweden, which focused on sexual discrimination and harassment in Sweden’s research sector. In November 2017 the movement published a manifesto in the national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, signed by around 2500 women in Sweden’s higher education sector. Fuelled by these protests Sweden launched a gender equality agency in 2018 to help government organisations (including research agencies) and universities to effectively implement their gender equality policies.
A year later in Denmark, a group of Danish researchers founded the Danish Society for Women in Science (DANWISE), a non-profit organisation to fight gender inequality in Denmark. Their work involves a mentoring programme to help both academia and industry to understand the hidden biases that exist in academic careers, public speaking seminars, and workshops on writing an academic CV and negotiating for a fair wage.
Denmark in particular needs more effort to increase the proportion of women in science. According to the Nordic Council, Denmark has one of the most gender segregated markets in the region. Speaking to Denmark.dk, the Director of the Danish knowledge centre for gender and gender equality said that “we see that norms and expectations limit young people and even kill their dreams of future careers. For example, very few men choose to become nurses as it is seen as a women’s profession alongside other care tasks.”
To remedy this, the consulting company McKinsey released a list of ‘considerations’ for the Danish research sector. This includes minor things such as using gender neutral language in job postings, creating mentorship programmes, to a complete cultural shifts in workplace cultures and creating more role models for the next generation of researchers.
These role models are important for the next generation. Research done by Microsoft shows that in Europe, the amount of young women interested in STEM is almost doubled when they have role models (41%) compared to those who do not (26%).
Reassuringly, a study of how women researchers are portrayed in Finnish media also shows that women researchers do not need to be portrayed as overly driven, feminine, or sexualised. “For me, even the idea of initiative may sound a bit weird,” says Asiia Suerbaeva, a junior researcher at LUT University in Finland and a researcher on the Sea4Value project. “Currently my supervisor is a woman. She is professor with a very big research group. Our dean is a woman. I don’t know what is behind their path. But I don’t want to believe that it’s really because of [their] gender.”