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How to get more women professors: success on the top of the world!

December 3, 2011

With focus and commitment, the University of Tromsø has become Norway’s leading university for gender balance. New statistics have arrived and they reveal that 27.4% of our full professors are women.

Tromsø is better than any other institution of higher education in Norway, and it is well ahead of the national average of 23%.

The Board of the University has articulated a goal of having 30% of our highest academic positions occupied by women by the end of 2013. Our progress has been steady and salient. In 2007, 18.3% of our professors were women. In 2008, it was 20.1%. At the end of 2009, we had reached 22.4% and last year we were at 24.6%. Today, we have reached 27.4%!

This progress reflects major investments in faculty development.

We have acknowledged that structural impediments are part of the reason that fewer women than men reach the rank of full professor. As a consequence, we work to reduce the impact of those impediments with women who are currently in the system, and we work to change the system so that the impediments will be eliminated for future generations.

The University of Tromsø has used a wide variety of measures to feed the progress we are reporting today. We have deliberately hired a number of women into Affiliated Professor positions (a Norwegian supplemental 20% position with the title Professor-II); one effect of this is to increase the number of female role models at this level, and we have also recruited from this pool to 100% positions.

We have made extensive use of mentor programs. Several women in Associate Professor positions have had an extra semester of sabbatical as they approach the homestretch for applying for promotion. The advancement of women has been promoted by the top level of leadership at the university for many years. In short, we have made the promotion of women a priority.

However, we have not yet reached our goal of 30% — and after 2013, the bar must be raised. We continue with new and creative measures that will push us towards success. One of our most important current efforts is called The Promotion Project, in which we work deliberately with women in Associate Professor positions to identify and facilitate the achievements necessary for promotion.

The University of Tromsø was the first university to adopt the recommendations submitted by the genSET project to the European Commission. Implementing the 13 recommendations in the genSET report will make significant contributions as we move towards true gender parity at the top of the academic ladder.

Our work at the University of Tromsø has been discussed in Science, Nature and The Lancet. It has piqued the interest of the European Commission and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There is, in other words, broad international interest in the problems that women face in academic careers, and in measures that can be taken to solve those problems.

It is possible to create a more fair system. Change can be achieved. With focus and commitment, universities can become better workplaces — workplaces with higher qualifications and with the conditions necessary to accomplish even more.

Today, the northernmost university in the world has shown that this is possible.

Because we are marking a milestone today, I’ll allow myself to mention that this blog includes many entries about the importance of gender balance for quality in organizations, entries about strategies for achieving gender balance, and entries about reasons deliberate action is necessary. Key articles include those listed below.

The comment sections are open — please tell your story, please add your voice to the discussion!

Why hire (wo)men?

A slow thaw for women

The promotion project: Getting more women professors

Peer evaluation is not objective: Academia and Law Firms

Equality targets as a leadership tool

There are only 3 reasons women don’t make it to the top

Spanish professors are sexist

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Catarina Dutilh Novaes permalink
    December 3, 2011 14:56

    Brilliant! I just wrote a blog post on your report:

    • December 3, 2011 16:26

      Thanks very much for that. I’ll leave a comment on your blog with a few thoughts …

  2. Frink permalink
    December 3, 2011 23:35

    That’s great news! Since that would be inevitably necessary here in Germany before we could possibly even dream of 20 % female professors I’m curious: Which Norwegian measures do you identify to successfully increase the pre-professoral/overall portion of women in academia?

    • December 4, 2011 15:06

      This is a very important and potentially very complicated question. In Norway, the pre-professorial level has about 40% women. This is more than sufficient to achieve 30% women at the top; indeed, I would claim that the default expectation would be to have 40% at the top. But if you only have 15% at the pre-professorial level (not that I suspect the situation to be that bad in Germany), then obviously 20% at the top is going to be hard. So, in some ways, your question is about getting women to choose academia as a career. And to answer that, we have to think about what makes academia an unattractive career option for women in greater numbers than men. In Norway, there is a societal organization whereby men and women have roughly the same number of work hours, and whereby everyone works relatively short days, such that it’s more straightforward to share responsibilities at home. In countries where responsibilities at home are very skewed towards women, there will be serious implications for the kinds of careers that are available. So, where is Germany in this regard?

  3. Angelika permalink
    December 6, 2011 20:38

    hello Curt, “where is germany” you ask.
    in my analysis “germany is very backwards” also as far as women in full-professorship are concerned. since i am not in academia myself i did a quick-search and all i could come up for now is data from 2003/4 from WP, rest assured, these data have not changed for the better/for women/ and for german society as such.
    (WP btw is ca. 91% malestream in germany)

    just this year i followed an interview with a long-time journalist and fpr many years she was the responsible program-woman for a weekly tv-report
    (Maria von Welser, Mona Lisa). now retired she e.g. said that germany is on average lagging 20-30 years behind other OECD countries (e.g. as far as schooling, child-care, education, women’s rights are concerned) and that e.g. OECD-representatives she met were kind of “laughing of their behinds off about the backwardness of germany”. alas, i cannot but fully agree.
    and e.g. also the Merkel-government ultra-conservative e.g. minister of family etc. does not help either, on the contrary, important and necessary reforms have not been introduced in the past 20 years and there are none “on the horizon”.

    • December 8, 2011 12:14

      I looked up the information about Germany in the “She Figures” from 2009. (This is the European Commission’s “Statistics and Indicators on Gender Equality in Science.”) In the EU-27, 37% of all researchers are women; in Germany (and the Netherlands, Austria, and Luxembourg) it is fewer than 15%. Germany has the fewest female PhD graduates in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction of all the EU-27, coming in at 2.9%.

      According to the SHE figures, 12% of professors in Germany are women, compared with 19% on average throughout the EU-27.


  1. How to get more women professors: report from the the University of Tromsø « Feminist Philosophers
  2. The promotion project: Getting more women professors « curt rice
  3. How to get more women professors: success on the top of the world! | Digital Delights |
  4. How to get more women professors: success on the top of the world! | The girls' manual to world domination |

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