Aarhus BSS: The common trait of five departments is imbalance – while the Department of Law has found a gender balance without putting in place active measures to achieve it

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At the Departments of Political Science, Economics and Management, and Business Development and Technology, less than one in three associate professors is a woman. At the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, it’s a different story – almost two out of every three associate professors are women. However, the departments don’t agree whether this skew in gender balance is a problem. And at the Department of Law, they have found a gender balance without putting in place active measures to achieve it.

2021.01.05 | Miriam Brems og Marie Groth Andersen

THEME: Gender (im)balance at AU: During December, Omnibus put focus on gender balance at AU’s departments and schools in four articles: one for each faculty. We will focus on Natural Sciences and Technical Sciences collectively, because the numbers are from before the faculty was divided into two separate faculties. The previous weeks we looked at the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Health. This week it’s all about Aarhus BSS.

You’d have to do a lot of searching to find a department at AU that has a better gender balance than among the Master’s graduates from the Department of Political Science. During the last five years, 501 women and 509 men have graduated from the department.

But if you look at the members of staff, the story of having gender balance doesn’t really hold true. Women only constitute almost 40% of the PhD students and almost a third of associate professor positions. And only five of the department’s 31 professors are women.

Head of Department Peter Munk Christiansen has a clear opinion on these numbers: 

”The gender distribution at the department is clearly nowhere near where it needs to be.”

It took us a while to get going

Peter Munk Christiansen doesn’t believe that there is just one reason for the skew in gender balance, but he pointed at various possible factors:

A little bit on our data:

Omnibus received data from Analysis and Policy under the remit of the university management. The data show the gender distribution among academic employees at all of AU’s departments and schools. The numbers are from the end of 2019. They are the same data that are used for the yearly evaluation of AU’s action plan for gender equality. In addition, we supplemented the data with the numbers of Master’s graduates during the period 2016-2020, taken from AU Student Administration and Services. We have chosen 3-5 departments and schools from each faculty, which are either representative of the faculty or stand out in one way or the other. For each of these departments and schools, we have asked the head of department/school to answer 3-5 questions via email.

Peter Munk Christiansen doesn’t believe that there is just one reason for the skew in gender balance, but he pointed at various possible factors:

”The department took a while to get going in relation to ensuring a more balanced gender distribution. So, we haven’t had many female role models at the department for many years,” he said, and added:

”Recruiting women researchers hasn’t been much of a priority for many years. But things have changed. It’s been difficult to recruit suitable external candidates at the senior levels, while it’s been going better at the junior levels.”

Even though the head of department doesn’t doubt that the current gender balance is skewed, he’s still cautious when discussing an ideal gender makeup.

“It’s difficult to say exactly what the numbers should be. But setting a goal of having a minimum of 40% male and 40% female employees would be reasonable,” he said.

All research talent should be nurtured

Peter Munk Christiansen explained that in recent years gender equality has moved up in importance on the department’s agenda.

”We have given gender equality a lot of attention in recent years. And with some success,” he said, referring to the fact that during the period 2014 to 2019, 43% of all newly-appointed postdocs and a third of all newly-appointed assistant professors were women.

READ ALSO: Arts: One School is top of the class concerning gender balance – the other two are on the right track

”During the same period, 21% of all newly-appointed professors were women. It’s not a very high number. It is, however, higher than the current percentage of female professors ,” said Peter Munk Christiansen.

He explained that the department tries to nurture all talent among the students and members of staff.

”This also applies to recommendations for prizes and calls for funding. We try to pursue a family-friendly policy, we post broad job advertisements so that many applicants will apply for the posts and we are aware that we want to employ more women at the department,” he said.

Moving forward, slowly

The head of department stressed, however, that you have to be patient before you will see significant changes in the statistics.

”It’s important to remember that when you have a significant skew in the gender balance of your employees, like for example at our department, and when your employees are also quite young, then it will take time to achieve that gender balance – also even if we only employ women.”

Department of Business Development and Technology: No female professors – but diversity is not a problem

At the Department of Business Development and Technology, there’s also a clear case of gender imbalance. Less than one third of Master’s graduates are women. Despite this, women make up almost half the number of PhD students. But this is where the curve breaks – the department has only three female associate professors, which is equal to less than 20%, and at professor level, the numbers resemble a male-only club. However, it’s necessary to remember that the department is small, so even small numbers of new hires or retirements will skew the statistics.

Omnibus asked head of department Anders Frederiksen why equal distribution of men and women seen at PhD level wasn’t reflected at associate professor and professor levels? And whether the department is working for a more equal gender balance. 

In an email, he answered briefly that the numbers reflect years of recruiting.

”And we always want to recruit the best candidates when filling positions.” 

Furthermore, the head of department outlines that the department considers diversity to be a term that covers more than gender and that they are following AU’s norms for recruitment.

Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences: Four out of five are women

At the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, the statistics also indicate an imbalance, but in the opposite direction: Four out of five Master’s graduates are women. And women also make up a clear majority in all research positions up to and including associate professor level.

Head of Department Jan Tønnesvang believes that the gender distribution suggests that psychology as a subject attracts more female applicants and researchers:

”We have really bright students, some of whom want to pursue a research career. And it’s gratifying that this also applies to our talented female students,” said the head of department and stressed that the department always hires the most qualified applicants.

READ ALSO: THEME: Faculty of Health is a magnet for women, but there are few at the top of the career ladder

The only place at the department where women are in a minority is at professor level, where men continue to dominate. However, Jan Tønnesvang expects this statistic to level out in the coming years in line with a generational change.

It’s not a problem

Do you consider it a problem that the department can’t attract more men?

”We don’t consider it a problem. It might be a challenge for us in the long run in relation to achieving our goal of a 40/60 gender distribution. There is constructive communication, task performance and mutual respect between staff at the department irrespective of gender, which we consider central to our workplace culture.”

Have you ever experienced criticism for having too many women employed at your department?

”No, but as a department, we are naturally aware of the fact that gender distribution can be too skewed.”

What will you do to create a better gender balance, both at the department as a whole and at professor level? 

”Our positions cover a broad range of research topics within the psychology discipline, and both men and women are involved in the assessment and appointment committees to avoid any bias,” said Jan Tønnesvang who stated, however, that the department’s policy of hiring the most qualified candidate will not change.

Department of Law: Better work-life balance at the university than in the legal profession

The Department of Law is the only one at the Aarhus BSS faculty that currently maintains the 40/60 gender balance at all employment levels. Women make up at least two-thirds of postdocs and assistant professors, but given the very small data set, it’s important to read the numbers with caution.

Deputy head of department Birgit Liin is also very pleased with the distribution of men and women across the board. She says that of course the department follows the university’s overall strategy for gender equality, but in respect to this, the department has not launched such goal-oriented initiatives:

”If as a society we think that everything should have a 50/50 distribution, then there should be a good reason for this. And I find it difficult to argue for such a case here,” she said.

More professors on the way

The current situation at the department has developed steadily over time, where there are as many male associate professors as female, as well as a 60/40 distribution at Master’s and PhD levels, explained Birgit Liin.

”When many young women study for a Master’s in Law, it’s natural that some percentage of them will decide to pursue a career in research. We hire the best qualified candidates, and gender doesn’t come into the equation when judging the educational and research qualifications of the applicant,” she said.

Even though right now women make up just under 40% of the department’s professors, Birgit Liin believes that this distribution will level off itself over the coming years.

”When a majority of PhD students, postdocs, assistant professors and associate professors are female, it’s most likely that after a while, these numbers will be reflected in the number of female professors at the department as well.”

Better work–life balance

The heavy workload associated with academic life is often highlighted as a reason that women look for greener pastures outside of academia.  But actually within the law discipline, Birgit Liin believes that it is almost the opposite for many.

”We run educational programmes that are suited towards the legal profession, where you can earn a lot of money, but also where you must work really long hours. In this respect, we can offer our PhD students and researchers a better work–life balance at the university,” she said and used herself as an example:

”I practiced as a lawyer, and when I decided I wanted to have children, I applied for a position at the university.”

Department of Management: From assistant professor to associate professor level, the percentage of females drops from 80% to 40%

At the Department of Management, there is a higher number of female students, but there is a clear unevenness between genders in staff positions at the department, from the junior levels through to the senior ones. In the fixed-term positions, such as postdoc or assistant professor, women occupy between 70% and 80% of positions, while in contrast they only make up about 40% of associate professor positions and less than a third of professor positions.

Department of Economics and Business Economics: One in three women is an associate professor and one in five is a professor

At the Department of Economics and Business Economics, a good third of Master’s graduates are female, which is also reflected in the majority of research positions. Women make up just about 30% of PhD positions and associate professor positions, and it’s about 20% for assistant professor and professor positions. Women fare stronger in both the postdoc positions and in the category ‘other academic staff’, where these positions are typically fixed-term contracts.

Translated by Marian Flanagan

THEME: Gender (im)balance at AU

Over the coming weeks, Omnibus will focus on gender balance at AU’s departments and schools in four articles: one for each faculty. We will focus on Natural Sciences and Technical Sciences collectively, because the numbers are from before the faculty was divided into two separate faculties. The previous weeks we looked at the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Health. This week it is all about Aarhus BSS.

A little bit on our data:

  • Omnibus received data from Analysis and Policy under the remit of the university management. The data show the gender distribution among academic employees at all of AU’s departments and schools.
  • The numbers are from the end of 2019. They are the same data that are used for the yearly evaluation of AU’s action plan for gender equality.
  • In addition, we supplemented the data with the numbers of Master’s graduates during the period 2016-2020, taken from AU Student Administration and Services. 

We have chosen 3-5 departments and schools from each faculty, which are either representative of the faculty or stand out in one way or the other. For each of these departments and schools, we have asked the head of department/school to answer 3-5 questions via email.

 

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