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

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University courses at the Faculty of Health attract a large number of applications from women, and as a result, more of the departments at the faculty are focusing on attracting a higher number of applications from men. That said, very few women make it to professor level. “We’re on the case” is what can be heard from four heads of department.

2021.01.05 | Miriam Brems og Marie Groth Andersen

THEME: Gender (im)balance at AU. This week we focus on the departments at the Faculty of Health. Graphics: Astrid Reitzel. Illustration: Louise Thrane Jensen

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. Last week we looked at the Faculty of Arts. This week it’s all about the Faculty of Health.

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.

If you take part in the graduation ceremony for medicine students at AU, you can be sure that more than half of the newly-qualified doctors in the auditorium are female. They actually account for more than 60% of the graduates from the Department of Clinical Medicine. And similar statistics are visible among PhD students and postdocs.

However, if you take a walk along the department’s corridors where the professors sit, you’ll meet 117 men and only 30 women. This means that one out of every five professors is female. The situation is a bit better among associate professors, where two out of every five are female researchers.

”It could be better. And we’re working on it,” said Deputy Head of Department Anne-Mette Hvas as her immediate reaction to the statistics.

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

Harsh tone, power play and lacking a network

Anne-Mette Hvas doesn’t have a definite reason for why there’s a gender imbalance at the highest levels of the department. But the department assumes that some of the reasons are the same as the mechanisms discovered by five research groups at AU in 2018.

“They point to a complex dynamic, where many different elements restrict female researchers’ career development at AU. Some relate to the academic environment like for example requirements to spend time abroad, pressure to publish research, teaching burdens and lack of job security associated with fixed-term contracts,” said Anne-Mette Hvas and added:

“Other problems relate more to the research environment including a harsh tone, lack of respect, power play, exclusion, lack of networks, collaborative partners and sponsors. We need senior colleagues who can vouch for the more junior colleagues making their way up the career ladder,” said the deputy head of department.

READ ALSO: ‘Sick’ work environment at AU scares off female researchers

Anne-Mette Hvas also points to the recruitment process as a challenge:

“There’s lack of transparency in relation to the recruitment criteria and procedures, which currently put female researchers at a disadvantage compared to their male colleagues.”

Society misses out on important research

According to Anne-Mette Hvas, the unequal gender balance is a problem.

“It’s not just one isolated problem, but rather several. First, we lose talented female researchers if they continue to walk away from a research career or if they aren’t supported in pursuing one. Here, the meritocratic ideal becomes redundant.”

She continued:

“Another thing, our society needs both female and male senior researchers to ensure as high diversity as possible within medical research. Studies show that women and men have different preferences for research fields. This means that if equal gender balance is not addressed properly, areas where women typically conduct research become less of a priority.”

Networks should help women get back into research

The Department of Clinical Medicine has set up a working group that should ensure more gender equality among associate professors and professors, explained Anne-Mette Hvas.

“We plan to establish a network for female researchers who are just finished their PhD to find out how they can continue as a researcher. Another network should reach women who have previously been active in research, but who have been out of research for a number of years and want to get back into research again. Often they took a break because they had children. We believe that it’s essential to move the focus away from fix the women to fix the system,” said Anne-Mette Hvas.

Head of Department of Dentistry: It makes a difference if you are aware of your blind spots

At the Department of Dentistry and Oral Hygiene, there’s all in all a balance between the sexes from postdoc level up to professor level. But like many other departments, this department has been focusing on gender balance and diversity in recent years.

NOTE: Head of Department Siri Beier Jensen informed us that the group ‘other academic employees’ at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Hygiene covers part-time lecturers as well as external teachers and non-academic positions at the department.

“This is clearly derived from the work with the action plan for diversity and gender equality, where both the rector and the dean of the Faculty of Health have been very clear about the need for action to be taken,” said Head of Department Siri Beier Jensen.

Working with gender equality has been an eye-opener for the head of department.

“I am now more aware of my own bias. And I don’t think that there’s a big difference between men and women in that regard; we’re all biased, and the majority of us have the same cultural background. Even being aware of your blind spots and preconceptions makes such a difference,” she said.

Naturally, this is not enough on its own, she emphasised. And the department has also implemented various protocols in an effort to achieve gender balance from student level right up to researcher level.

More men, thanks

If you look in at the department’s clinics, you will see a clear dominance of female dentistry students.

“We’ve tried to attract a more diverse student body onto the dentistry programme through campaigns aimed at men, where we for example highlight the surgery specialisation and the freedom that comes with being self-employed at your own practice, which we know appeals more to men,” explained Siri Beier Jensen.

Also when the head of department looks at the gender distribution among the department’s PhD students, she can see that there’s room for improvement.

“We should do more to attract more male PhD students,” she said and referenced the fact that only two of the department’s 13 PhD students are male.

Almost equal gender balance – but not equality

For the same reason, she also sees the department’s almost equal gender distribution from postdoc level upwards as an indication of an imbalance rather than a balance.

“With so many female dentistry undergrads, postgrads and PhD students, why aren’t there more women at the higher levels?” she asked and added:

“I think that the pattern we see here is the same as that at many of the other departments, but I don’t know whether this happens because women find it more difficult to imagine themselves pursuing an academic research career at our department.”

Siri Beier Jensen points to a possible solution which is one of the department’s most recent initiatives on career development for early career researchers, aimed at both men and women.

Diversity creates energy and innovative thinking

Siri Beier Jensen is certain that placing focus on gender equality and diversity is the right way to go. She believes that it’s about creating a culture, where you recruit the most talented researchers and keep hold of them.

“In this context, gender and gender equality are one parameter. But so is an international group of employees. Diversity is what we really should value – and ensuring this creates energy and innovative thinking. Therefore I’d prefer to focus on ensuring equal possibilities and unbiased assessment of qualifications in the complete research career pipeline rather than a two-gender balance.”

Department of Public Health: Problems in the pipeline

Women also make up the majority of the graduates at the Department of Public Health – in fact, three out of every four graduates are women. And women are in the majority right up to associate professor level.

Head of Department Ole Bækgaard believes that there is a good explanation for why the department apparently is a magnet for women:

“We have a Master’s programme, which only qualified nurses can apply to. There is a clear dominance of women on the nursing programme and in the associated labour market. Therefore, there’s naturally a higher number of women among applicants for our Master’s programme,” he said.

In addition, more women than men apply for the undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Public Health Science.

Should appeal more to men

Like at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, the department is working at attracting more men onto their programmes.

“It’s never been our intention to develop degree programmes that are primarily aimed at one gender. The unequal gender distribution on our programmes is a result of underlying cultural and structural conditions,” said Ole Bækgaard Nielsen.

The head of department suggested, therefore, that professional programmes for nurses should take steps to create a more equal gender distribution within the nursing profession. Meanwhile, the department itself is working to try to make the study programmes in Public Health Science more attractive to men.

The department hopes to achieve this by providing students with greater chances to shape their study programme through electives.

More skewed than it seemed at first glance

It’s not only among the students that the gender distribution is skewed. From the PhD level up to associate professor, women make up between almost 60-70% of those employed at the department. And Ole Bækgaard Nielsen explains that the statistics cover a more uneven distribution of men and women researchers than at first glance.

”Unfortunately, a clear local imbalance in gender distribution within some of our research areas is being hidden among these numbers. In the nursing research unit we have only female academic staff. In contrast, we have a lot more men than women among academic staff at senior levels in our research unit for general medical practice and in the research unit for sports biology research,” he said.

And when discussing professor positions, women stop dominating the statistics. Here, they make up only one out of three positions.

Nothing suggests that one gender can do the work better

Therefore, the department is working to reduce the imbalance at specific employment levels and to create greater diversity.

“We use the classic methods such as striving for equal gender balance in the search committees, assessment committees, appointment committees, internal committees at the department, the department management team and so on. Besides, we make it clear to the search committees that we want both male and female applicants. When we tell international applicants about Denmark, we stress the opportunities for the applicant’s partner or spouse, as well as their family,” said the head of department and explained:

“There is nothing in our programmes or in our research work which suggests that one gender can do the work better than the other. It would therefore simply be foolish to limit our offer of programmes or our research positions to just half of the population. Moreover, we believe that diversity in the broader sense improves the academic process,” he said.

Biomedicine: The goal is 50% women and 50% men

At the Department of Biomedicine, the picture looks the same as that at national level. The number of women decreases on each rung moving upwards on the career ladder. At Biomedicine, the curve takes a steep dive from associate lecturer to professor level.  

And Head of Department Thomas G. Jensen would also like for his department to employ more female professors, even though he points out that the department has two more female professors than what the numbers show below, which were taken from the end of 2019.

NOTE: Omnibus’s numbers are taken from the end of 2019. Head of Department Thomas G. Jensen explained that today the department has four female professors and one female professor MSO.

He believes that the skewed gender distribution is because historically there have been more male researchers and that the department in recent years has not employed many new professors, which could then bring more balance. But the picture should hopefully start to change.

”We now use a broader job advertisement which means many qualified applicants of both genders apply and there’s big competition for the positions. When filling positions, we try to appoint an equal number of men and women,” said Thomas G. Jensen. 

The head of department continues: the department is also considering gender balance in the various committees that are involved in the recruitment process.

Do you have an ideal scenario for how gender distribution of professors should look for example in 5 to 10 years?

“Yes, our aim is 50% men and 50% women,” answered Thomas G. Jensen.

Department of Forensic Medicine: 1-to-1 at professor level

At the Department of Forensic Medicine, there are only 18 academic staff in total. The numbers therefore should be interpreted with caution, because even one new hire or retirement will result in a significant change in the statistics. At the end of 2019, there were more female PhD students, while the men were in the majority at associate professor level. In the professor category, it was a 1-to-1 equal gender balance.

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. Last week we looked at the Faculty of Arts. This week it’s all about the Faculty of Health.

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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