A network that can provide role models, facts and support – that was the goal when Anne Farewell and some friends started an association for women in natural science research.
The idea behind the Gothenburg Women Scientists network is to reinforce women in academia.
“If there are no women who are teaching and conducting research, there are no role models for students. It becomes a vicious circle”, maintains Anne Farewell, initiator of the network and a researcher in molecular biology.
She wants to encourage women to study, conduct research and teach in the natural sciences.
“In the last 15 years gender equality in academia has become worse”, Anne says. “When I was young, there were many female researchers, and the trend was towards greater equality in academia. Now it’s different. There are still many female researchers, but only two female professors in the department” (Editor’s note: approximately 30 male professors).
While at the undergraduate level there are more women than men, the opposite is true at the research and professorial level. Many women leave academia, and Anne has asked herself why.
“Why are we losing half of our capacity? When young, talented women leave the university, there are perhaps many reasons, and we should find out more about that. We are researchers after all and want to collect data”, Anne says.
One of the new members of the network is doctoral student Michelle Lindström.
“It’s sad to say, but it has become even clearer now, after the ‘me too’ movement, that there are inequality problems in all the nooks and crannies of society, including within academia”, Michelle says.
She is part of a group within the network that is going to collect data and examine statistics and research on gender equality in academia. They want to know how things stand with gender equality – whether there are differences among countries, cities or higher education institutions – and so they want to interview women who have left academia.
“It’s important to have facts and shed light on structural gender equality problems. That the university takes it seriously so that it’s discussed and doesn’t become something that is taboo. If there is an interest group, faster progress can be made”, says Michelle. “I’m also interested in working with mentorship. Women in science need to have role models and feel that they are welcome. Sparking girls’ interest in science while they’re in school is also an important part of the work.”
It has now been a little more than a year since Anne Farewell heard about a network for female researchers, 500 Women Scientists, in its founding country, the United States.
“In my opinion, the problems are greater here than in the U.S.”, Anne Farewell says.
When Anne talked about the U.S. network with female colleagues, she was surprised that so many people were interested. There seemed to be a pent-up demand.
Gothenburg Woman Scientists is not an isolated phenomenon. Several similar organisations also exist to support women within other occupational groups. Scientists are considering becoming part of a larger organisation, such as the International Women’s Club, and welcome different perspectives and collaborations.
In recent years Anne Farewell has reconsidered her view of quotas. She has previously been completely opposed to them, but now she can see them as a path to greater gender equality.
Personally, she’s pleased that during her professional life, she has been allowed to do what she thinks is most enjoyable, namely to conduct research and teach.
“But I’ve experienced uncertainty, too. I have not always been satisfied. I believe it will be better if we women are prepared. Then we can tackle obstacles and uncertainty better.”
See the interview with Anne farewell, initiator of the network Gothenburg Women Scientists and Michelle Lindström one of the members (subtitle in English)
Gender equality in academia
Despite the fact that there are far more women than men among students, it is still more common for a professor to be a man than a woman. At the same time, in certain areas within universities and university colleges, women are more dominate, while other areas men are more dominant.
In 2016–2017 the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research was tasked with serving as a support function for higher education institutions within the framework of the Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education (JiHU) project. In 2013–2017, the secretariat had another similar government assignment to serve as a support function for 60 government agencies, within the framework of Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (JiM). The JiHU and JiM assignments were transferred to the Gender Equality Authority on 1 January 2018.
Source: Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research
Professors at universities and university colleges in 2016
Men: 4 813 (74%)
Women: 1 718 (26%)
Source: SCB/Swedish Higher Education Authority