Why does it take longer for women to become professors? A new gender equality study points to several reasons

The differences between women’s and men’s career development in higher education are small, but women encounter obstacles on the way to a professorship. This is shown in a study by the Swedish Research Council, where around 2 000 researchers answered questions on how they perceive the conditions in higher education.

The study is based on statistics, surveys and interviews conducted in 2020–2021. It shows that the careers of women and men in higher education develop relatively similarly within each subject area. There is one difference, however: it takes longer for women to be appointed professors. The study points out two main reasons for this. One is that women, to a greater extent than men, are more active in research fields that are characterised by a high proportion of teaching, which limits their opportunities to gain scientific merit. The second is that women generally face difficulties to a slightly greater degree than men:

  • More women than men state that they have experienced unfairness.
  • Women state to a lesser degree that they can influence important decisions relating to their work, and slightly fewer respond that they have had opportunities to develop networks.
  • Fewer women have access to opportunities to gain scientific merit, and access to a mentor. These are two of the success factors that women themselves assess in the questionnaires as being among the most important for success in higher education.
  • Women state more often that they do not think that the principles that exist for the order of authors on publication are fair.
  • In all subject areas, women state that they can spend less time on research than men.
  • Women are more often than men considering leaving higher education due to problems in the work environment.
  • Women feel more often that it is difficult to have responsibility for young children and simultaneously develop a career.

Unclear career paths are detrimental to both genders

Many junior researchers lack employment that gives them good preconditions for conducting research. A small proportion of junior researchers have employment as associate senior lecturers, the employment format regulated in högskoleförordningen (the Swedish higher education ordinance) that offers a clear career path for junior researchers. This applies to both women and men, and confirms previous investigations.

“The inequalities must be taken seriously”

The Swedish Research Council's Director General Sven Stafström believes that the study provides valuable information for continued gender equality work.

“Even if the results show similarities in the career development for men and women, there are still inequalities that all who are active within higher education and research must take seriously. Greater focus must be placed on giving women and men equal opportunities to conduct research; then we will also achieve greater quality in Swedish research."



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Webinar in September

We will present the report at a webinar 16 September 2021. More information about the webinar (in Swedish)


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