The Gender Equality Paradox in academia

What is the Nordic gender equality paradox – and does it exist  in academia as well?

The Nordic countries score high on different equality measures, such as the ranking from the newly published Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2017. Iceland holds the top spot, with Finland, Norway and Sweden following close behind. All the Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, are among the most gender equal countries in the world.

Nordic countries rank high on overall equality measures. Source: World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2017.

When we talk about the gender equality paradox in general, we usually refer to the fact that there is still male dominance in top positions in all sectors. This happens despite the fact that the Nordic countries seem to "have it all", with a close to equal participation of men and women in the labor market.

In Norway, this is how the gender balance looks like in top management positions:

– The Nordic success in achieving gender equality is primarily due to women’s increased participation in education and in the labor market – and to some extent to men’s increased participation in the family – and less about succeeding in challenging gendered hierarchies, says Mari Teigen, director at CORE and project leader of our Nordic Centre of Excellence, NORDICORE

Financed by NordForsk, the NORDICORE centre was established in october 2016.

– Understanding the Nordic Gender Equality Paradox is central to NORDICORE’s research agenda. In fact, the overarching aim of NORDICORE is to establish greater knowledge about this paradox in research and innovation, including the mechanisms producing, maintaining and changing gender inequalities, says Mari Teigen.

Different types of paradoxes

We usually refer to the gender equality paradox as if there's only one paradox, but in reality we need to distinguish between different types of paradoxes, depending on the perspective:

– In a comparative perspective, the paradox stresses that although gender equality has progressed successfully in the Nordic countries, the situation in top positions is as bad as – or even worse than in other countries. In a national perspective, the paradox simply points out that the gender skewed composition of top positions is not in line with the recruitment base of female candidates on the level beneath. 

Why gender equality paradox?

In sum, there are three types of main explanations on the gender equality paradox:

– The most common explanation is known as the welfare-state paradox. This perspective claims that institutional arrangements, long parental leaves, state subsidized child care arrangements etc., in sum encourages gender specialization in the family where fathers proceed with their careers and mothers combine moderate careers with family commitment, Teigen explains.

Another explanation is more concerned with how opportunity structures in the labor market, in the corporate world, as well as in academia is favoring men – and typical male ways of living and working – and limiting women.

And finally, the third perspective stresses that there is no real paradox: women are not willing. Too few women approach these positions – and are willing to give what it takes.

The Gender Equality Paradox in Academia

If the proportion of women among professors is used as an indicator of gender equality in academia, the Nordic countries do not excel in a European comparison. 

Gender equality has progressed successfully in the Nordic countries, but in top-positions the situation is as bad as in less gender equal countries.

However, when we look at differences in the gender composition at different levels of positions – we are closer to a situation of a gender paradox:

Source: NIFU/DBH


– How we understand the Nordic gender equality paradox is more interesting, says Teigen. What prevents change, and how is the interaction across sectors in the labor market? These are issues that NORDICORE will explore in the years to come.  

This article is based on Teigen's presentation at the conference Creating a competitive edge through diversity and leadership for Nordic research excellence towards 2030.

Publisert 9. nov. 2017 11:27 - Sist endret 11. des. 2017 16:04