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What became of the wish for more female professors?

Consider altering the tone of the new criteria for the recruitment of professors to make it clear that Health wishes to see more women in professorships. This was one suggestion from the employees who participated in the faculty's consultation meetings on new principles for the appointment of academic staff.

As we all know, there are lots of women at Health – just not in professorships. Neither action plans, target figures, mentoring schemes or a generally dedicated management focus on gender equality has been able to alter this fact; so why is it that Health completely fails to ‘flag' women in the new criteria for professorships?

The question was raised when the faculty management earlier this month invited employees to consultation meetings on the new recruitment principles at Health.

At the meetings, Ole Steen Nielsen, who is vice-dean for research, and Dean Lars Bo Nielsen discussed the preliminary recruitment material with the employees in attendance. This was done as part of the consultation period, which is where all employees at Health have until 3 May to submit suggestions and proposals for improvements via email to health.hr@au.dk.

Diversity in three important areas

Ole Steen Nielsen is coordinating the process of incorporating the senior management team’s norms locally at Health on behalf of the dean’s office. He can understand why the issue of women in professorships pops up at the meetings. Neither does he reject the idea that more work needs to be done on some of the wordings:

"The consultation period is meant to ensure that the new criteria capture all the important elements, such as aiming for a broad field of applicants with quality and diversity. Diversity is intended to be external, international and a sensible gender balance. No candidate or assessor should be in any doubt about that," says Ole Steen Nielsen, who has promised himself that he will bring the gender imbalance in research into play in all the management forums where research, external funding and, not least, recruitment are discussed. 

Women and good research management are often connected

"In short, there can always be a tone or wording that the dean’s office should take another look at once the consultation period is completed – perhaps even in the context of the requirements for skilled research management that were also brought up at one of the consultation meetings as something we perhaps asked too little or too vaguely about in the current material. The two things are connected in the sense that many female members of academic staff are known for being both skilled research managers and good supervisors," says Ole Steen Nielsen.

Last Autumn, when the academic council evaluated Health's blueprint for more women in research, the faculty received specific advice to focus on the tools, the management backing and the organisational culture in the fight against the 'gender apartheid' at professor level which has shown itself to be a common European issue. 

The advice was given to the council by Emeritus Professor Pat O'Conner from the University of Limerick in Ireland, who was invited to endorse the evaluation of the action plan. Pat O'Conner has sent many years researching the reasons why women are generally under-represented in the academic environment, and she warned at the time against Health turning this into the women’s own problem. You can also read the article It is not the women who need fixing, where a number of managers and employees at Health each give their suggestions on how this Gordian knot can be loosened.

Big ears – small mouth

In the view of Ole Steen Nielsen, honouring the wish for more woman and writing it into the new criteria is interconnected with the management support, cultural and organisational work that Pat O'Connor calls for. However, he also adds that the process must now be allowed to play out:

"The wish for more female professors can be expressed both implicitly and explicitly, and I can’t say anything about what the right solution is yet. In a consultation period, as a manger you should equip yourself with a couple of big ears and a relatively small mouth, which is what I’ll continue to do," says Ole Steen Nielsen.

What about the associate professors?

The lack of female professorships was not the ‘only’ concern raised at the meetings. Ole Steen Nielsen has also noted a degree of uncertainty among some of the associate professors, who are worried about whether the new recruitment criteria make it more difficult for the already employed associate professors to get a professorship.

"This is a real dilemma that we are fully aware of and are discussing in the faculty management team," says Ole Steen Nielsen. "But it is important to remember that a job as an associate professor is an important position at AU, where you carry out both research and teaching at a high level."

The meetings also show a general satisfaction with the new recruitment principles, including the fact that the appointment of clinical associate professors and postdocs is now being simplified. Once the consultation has been completed, the principles will be corrected, after which they are expected to enter into force at Health on 15 September 2018.