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Are numbers more important than power?

Engagement or power? A willingness to change or a higher number of women? There are several aspects to consider when a gender equality university genuinely aims to become that. Numerically, for example, the number of female professors, is not the sole yardstick, however.

Most Swedish universities and university colleges have engaged in gender equality work for the past 40 years. Work to increase equality has included a number of different, and certainly constantly recurring, themes. Analyses and priorities have changed based on the question of what inequality looks like in academic organisations. What is the most important issue to resolve?

One common answer to this question has often been to increase the number of women at professor level. The figures have changed over these 40 years, but there is still a major gender imbalance when it comes to professorships. Many people feel that this is one detail among many and that there are more important equality issues, such as the question of who has influence over the direction of research. Or the question of creating equal terms and conditions at universities, in both education and research, based on both a gender equality and a social equality perspective. The proportion of women at professor level is a key issue symbolically, however. This can be seen and is easy to measure.

The gender balance among professors is not a separate issue, it is just as much a part of the career structure and organisational structure in higher education. In a way, you can view this as a visible result of many ongoing processes and decisions. When we now at KTH are going to make room for a number of female visiting professorships, this should be viewed as one of several initiatives, one of the many ways of influencing the gender balance based on numbers. We have, however, adopted the stance of linking this initiative to a development project which both the environments that are to receive visiting professors, and the visiting professors themselves, are to be included in.

A willingness to change for increased gender equality and active involvement in this development project are requirements on any research environment that wishes to apply. Knowledge and engagement in this area would be an advantage for these new visiting professors, alongside other academic qualifications. In so doing, the issue of numbers can be combined with other important aspects such as power and influence, the work environment, and willingness to change.