”Strangers” in academia

strangerWhile reading our interviews with Finnish women working in bio technology, I happened to glance through a recent article entitled The ”stranger” among Swedish ”homo academicus” by Alireza Behtoui and Hege Høyer Leivestad (2019). Their results on academics of migrant background remind of the complexity of the subtle acts of marginalization in higher education.

Based on Swedish registry data, their study shows that academics coming from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa are over-represented within medicine, technology, IT, and the natural sciences and underrepresented within pedagogy and the human and social sciences. This is more or less opposite to the gendered segregation in academia: women are overrepresented in the humanities and social sciences and underrepresented especially in technological fields.

Behtoui and Leivestad have also gathered semi-structured interviews with migrant-origin academics. According to this data, technical fields are preferred not only because they offer better labour market opportunities and higher salaries but they are also experienced as easy subjects because in them, Swedish language skills are less important than in the humanities and social sciences. Unlike mathematics-based technological fields, the humanities and social sciences require delicate lingual competence. ”We felt inferior all the time, because in humanistic departments, Swedish language is the language of the seminars”, relates a female professor.

Notwithstanding the differences, there are much common problems in career building among migrant and female ”strangers” in academia. Behtoui and Leivestad report of a lack of resourceful and powerful supervisors and networks, and hidden recruitment mechanisms such as closed procedures, tailored job profiles and the selection of ”right” reviewers. In addition, the migrant-origin academics felt that they are pushed into topics on the periphery, such as migration, minorities, diversity and immigration. They become ”race or ethnicity specialists” but the status of these sub-fields within the discipline is low, manifest, for instance, in difficulties in getting research funding.


Behtoui, A. & Leivestad, H.H. (2019) The ”stranger” among Swedish ”homo academicus”. Higher Education 77, 213-228

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

Acknowledging Labour

adult-book-brickwalls-7363It is that time of year, at least here in Sweden, when annual reports to funders etc are due – that ‘tissue of lies and fabrications’, as a fellow professor cynically called it on account of the ways in which the forms one has to fill in force one into particular ways of describing what one has done. These forms at times bear little relation to reality, and would benefit from a ‘better fit’ to that reality. I prefer to be less cynical, and to think of it as a way of acknowledging all the labour that has gone into this year. Annual reports provide one with the opportunity to reflect on all the research colleagues and I have done during this period. Researching women in tech-driven careers, as we have done in Nordwit this past year, has provided rich data for analysis from the many interviews we conducted, the working conditions we have observed, and the connections we are making across diverse employment domains. Here shifting work contexts are very clear, as is the fact that this offers opportunities to women to move into areas they do not conventionally inhabit, particularly, in our Centre work, in the rural areas of the Nordic countries where both the need for future-oriented employment and for living different kinds of lives from urban contexts are prominent. Women thrive here – and the odds are not stacked against them in the same way as they sometimes are in densely populated areas within more traditional work environments. As tech-driven becomes the new normal, gender will matter differently from how it has done in the past – that is for sure!

Gabriele Griffin

Thoughts from Tampere: 8 March and Women’s Matters

Potrait  de Simone de Beauvoir
Alice Schwarzer in conversation with Simone de Beauvoir

The International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8 last week.
So, how was the day noticed in one of Finland’s leading news papers, Helsingin Sanomat? On the front page was a picture of beautiful red roses. However, the roses proved to be part of a commercial advertisement. It announced that such timeless style does not wither. Accordingly, it is this image that a global IT-company offers to women on Women’s day. Another advertisement asked: ”Did you know that 90 percent of girls are uncertain about their appearance?”. The suggested solution was workshops on how to build up a strong self-esteem with a project organized by a cosmetic firm.  Thus, the self-esteem and the appearance are closely connected.

However, the news paper had also other stories and news to read. Namely that appearance also can tell stories about mistreatment. Perhaps the most dramatic news were the ones told about sexualized and gendered violence. It has been estimated that about 700 000 women in Finland have encountered violence. Last week two organizations, Amnesty International and The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, had a campaign against violence targeted at women. As part of the campaign three well known Finnish women (a member of the Parliament, a journalist and television person, and a project manager in a ministry) had their faces made up to appear bruised and abused.  The authentic looking photos were published on social media and printed press. The women had used buses and trams and participated in meetings with their made up faces. They witnessed how people whom they met did not know what to say. They became silent, and did not know how to get close to them, as if out of their embarrassment people lost words. Even though the numbers of gender based violence are high in Finland compared to other European countries, also positive trends are visible. Perhaps the most significant change is that the violence against women is not any more found as a private matter.

Besides International Women’s Day, what also took place last week was Tampere Film festival. After reading the above stories on gendered violence, I went to the feminist film screenings in which women’s daily life and positions as well as masculine power were addressed with warm humor and satirical outset. One example was the short film Vox Lipoma (Fettknölen, 2018), a cartoon by Jane Magnuson and Liv Strömquist. The vox lipoma in question is a small growth on famous director Ingmar Bergman’s cheek and through which his relationship with romantic attachment, power and sexuality is explored. Furthermore, films from Kosovo, the UK, Egypt, and Iran told stories about women dealing with serious problems, such as violence or female circumcision, in their everyday lives. Last but not least, in the film Portrait de Simone de Beavouir (1974), directed by German feminist Alice Schwarzer, the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir and Schwarzer talk about their love life and about women’s emancipation and masculinity. Although the movie was made already in 1974, it gave a lot of inspiration to study women’s career chances and obstacles still today.

Päivi Korvajärvi

Collaborations with Gender Research such as Nordwit Strongly Recommended 

On Friday 8 March, Åsa Cajander from Nordwit was interviewed by SVT News about the university’s work with gender equality. The Swedish article is found here, and below is a translation to English:

Ways to Increase the Number of Female Professors 
About one-third of the professors at universities and colleges in Sweden are women. In the higher education institutes, the percentage is often at an even lower figure. But there are several initiatives to smooth out the differences.
At the Department of Information Technology at Uppsala University, the number of female doctoral students is lowest in the entire university. But at the same time, the differences between the levels are also the least – they do not lose as many women after basic education as other institutions do.

Experts needed
Åsa Cajander, professor of human-computer interaction, leads the gender equality work at the department. She believes that an important prerequisite for increased gender equality is that there is cooperation between the university and experts in gender science in order to spread knowledge about the problems.

For example, research has shown that, during recruitment processes, one can unknowingly formulate an application so that it specifically targets a woman or man. Training employees on gender issues can be a way to avoid this.

– Ten years ago we only had one female professor and all three leading positions at the department were held by men. Now there are five female professors, and the three leading positions are held by women, says Åsa Cajander.

Basic education
But Åsa Cajander thinks that the figures are still very low, and sees an opportunity for improvement when recruiting professorships.

Already during basic education, the percentage of women is lower than the average, which means that the number of women educated at doctoral level at the department is also very few.

– One solution can be to recruit from nearby fields and alternative career paths where more women work, says Åsa Cajander.

Fair recruitment
At Lund University, efforts are made to ensure that the recruitment process is as fair as possible. If a service only applies for one sex, the faculty should turn to the headmaster for an investigative discussion, where they present the application process and possibly re-do it.

– The fact that someone actually points out the problem and that the principal is spending time on it has been particularly important. We have been able to see the proportion of female professors increasing steadily over the years, says Lina Lindell, personnel consultant at labor law and employment at Lund University.

– In terms of numbers, it is difficult to create change, but it has become better. It goes slow but forward, says Åsa Cajander.

Female entrepreneurs – a new perspective

HeraHub Meeting

On 22 February my collaborator Sophia Renemar, a female entrepreneur who set up HeraHub Sweden, and I went to the Vinnova final conference on normcritical innovation where we presented and discussed our project on normcritical female entrepreneurship. Norm critique is not a common notion in Anglophone culture, possibly because there is a less strongly developed idea of norm – idiosyncracy being more the order of the day – than in Sweden. HeraHub is an all-female enterprise, designed to support female entrepreneurs – all off which in many different ways goes against the Swedish equality grain. One very important aspect of our research was that the entrepreneurs in this co-working hub had an average age of 49 and their businesses, in almost all cases their first one, were on average 3 years old. Given the general perception of entrepreneurs as geeks starting in their parents’ garage and 30-somethings wearing sharp suits, this was quite a different demographic. It also meant that setting up a business occurred for them within a work life cycle where they had considerable prior experience of being employed in different fields. Many indeed set up a business in reaction against their previous work experiences of not being valued, being over-worked, being ‘good citizens’ but never being given credit, or also classically, one more restructuring too many. They were therefore less ideas-driven (‘I have a great idea – how can I turn it into a business?’) than refuseniks of neoliberal working conditions.

Food for thought!

Gabriele Griffin

Gender Equality Work in Academia 

Gender equality in academia
Åsa Cajander and Michael Thuné at the department of Information Technology

NordWit’s Åsa Cajander works with gender equality in academia at the department of Information Technology at Uppsala University. In her work with making the department more gender equal she has much use of the NordWit Centre of Excellence and the knowledge gained in the work of the centre.

The department’s work with gender equality and recommendations for successfully doing so was broadcasted on Swedish television last week followed by a news article. Of course one of the recommendations for others who want to work with gender equality is to collaborate with external experts and researchers in the area.

You can find the piece of news here.

The TV interview is found here (0:35 minutes into the clip).

Everyday practices in the making of equality of work place culture


In her Nordwit blog post last June, Gilda Seddighi wrote about the importance of role models for women to become more interested in the fields of ICT and technology. She pointed out that this is not an easy task since women might feel their gender and the fields of ICT and technology as conflicting. Technology is still often connected to masculinity and men in the Nordic countries. For example, in 2017 approximately 77 % of both master’s and doctoral degree graduates in ICT in Finland were men. When we look at the statistics of teaching and research staff of ICT in Finnish universities, the amount of women is around 20 % until we come to the professors and the number drops down to 7 %. (Official Statistics of Finland; Vipunen – Education Statistics Finland.)

Having role models is important in the dismantling of gender segregation in working life. I have come across this while making the career interviews with women who work in bio- and health technology. If all professors and most principal investigators of research groups are men, for some women this is an indicator that they should not consider a career in academia. In addition to role models, it is important to study the various everyday practices that construct the culture of work communities and thus affect women’s willingness to stay in a work place. These practices include, for example, the ways people communicate with each other, both in informal and formal situations; the tasks and responsibilities people are trusted with; the access of resources; and the possibilities to influence one’s own work.

Through our career interviews, we scrutinize whether women have experienced some of the everyday practices of their work places as gendered, and whether these practices affect their career trajectories. The public discussion on gender segregation in ICT and technology often focuses on the reasons why women are not interested in technology. We argue that it is equally important to ask why those women who choose to study and even to earn a doctoral degree in ICT and other fields of technology might feel pushed away or drawn by work possibilities outside of academia.

Tiina Suopajärvi


Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): University education [e-publication].
ISSN=2324-0148. 2017, Appendix table 1. Students in universities and completed university degrees by level of education, fields of education (National classification of education 2016) and gender in 2017. Helsinki: Statistics Finland [referred: 20.2.2019]. Access method: http://www.stat.fi/til/yop/2017/yop_2017_2018-05-08_tau_001_en.html

Vipunen – Education Statistics Finland: Yliopistojen opetus- ja tutkimushenkilökunta [referred: 20.2.2019]. OKM:n vuosittainen tiedonkeruu. Access method: https://vipunen.fi/fi-fi/_layouts/15/xlviewer.aspx?id=/fi-fi/Raportit/Yliopistojen%20opetus-%20ja%20tutkimushenkil%C3%B6kunta%20-%20tieteenala.xlsb