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Helene Hellmark Knutsson is no longer a government minister, Minister for Higher Education and Research


Speech by Helene Helmark Knutsson Minister for Higher Education and Research at The 5th European Women Rectors Conference


Brussels 29 may 2017.

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Dear participants, dear rector Ullenius, ladies and gentlemen.
I'm very glad to be here today at the 5th EWORA conference. It really gives me inspiration that so many bright women and men are here to push these issues forward.

For me, the issue on the agenda here today is at the very centre of my political ambition as Minister for higher education and research in Sweden.

We are here to discuss and to raise awareness of the under representation of women in leadership positions within academia. The need of discussing these issues is still very relevant all over Europe.

Sweden has the world's first feminist government. And this is not empty words, it implies real obligations.

That means that gender equality is high on our agenda in every field and that gender equality must be central to all decision-making and allocation of resources.

For the Swedish government, the goal of gender equality policy is that women and men shall have the same power to shape society as well as their own lives. This broader perspective is important to keep in mind as academia is not an isolated area from the rest of society. We need to work with these issues in society as a whole and at the same time focus on specific solutions in areas such as the academic world.

And maybe it is even more important that the academic world, that has such immense importance for growth, democracy and knowledge, carries the values of openness and equal opportunity.

Swedish governments have worked with these issues throughout a number of years. But we still have a long way to go.
For example, the share of female professors today in Sweden is 27 %. This is despite the fact that more women than men attend and graduate from higher education, and that it has been this way since the 1970's. And this is despite that Sweden is world leading when it comes to the participation of women at the Swedish labour market.

Statistics of employees at universities in Sweden give the appearance that there is an even gender spread. But if you dig a little deeper, the numbers shows that the women are first and foremost employed as administrative staff. Women and men are also to a large extent studying different subjects at all levels. This leads to a labour market that reinforces gender segregation.

The same picture can be seen in the whole of Europe. From the report SHE FIGURES 2015 it can be read that women are increasingly under-represented as they move up the stages of an academic career. This is despite the significant progress in their level of education relative to men.

Another interesting fact is that the proportion of women among heads of higher education institutions in the EU is only 20 %. In scientific and administrative boards 28 % of the board members are women, and only 22 % are board leaders.

And the European Research Area Survey shows that 36 % of research performing organisations indicated that that they had introduced gender equality plans in 2013. This is not enough.

These numbers show that we are not talking about a single Member State's challenges, but rather a European challenge. I'm very interested in what other Member States are doing to face these issues. I think that it is important that if you agree that this is a European challenge that we exchange ideas and thoughts on how to combat this problem.

For Sweden these challenges are countered by some key reforms:
One policy that lies at the heart of our work is our strategy of gender mainstreaming. This is absolutely crucial to make change. The strategy is a way of ensuring that all policy making has a gender equality perspective and analysis.

The perspective is relevant in all policy areas, at all levels and all stages, by the actors normally involved in the policy-making process. Not least in academia.

That's why I'm glad to say that the Swedish government has included all the state universities and university colleges, into a programme that will strengthen their work with gender mainstreaming.

That's partly why this conference is so important. We need to remind ourselves as decision makers and the other actors working in various ways in the academic world of this holistic view. We need to do this until it gets integrated into every day thinking and policy making at local, national and European level.

There are targets set for each state university and university college regarding the proportion of women among newly recruited professors. And our government has stated that 50 per cent of newly recruited professors should be women by 2030 at the latest.

These are new ambitious goals. And some universities have already expressed their concern, about if they will be able to achieve this. But we need to drive development forward.And I'm convinced that it needs to be done and that it is possible!

We are also trying to improve conditions for young researchers and make career paths more clearly defined to promote mobility. Career development positions should become more uniform and be advertised in open competition at national level and if it possible at international level. It should be about merits and not about who you know. Without attractive career paths where scientist are judged on the merits of their work, universities and university colleges will ultimately not be able to attract the right competence to research.

Finally: I want to remind us all that we need to change our perception of who the scientist is. If a child is asked to draw a scientist they often draw an older man. This is no accident. In popular culture – video games, books, and movies – professors and geniuses are often men. Being bombarded with these images will inevitably influence young girls and women to believe that pursuing a career within science are not for them.
This is why it is so important to speak about female role models within science at these events as well.

Let us do that and continue to fight the inequality within academia today.
The world needs more science and science needs more women.