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Women in Physics: The situation in SwedenLotten Glans1,4) and Katarina Wilhelmsen Rolander2,3,4)1)Dept. Of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics, Mid Sweden University, S-851 70 Sundsvall2)Dept. of Physics, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm 3)Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), S-172 90 Stockholm4)Swedish Physical Society (SFS)

Statistics for the whole country

Statistical figures have been compiled by a board member of the Swedish Physical Society. Twelve institutions that award first-level degrees in physics were contacted and we received data from 10 of these:

First-level Degrees per year

Degrees to men 87

Degrees to women 29

Five institutions gave data on Ph.D. degrees:

Ph.D. Degrees per year

Degrees to men 40

Degrees to women 10

The ratio of women to men in the top two management levels of funding agencies:

Agency Ratio of women to men

The Knowledge foundation 1.14

Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research 0.71

The Swedish Research Council*) 0

Swedish Agency for innovation systems0.40

The data come from correspondence with physicists, University administration or Institute administration.

*) Main funding agency for basic research

Specific about Sweden

Sweden is one of the countries in the world with the largest percentage of women working outside home and it is generally regarded as a country where there is equality between the genders. Nevertheless among the working women nearly 80 % work in areas dominated by women.

Slightly more than 50% of the university undergraduate students and 45 % of the graduate students are women. The percentage of women decreases on higher levels, with 25% women among university lecturers and only 12% of the professors. When there is an imbalance in the gender representation employers are required by law to seek to remedy this imbalance by specifically recruiting persons of the under represented gender. However at universities positions are often announced with a very narrow competence profile that suits one intended applicant, which in most cases is a man.

Many universities have a policy that if there are less than 4 applicants for a post the area should be reassessed by the board to attract more applicants. We have a suggestion that field of research should also be reassessed if there are no female applicants. Needless to say that to our knowledge no university employs this criterion at the moment.

The Swedish Association of University Teachers (SULF)

SULF is a union for professors, lecturers, researchers and postgraduate students within Swedish universities and colleges. SULF also has members from the Swedish national research councils. SULF has no political affiliations. SULF has a broad equal opportunities program. Some items on the agenda are: Organization and Leadership, Recruitment, Professional life, Personal life and parenthood, Equal salaries, Sexual harassment.

SULF has also made a survey of differences in salary.

Since 20 years structural differences in salary based on e.g. gender are prohibited in Sweden. In 2001 a government agency showed that there is an actual difference of 10% in salary between men and women which it is not possible to explain by objective reasons.

Last year a statistical survey of the salaries of university employees was done at Lund University. The result of this survey is that when one normalizes for faculty, age and level of competence there is still a systematic difference in salary between men and women, on all levels except assistant professors. This is true for all faculties. Since 2000 the difference has increased among professors while for other categories there seem to be only random fluctuations. No major efforts have been made to remedy this situation.


Stockholm University

Stockholm University has an official equal opportunities policy which states that the gender balance should be between 40% and 60% at all departments. The physics department is far from fulfilling this goal. The number of women faculty at the Department of Physics is 11%. Among the undergraduate students 50% are girls (January 2000) and 30% of the graduate students were girls at that time. When hiring new staff the department does not focus on equal opportunities, during the last ten years one woman and five male faculty have been hired.

In the year 2001 the department was evaluated and the women presented figures and some ideas on how to increase the number of women faculty. In the evaluation report the issue was not even mentioned and when the chair of the evaluation committee was asked why, he said that they had ”forgotten it”.

There are few official initiatives from the department to increase the number of women among the undergraduate students, but on an individual level there have been more. To increase the interest for physics among young girls elementary-school teachers receive further education in physics. There has been a special emphasis on ”everyday aspects” of physics, e.g. simple experiments that can be performed in class, and not so much mathematics. The results from these courses where we try to ”Sell physics to women” are very encouraging.

Stockholm University has also participated in the gender inclusive programme with a ”Project oriented study programme”. This programme has however been terminated.

Some years girls in high-school have been invited to the department and been informed on what it is like to work as a physicist.

The ministry of Research and Education

The ministry of research and education, when asked, do not state anything specific about physics or science in the next propositions to the parliament. (When asked today’s main issue is to raise the number of male students in health care educational programmes). However several efforts have been made in recent years.

Some years ago a law concerning funding for Ph.D. students was passed. It is now required that there is full funding (four years) before a Ph.D. student is accepted at a university department. Before it was possible for students to start (and in some cases finish) their Ph.D. without funding.

Some years ago (1999) a report concerning equal opportunities issues in undergraduate physics text books was compiled. (von Wright 1999). It is shown, among other things, that most text books are far from gender sensitive and show little gender awareness. Scientific knowledge is presented as being more accurate than other areas of knowledge. A vast majority of the texts value properties that traditionally are thought of as of male gender higher than female.

Gender inclusive programmes

Following an initiative from the Swedish Government, to increase the number of women in male dominated undergraduate programmes, five gender-inclusive projects started in 1995. These have recently been evaluated. The new programmes had common features such as:

Rethinking of traditional forms of teaching and assessing, problem solving approaches and implementation of interdisciplinary studies.

Three of the projects have been very successful in their goals to recruit female students and to keep them. Common for these programmes was that they created strong internal cultures with small project groups and staff continuity. In this way it was easier to introduce the ”new” way of thinking into a male dominated environment. One important factor to recruit and keep women was that the students were first introduced to all subjects and the choice between subjects was postponed. It was also important that the students worked closely with peers and tutors.

The evaluation can be found at: (in English)

Royal Institute of Technology (K TH)

At the Royal Institute of Technology there is a project called ”Technology for girls” to introduce women/girls to physics, chemistry and technology. This is part of a larger initiative to introduce children and youngsters (girls and boys) to these fields. The project is a local initiative from the project leader. Girls in Stockholm, 13-14 years old, are offered to participate in the course which is sponsored by the city of Stockholm and the National Agency for Education. The course is very popular and only about half of the applicants are accepted due to lack of space. Students at KTH are tutored by the project leader and then guide the girls in the laboratories. The guidance is both on a scientific and a more personal level. The girls are divided into small groups and perform about 2 experiments per day. Similar courses, but with more theory are given for girls at the age of 17. Most of the girls are very positive and many continue in the field.

KTH has had a mentorship programme for female undergraduate and graduate students for many years. Due to a reorganization this programme has been terminated but there are plans to start a similar programme again, this time for both genders.

Uppsala University

Physics majors undergraduate level 29% womenGraduate students 22% assistant professor 28% Lecturer 13% Professor 3% Professor (chair) 0%

At Uppsala university the department is refunded at a level of 70% for a graduating male Ph.D and 105% for a woman Ph.D.

A network for female physicists, throughout Sweden, was established in Uppsala in 2001. The aim is to have a yearly conference for female physicists. One of the divisions at the physics department has a unique number of 55% women among the graduate students. This in turns attracts female students to the division.

Personal reflections:

The secretary syndrome: women are treated as assistants/secretaries. Female students’ research is not taken as seriously as male students’.

Chalmers University of Technology/Göteborg University

Statistics: percent women and (number of women): Undergraduate students 22% (first year)

Graduate students 23% (30)

Assistant professors 13% (3)

Lecturer 9% (4)

Professor 11% (1)

Professor (chair) 17% (4)

Chalmers/Göteborg University have participated in the programme of gender-inclusive projects described above, with the programme ”Scientific Problem Solving”. This programme incorporates studies in mathematics, physics and environmental sciences and has attracted many women. There are also local initiatives from teachers to create courses with ”everyday problems” and these often attract women. The drop-out rate for women has been very low in this programme.