Gender Equality

Moving universities forward

Universities have the potential to answer many of the most basic challenges faced by modern societies. We answer them through research – making new discoveries. We answer them through education – conveying previous discoveries. Research and education together move societies forward.

Yet even though universities hold the key, those of us who work there don’t deliver results as well as we could. Sometimes we take too long, distracted by more pressing demands in the system. Sometimes we stop our work before it’s finished, without identifying the benefits to society that might be found in some new knowledge.

It’s not just our research that can be poorly delivered. Our approaches to education are sometimes so conservative that we lose those who are hungry to learn.

Making universities better workplaces for women will improve their quality for everyone.

It is my belief that one of the most basic impediments to more effective delivery of research and education is the quality of the workplace at many universities. The academic staff could easily be equipped to better perform their research and teaching. Ask professors what they do that someone else should be doing – or ask them what they do that no one should be doing – and you’ll get an earful. The support staff, too, could be liberated to spend their time on tasks that improve the quality of research and education.

Making Universities Better

I have spent over half my academic career in leadership positions, first as the chair of my department, then as the founding director of the University of Tromsø’s first Norwegian Center of Excellence – the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics – and later as the elected Pro Rector for Research & Development. Through this leadership experience, I’ve developed a passion for working to make universities better.

I used to think that one inevitable side-effect of improving university workplaces would be the removal of some of the barriers to gender equality. But as I talked with more women at universities and as I read more research about bias, I came to realize that I had gotten it exactly backwards. It’s not that improving the quality of the university workplace generally will necessarily make it better for women. The truth is just the opposite: Making universities better workplaces for women will improve their quality for everyone.

Following my belief that research is the key to solving society’s challenges, I build my arguments for improving gender equality on exactly that – research. For example, I study and synthesize what scientists have discovered about how teams work or how hiring, promotion and publication evaluations are carried out. I read about the effects of role models and the perceptions young women and men have of academic careers. I get into the peer-reviewed literature and I analyze reports from think tanks, government agencies, NGOs and private industry.

Discussing Gender Balance

I blog on issues related to university leadership. The most prominent topic on my blog is gender – gender equality and gender balance. Although I sometimes am casual in switching between these terms, they do mean different things. Gender equality is achieved when individuals in any particular situation are treated equally, independent of their sex or gender. Gender balance is a property of groups, so that it is achieved when there are roughly equal numbers of men and women in that group.

When I speak on the importance of improving gender equality and gender balance, my talks often build comprehensive arguments that include various pieces taken from the research syntheses appearing on my blog.

My arguments are spiced with stories from my own work at the University of Tromsø, and in Norway and Europe more broadly, to improve research organizations by improving the plight of women at research organizations.

Like those talks, the book you can download below takes several blog entries and weaves them together to illustrate in one place a somewhat broader perspective than is possible in 1000 words. My goal is to offer something useful for those looking to explain or understand why it is essential for the success of universities that we commit to working explicitly and deliberately to improve gender equality.

This is an excerpt from the Preface to my new eBook, 6 steps to gender equality and other essays about how every university can get more women to the top and why they should. You can download for free the pdf version of the book above or you can download the kindle version for a song from

This preface was also posted at kifinfo.

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more



  • Pål Lykkja says:

    Thank you for a good book and some good ideas. Actually I have thought about something siminar ideas since I read Nancy Folbre, Greed, Lust and Gender.

    Improving universities by making them to good working places for women is very interesting and something I think will work. A better idea the more I think about it.

  • justanotherwoman says:

    I think there is a lot of truth and justice in this report. However we cannot neglect some truth that woman are different (mind you not weaker) than man. But having different needs, one can’t help but wonder if a woman or a man would be more suitable for the job. That is why successful women are those that are willing to rule with an iron fist and not let their personal emotions get in their way other than those who applied for a field that is of a gentle nature (doctors, nurses etc etc)

    What really puzzles me always will be, women wants equality and rights, i do believe they HAVE to get their rights. But wanting equality and proving you deserve the equality is two very different thinking. They tend to link those two together. If this world are rating humans based on brains, i strongly believed that man or woman will be on the same competing platform, but adding your anatomy, your hormones etc, can they still demand equality if lets say all they have are academic success and nothing else. Just like the debate of street-smart versus book-smart.

    This will never be an ever ending debate unless i believe man start giving birth instead 😀


I encourage you to republish this article online and in print, under the following conditions.

  • You have to credit the author.
  • If you’re republishing online, you must use our page view counter and link to its appearance here (included in the bottom of the HTML code), and include links from the story. In short, this means you should grab the html code below the post and use all of it.
  • Unless otherwise noted, all my pieces here have a Creative Commons Attribution licence -- CC BY 4.0 -- and you must follow the (extremely minimal) conditions of that license.
  • Keeping all this in mind, please take this work and spread it wherever it suits you to do so!