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Closing the Gender Gap in Swedish Technical Universities: A Continuing Challenge

Juggling with Gender Inequality: A Tale of Swedish technical schools

Let’s chew over a hot-button issue in Sweden: the persisting gender gap in technical universities despite a 50-year long tug of war. Recent news in the Swedish technical universities has voiced concern on the long-standing push for attracting, and retaining, more female students and researchers.

Decoding the Issue

Swedish tech universities or “tekniska högskolorna”, as they are known locally, have been striving to attain a balanced gender mix among students and research scholars. The plot twist? Despite many long-term suits, they are falling short of their goal. Think about that swinger at the party who, despite all efforts, fails to get a dance partner – that’s the universities for you!

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The biggest initiative to date is the Genie project at Chalmers University. Imagine a colossal 300 million Krona put aside to lure female scientists and shed its macho culture. However, the ambitious goals now seem like a pie in the sky. Relatable much?

But, here’s the meat-and-potatoes: do we just aspire for numbers or the cultural shift?

“Asks KTH (The Royal Institute of Technology) professor, Anna Wahl, “Why attract girls if there’s no hospitable environment for them to thrive and excel?”

Peering into Fact Blocks

Recent research shows that recruitment isn’t the only key. It’s not all about headcounts; it’s about who are counted and valued. There’s a myth that a balanced number of men and women automates an organisation into being equal. Whilst not entirely false, research suggests that a critical mass of women is necessary. For a minority, say women, to be heard, they need to form at least 25 percent.

“It deals with structural issues – the kind of knowledge that’s considered significant, using contemporary teaching techniques, and how the student culture is shaped,” says Malin Nordvall, a sustainability consultant at the engineering firm Afry and a PhD in technology and gender history.

Bringing the Human Touch

Experience of Professor Anna Wahl aligns with this: gender bias arises from male dominance. “The number influences power dynamics and affects both structure and culture,” she says.

However, the crux is that no one’s blaming women as a group for not opting for technical education. It’s more about modifying the university environment and culture.

During her tenure as Vice Rector, KTH introduced diversity and gender equality as compulsory elements at all levels.

“The goal is to enhance awareness about gender inequality and how we can work together to change the culture. It’s a pretty extensive task,” says Anna Wahl.

In contrast, the Genie project calls for more support from the Chalmers management. Martin Nilsson Jacobi, the university’s new principal, has introduced a Vice Rector for Equality to give the issue higher priority. Citing her own experience at KTH, Anna Wahl emphasises that support and mandate from the Rector are elementary to challenge an entire culture.

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