University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Comment: Copenhagen gender policy is unfair

Quota for women in professor jobs undermines science, writes history professor Hans Bonde

Danish universities aim to create teaching and research at the highest international level. Officially, the objective is to attract the most qualified scientists and ensure that talent is the crucial parameter of recruitment. At the same time, universities have established mechanisms to foster female talent through specifically designed mentoring programs and leadership development.

However, the story does not end with these excellent mechanisms to increase women’s involvement in a university career. From 2008, the University of Copenhagen has implemented a policy of positive discrimination, where a faculty’s employment of a female professor releases a grant for an extra ‘bonus professorship’ to a woman.

At the faculty level, the practice is organized so that the upgrading of all female associate professors to professors can be free of charge for the first five years of employment. This leads to the fact that five-year professorships, in reality are without any extra costs when a female associate professor is promoted rather than a male.

Foreign to scientific standards

The problem with gender quotas is that one sex is claimed ‘underrepresented’, based on the existence of a collective entity entitled to representation at all university levels. Individuals are interchangeable representatives of something that the university has decided that they should represent.

But how can we know and define what the ‘correct level’ for the relationship between the sexes at the highest academic level is? And why does such a statistical representation only involve women and no ethnic or social groups?

Because this would make it apparent that it is foreign to the University’s scientific standards to promote on the basis of parameters other than talent. It would really start to become absurd, if the university had to calculate a three-fold incentive for appointing a professor who is a) a woman b) from lower social backgrounds c) with an alternative ethnic background.

Gender quotas goes against Enlightenment

By gender quotas we risk destroying one of the finest mechanisms of the spirit of Enlightenment – the meritocracy, a principle that implies that recruitment and promotion is based on merit and talent and not skin colour, ethnicity or gender.

It is a paradox that modern feminism is fighting to restore gendered criteria concerning appointments more than 100 years after the elimination of men’s monopoly on studying, for instance, medicine.

I suggest we continue to establish women’s networks and groups and provide mentoring, where experienced managers or research leaders support young women, and ensure that women receive full credit during maternity. But if we introduce gender quotas in areas where tradition says that men are much more prone to invest their energy, we reduce the efficiency of our governance structures and our knowledge production. This will be unwise in a context of intensified global competition in all areas.

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.