Anthropological study explores diversity challenges in Danish STEM research

Danish STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) research environments are facing challenges relating to gender diversity. A new anthropological study examines these challenges and points to new ways of strengthening diversity in Danish STEM research environments.

Out of the total number of students completing an MSc degree in a STEM subject, fewer women than men choose to pursue a career in academia. This loss of female talent is wasted potential if Denmark is to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading STEM nations.

VILLUM FONDEN and the Novo Nordisk Foundation have therefore joined forces with the strategic innovation agency IS IT A BIRD to conduct an anthropological study of the barriers and potential for attracting and retaining female STEM talent in the academic world, while identifying possible ways that the universities can take action to increase diversity and promote better research and education.

Using ethnographic methods such as participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups, we have engaged with both male and female research talents at different stages of their careers and across different STEM departments and faculties. The approach has provided a nuanced understanding of the individual researcher’s working day while identifying patterns across the personal stories to do with barriers and factors that have a bearing on what it is like to pursue an academic career.

From insights to specific efforts

In parallel with the anthropological research, an academic follow-up group representing a wide range of Danish STEM research environments, universities and faculties participated in a co-creation process that identified five areas in which efforts could be done to overcome the loss of female STEM talent.

The five areas are:

1) Recruitment: Highlight professional competencies and diversity in the recruitment process

2) The research group: Celebrating outstanding academic group work

3) DEI Knowledge Hub: Support local initiatives through a centralised knowledge centre for diversity and inclusion

4) Leadership: Help leaders create and lead inclusive research environments

5) Career advice: Level playing field for strategic sparring and networking among outstanding academic talents

Living Labs: Exploring potentials in practice

Danish universities already focus on diversity, but there is potential for more. The above areas help to kick off the conversation and serve as the foundation for the next step in the project which involves openly inviting Danish universities (e.g. a department or research group) to propose specific initiatives which are then to be developed, tested and evaluated in ‘Living Labs’ in the STEM environments in collaboration with our project team. We will be ready to provide help with initiation, sparring along the way and final follow-up on the process.

The ambition with Living Labs is to supplement the anthropological knowledge with inspiring cases, learning and experienced effects collected through practice. We want to provide the Danish STEM environments with concrete, informed ideas and recommendations for strengthening diversity and inclusion.

Diverse teams perform better than monocultural ones. The hope is therefore that the new knowledge – together with concrete transformative efforts in the Living Labs – can contribute to strengthening and maintaining Denmark’s position as one of the world’s leading STEM nations. 

Want to join?

Send an email to Kirstine Cool: if you are actively involved in transformative activities within diversity in STEM research and want to be part of the work with Living Labs – or if you are just curious to find out more. The deadline is 15 September 2023.