Earmarked research funding for women

A new VILLUM FONDEN programme aims to support the advancement of talented postdoc women in international research careers.

Just one out of seven science and technology professors in Denmark is a woman. The further up the academic career ladder you go, the fewer women you find. All told, women account for 26% of professors, associate professors and assistant professors in Denmark.

“Danish women earn master’s degrees and PhDs, but they don’t move any further up the academic career ladder. That’s a problem. In the first place, these talented women don’t get the chance to contribute. Secondly, it means less diverse workplaces and research environments,” says Thomas Bjørnholm, Executive Chief Scientific Officer for VILLUM FONDEN.

Over the next five years, the Villum International Postdoc Programme will seek to change that by making grants to women at the transition from PhD to postdoc, where we begin to see large numbers of female academics leaving science and technology.

One of several initiatives

A recent study, carried out at Denmark’s Aalborg University, looking at women in science and technology in academia found that there is no single reason for the gender imbalance. The reasons it identified were complex, and they were often linked.

Gender balance in academia

“Gender balance initiatives in research funding: Barriers and possible measures to increase the share of women within natural science and technology” was compiled by Stine Thidemann Faber, Helene Pristed Nielsen and Anna Stegger Gemzøe, EDGE (Centre for Equality, Diversity and Gender), Aalborg University.

Download the study

“There are lots of ways to approach this, but, no matter what we do, things aren’t going to change until we can get more women to stay in research positions,” Bjørnholm says.

“That’s why we are earmarking funding for women. Five years from now we’ll hopefully be able to see that more women are continuing their careers in academia and serving as important role models for other women interested in pursuing research positions.”

The Villum International Postdoc Programme is one of several VILLUM FONDEN initiatives aimed at improving the gender balance in academia.

“For example, we have a programme that anonymises applicants, we keep an eye on whether there is any unintended bias in our application-review process, we use gender-neutral language in our calls for applications and we have flexible rules for maternity leave. Yet, even with all of these initiatives, we still end up making more grants to men than women. What we are doing now is to try to make the pool of potential future applicants more diverse.”

Professor Anja Boisen, a member of the VILLUM FONDEN board, believes the new initiative holds promise.

“We have long discussed ways to keep hold of all the talented women we know are out there. There is nothing to indicate that your potential is determined by your gender. If we want to speed the process up, we need to come up with new ways to go about it,” Boisen says.

A one or two-year stay abroad is a requirement

In addition to its focus on female postdocs, the Villum International Postdoc Programme also seeks to promote internationalisation. Applicants must plan a one or two-year stay abroad, followed by a return to a Danish research institution.

“Establishing an international perspective and network early on is crucial for young academics. It’s beneficial to their careers and to the research,” Bjørnholm says.

In addition to grants in the amount of DKK 1 million-2.5 million – primarily to pay for the grantee’s salary – VILLUM FONDEN can also provide financial assistance, should relocation lead to higher costs of living, or require that a spouse and children also need to relocate.

VILLUM FONDEN has earmarked DKK 15 million a year over the next five years for the Villum International Postdoc Programme.

October application deadline

Unsolicited applications are not accepted. Applicants must be recommended by their faculty and department.

Applications are evaluated on the sole criterion of scientific excellence. Grantees will be selected by VILLUM FONDEN's committee for scientific and technological research and approved by the board of directors.

VILLUM FONDEN funds excellent research in the technical and natural sciences

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