Male culture holds back women

May 14, 1999

Finland may have more women professors than any other country in the European Union but, at 18.4 per cent of the total, they still face gender inequality in their careers.

This is the conclusion of an education ministry report on men's and women's study choices and their academic career progress.

The proportion of women completing the lukio, the upper secondary school exam needed to enter university, is already significantly higher than that of men. So high that teaching organisations are worried about the career prospects of the male population.

At university, women continue to take a lead - last year they made up 52.5 per cent of second-degree graduates at masters' level. At doctorate level, they form 39.7 per cent of all graduates.

But female students have hardly made any inroads in technology-related subjects, which are a predominantly male preserve. Last year, 20 per cent of the new technology students were women, an increase of just 0.7 per cent compared with 1990.

Sirkka-Lusa Horkko, a ministry official involved in the research, said that women's choice of study at university is one of the main reasons for their slow career progress.

Veterinary science, pharmacology, dentistry and medicine are among the most popular courses taken by women. Consequently, nearly 90 per cent of newly qualified veterinary surgeons, 80 per cent of pharmacists, 70 per cent of dentists and 63 per cent of medical doctors are now women.

The numbers are more evenly distributed in law, business studies and sciences, but even there, women have a slight majority.

Researcher Lusa Husu, one of the writers of the report, said that academic inequality stems not only from the choice of study, but the male-oriented culture in the universities.

All seems to go well for women up to the point they have their doctoral theses published. Then the opportunities for further research seem to be much more restricted than for their male counterparts.

Ms Husu said that there are plenty of good intentions, but little action to remedy the situation among the academic establishments.

In other countries, including Sweden and Germany, gender inequality in higher education is a political issue of national importance, and Finland should follow their example in trying to determine how all valuable brain power can be utilised, she said.

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