08 January 2024

The world of research is still a male-dominated arena, particularly in the fields of natural sciences and technology, which are among the government's major investments in research areas. However, the foundation for a sustainable society is created in contrast to this through equality and a fair distribution of resources. Advanced Functional Materials (AFM) has therefore developed a strategic initiative to support outstanding female researchers through co-funding, aiming to promote equality and elevate women in materials science. 

Portrait Nara Kim
Nara Kim Carina Stahre
According to the global goals, the foundation for a sustainable society involves a fair distribution of resources and influence in the community. An equal society is said to be built on the principle of equal rights for everyone, regardless of background or affiliation, such as gender. It has been proven that gender equality contributes to all dimensions of sustainable development. Despite this, statistics show significant differences in the world of research which, in most cases, is a male-dominated arena with not entirely equal conditions.

Statistics on Women and Research

Swedish gender equality agency emphasizes that there is a positive development in several areas, but progress is still slow. Even though universities are tasked with systematically working towards the government's directive on newly recruited professors, they point out that the proportion of women on average does not even reach 20 percent. The majority of research funding still goes to men, as the government prioritizes research areas such as natural sciences and technology, which are still male dominated. This, of course, results in men applying for funding to a greater range than women. According to Statistics Sweden (SCB), this resulted in men being awarded, on average 25 percent more research funding from the EU than women in 2019.

Strategic Initiative to Promote Equality

Photo credit Olov Planthaber As part of this and with the support of the government, AFM has developed a strategic initiative for outstanding female researchers to promote equality and uplift women in materials science. Through the initiative successful female researchers with at least postdoctoral experience, are co-funded and their applications aim to support their recruitment to the three collaborating institutions of AFM. Namely, the Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (IFM), the Department of Science and Engineering (ITN), or the Department of Economic and Industrial Development (IEI).

A researcher examines a process. Photo credit Olov Planthaber Emma Björk, university lecturer and associate professor at IFM, and Nara Kim, assistant university lecturer at ITN, have both been selected for AFM's strategic initiative for excellent women. They both say that they recognize the statistics the further they have progressed in their careers.
- Partly, I think it's because scientific areas like physics and mathematics are already seen as “male” subjects in elementary school. There is a lack of female role models in the natural sciences, and the image of what a researcher is must be broadened. Partly, I think it's challenging to invest in such an uncertain job as being a researcher when you want to start a family. There is uncertainty with short-term contracts, and when you are in the family-forming phase, you are often at the stage in your career when you should be mobile and do postdocs internationally and similar, says Emma. 

Nara agrees with the statement and says that she observed that female students chose other subjects in Korea. She believes it is due to both biological and societal influences and points to the challenges of balancing children and family life with a career in research. They both agree that more women are needed in research to bring many perspectives into the field.
- Ultimately, I believe that men and women are different in various aspects. We are good at different things, have different interests, different opinions, etc. Since nature benefits from diversity, research would also benefit. Moreover, a balanced gender distribution would reduce any biases against female researchers, says Nara.

The Importance of Female Role Models in Research

When asked about why equality in the research world is so crucial, Emma underscores the importance of female role models and more stable employment conditions. Nara agrees:
-If we talk about rights, duties, and opportunities in conducting research, there should be no discrimination based on any factor, whether it's gender, ethnicity, age, etc. It simply isn't helpful for anyone and also goes against human rights.
Motivating more women to pursue a career in research is a challenge. Nara believes that if more prominent female researchers were highlighted globally, more female students interested in the natural sciences would be motivated to dream of becoming researchers.
- The practical step we can take is to assist career-oriented female researchers in overcoming career obstacles and academic setbacks that may arise from having children and taking care of young children. This support will enable them to present themselves in the best possible way, says Nara.
That AFM supports what I do enables me to grow, create new collaborations by being visible on their platform, and be inspired by meeting other researchers at LiU.
Emma Björk
They are both grateful for the support that contributes to their personal development and confirms that they are skilled at what they do and that their research is excellent. Nara concludes with great gratitude:
- This really encourages me, especially after experiencing postpartum depression myself. Sometimes, I'm afraid that such benefits for female researchers might be seen as discrimination against male researchers. But we need some form of support for early-career-oriented female researchers. It's an honour for me to receive this contribution, and I feel the responsibility to show that this support is given to a truly excellent female researcher in the future.

Swedish gender equality agency.

Carina Stahre

Statistics LiU

GenderDistribution LiU 2023

Woman/Men %
Professors  22/73

Associate Professors

University Lectures 45/55
Associate University Lectures 53/47
Postdoctoral Researchers 36/64

GenderDistribution Faculty of Technology

Woman/Men %
Professors 16/84

Associate Professors

University Lectures 23/77
Associate University Lectures 34/66
Postdoctoral Researchers 21/79

Read more about AFM


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