7 December 2023

New national project aims to strengthen diversity in research environments


For many years, research environments in the fields of technical and natural sciences have been facing the challenge of attracting and retaining female researchers. However, a significant development is now underway as 13 university environments specializing in STEM subjects, among others the Department of Computer Science, have come together in collaboration with VILLUM FONDEN, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, and the strategic innovation agency IS IT A BIRD. Their collective objective is to implement a targeted initiative aimed at enhancing diversity.

Three researchers at the Department of Computer Science
The Department of Computer Science's participation in Living Labs builds on the department's extensive work with diversity. Photo: Department of Computer Science.

Among those who complete a master's degree in STEM subjects, there is a noticeable disparity in the number of women compared to men who choose to pursue careers in academia. This "leaky pipeline" of female talent represents an untapped potential, critical for Denmark's ambition to secure a position as one of the world's leading nations in STEM disciplines in the future.

Consequently, VILLUM FONDEN, Novo Nordisk Foundation, and IS IT A BIRD have invited university environments to develop concrete strategies for supporting diversity within their specific research settings. This effort has led to the establishment of a series of collaborations known as 'Living Labs', encompassing a total of 13 research environments across the country.

Professor and Deputy Head of Research at the Department of Computer Science, Pernille Bjørn, is excited to use Living Labs to further strengthen the department's existing initiatives to create an excellent research environment where researchers from diverse backgrounds can grow and succeed.

- In particular, we will use Living Labs to reflect on and share our ongoing initiatives, including our work with academic search committees, our tenure-track assistant professor programme, our PhD community and other initiatives that are crucial to creating an excellent research environment, says Pernille Bjørn.

Need for change

The goal of "Living Labs" is to investigate various strategies for providing Danish STEM environments with well-defined ideas and recommendations to enhance diversity and inclusion. The ideas might include initiatives aimed at reshaping maternity and family support systems, emphasizing the recruitment and retention of female staff, or addressing broader cultural shifts within research settings.

The Villum foundation and NNF states:

- The number and diversity of the applications received by IS IT A BIRD shows that the need for change is widely recognized at the Danish universities, and it holds great promise for the development work that the Living Labs are about to undertake.

It is the research environments themselves that will be developing the initiatives and driving the change processes. At the same time, the team from IS IT A BIRD will follow the Living Labs closely by monitoring and evaluating the initiatives to document what it takes to create lasting positive change within diversity in STEM research.

Deep knowledge of the diversity challenge

The effort is a follow-up to an anthropological study conducted by IS IT A BIRD, which has investigated barriers and potentials for attracting and retaining female STEM talent in academia.

Through ethnographic methods such as participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups, the study has approached both male and female research talents at different stages of their careers and across STEM departments and faculties.

The approach has created a nuanced understanding of the individual researcher's everyday life and identified patterns across the personal stories. The study also points to concrete opportunities where universities can take action to increase diversity and promote better research and education.



Pernille Bjørn
Professor and Deputy Head of Department for Research
Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen


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