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Empowering Female Leadership in Academia: Hanna Härelind and Maria Abrahamsson's Journey at Chalmers

Hanna Härelind and Maria Abrahamsson. Photo: Chalmers University of Technology

At Chalmers University of Technology, a transformative initiative is underway to address the gender gap in senior academic positions. Hanna Härelind, Head of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Maria Abrahamsson, Director of the Materials Science Area of Advance, are at the forefront of this change, thanks to the support from the gender equality programme Genie Open Call.

The challenge is evident: as one climbs the academic hierarchy, the number of women diminishes, regardless of the initial gender distribution. This trend is particularly pronounced in senior and leadership roles within academia. Chalmers is determined to reverse this trend by dismantling structural barriers that contribute to this imbalance and by fostering opportunities for women to continue research while in leadership roles.

Härelind and Abrahamsson's joint research project, "Sunlight for demanding reactions," exemplifies this commitment. After assuming leadership positions, they continued their research, made possible by the funding received from Genie Open Call. This support allowed them to hire a post-doctoral researcher, ensuring the continuation and development of their project.

The duo's stance is firm: leadership roles should not mean the end of research pursuits. Abrahamsson emphasizes the importance of maintaining a research career alongside leadership responsibilities, a sentiment echoed by Härelind, who was motivated to accept the Head of Department role knowing she could still engage in research.

The Genie Open Call, part of Chalmers’ gender equality initiative, aims to foster a culture that supports gender equality in various facets of academia. The project by Härelind and Abrahamsson, while unique, perfectly aligns with Genie’s objectives. They advocate for the need for role models and practical support, especially for women leaders who often face higher expectations and fewer resources.

The challenge of increasing female representation in academia is not just about correcting an imbalance; it's about harnessing diverse perspectives and talents. As of October 2023, women comprised only 32 percent of Chalmers' entire faculty, with a goal to increase this proportion to 40 percent at all levels.

Härelind and Abrahamsson call for active recruitment efforts to increase the number of women in the faculty. They challenge the notion that the current trend will reverse on its own and stress the importance of affirmative measures directed towards hiring more women in academia.

Concluding Insights:

The initiatives undertaken by Hanna Härelind and Maria Abrahamsson at Chalmers University of Technology highlight a critical pathway towards gender equality in academic leadership. Their experience underscores the importance of institutional support in balancing research and leadership roles, serving as an inspiration for aspiring women leaders in academia.

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