Avauspuheenvuoro Women in Tech 2013 -foorumissa, Otaniemi, Espoo 15.10.2013


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to give an opening speech at his first forum on women in technology.

This forum is very topical. It is clear that we need more female students, scientists and researchers in technology. We need them to solve problems like climate change, energy and public health. We need them to help improve our economy and to help provide growth and jobs.

We cannot afford to waste any talents. We need all the best people working together, whether women or men.

As you know, the aim of the Finnish government is to achieve a caring and successful Finland. Finland invests in strengthening the national research and innovation system.

Finland’s success as a sustainable welfare state is dependent on a high employment rate which is based on expertise and creativity. As an export-led economy, Finland needs companies that can successfully compete with high-level products and services in international markets. Therefore the competitiveness of Finland requires a well-functioning education, research and innovation system.

We have an excellent comprehensive school system according to the OECD PISA Surveys. We also aim for the top in higher education, research, innovation and technology.

The knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation and its development is crucial for this success. National reforms are also needed to reach the goal which we have set to ourselves: Finland to become the most competent nation in 2020.

The aim is that Finland will be placed among the OECD top countries in major comparisons of young people’s and adults’ learning outcomes, in the low number of school dropouts and in the relative number of higher education graduates among young and older adults. Although we are in a good track, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially concerning the equality of children and young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

Therefore it is of utmost importance that measures will be taken to reduce inheritance of education and to minimize both gender and socioeconomic background differences in learning outcomes, participation in education and in the completion of studies. Equal opportunity in education is the underpinning of Finnish welfare and economic success in the future. And this is something which we will fail to accomplish if we don’t invest in quality education for all.

For educational equality to be realised, it is imperative that everyone gains a solid basis for learning already in early childhood and in basic education and that pupils and students with special needs and at risk of exclusion have access to a diverse range of supportive action. Measures must also be taken to alleviate differences and heredity in post-compulsory education. The participation of underrepresented population groups requires special supportive measures throughout the society – not only in education.

Several issues on the development of the Finnish higher education, research and innovation policy are currently under discussion.

Our higher education network is still too fragmented, even though there have been positive developments in reforming and restructuring the higher education. The new Universities Act in 2010 was a major step for Finnish universities to become more autonomous and responsible. The universities are since then, independent legal entities separate from the State but they still receive majority of their funding through the State budget. This autonomy reform will also affect the gender equality efforts in universities as they will need to assume more responsibility for these efforts.

In addition, several Finnish universities have merged during past years forming stronger and bigger entities. The creation of the Aalto University, has been an important development with the merger of a university of technology, one of economics and one of applied arts. I am confident that this will make more visible the multidisciplinary nature of higher education, research and technology. And I am sure, this will contribute to the increased participation of female students and researchers in technology.

The issue of gender equality has been part of the Finnish research policy agenda for many years. Our higher education and research institutes and the funding agencies have been implementing activities and measures to promote gender equality for several decades.

It goes without saying that women and men should have equal opportunities to study, conduct research and pursue a career in research and technology. It should be possible to recruit the most talented individuals, regardless of their gender. Women are still an underutilized resource in fields like engineering and technology, as men are in fields such as social policy and health. There is clearly a cultural gap still present, which divides the careers althought in theory all levels should be already open.

Often the Nordic countries are presented as examples in the degree of gender balance in academia and technology. However, there is a lot of effort needed to get the situation optimal. In the Nordic countries, we still have the so called “scissors-shaped figure” when illustrating the proportion of women and men in academia and research. In Finland women comprise of the majority in higher education students, and there is a quite good balance at PhD and researcher level, but at professor level the proportion of men is very dominant. Currently, about 80 per cent of professors in the Nordic countries are men. The gender distribution in the different disciplines varies of course quite a lot. And this inbalance is strong for example in natural sciences and technology.

In Finland, the situation in engineering and technology should be better than it is today. Currently about 25% of doctoral degrees are awarded to women and only around 8 % of professorships are held by women. The situation is actually quite similar in the Nordic countries. Our numbers are similar to Denmark, and Sweden is a bit ahead of us.

At European level, since the end of the 1990s, there has been growing emphasis on gender issues. The Helsinki Group on Women and Science was established in 1999 during the first Finnish presidency of the European Union.  The Helsinki group has been an important meeting place for the EU Member States and the European Commission to discuss the gender equality issues in research and academia and to share best practices. The emphasis has been on gender equality in research in general and on the integration of gender perspectives into research activities.

At European level, one important element has been the development of statistics. The Commission has published in 2012 the fourth report on key indicators on the situation of women in science and research. This “She Figures” data collection is undertaken every three years since 2003 in cooperation with the Helsinki Group. Over time, the list of indicators has evolved into a rich and multi-faceted approach that describes the participation of women at all levels and in all scientific disciplines.

At European level, the under-representation of women is striking in the field of science and engineering. The proportion of women increased between the last data collection from 31% to 38% at the student level but stood still at 11% at professor level.

There are many factors that influence the discrepancy between women and men in research. There is a lack of female role models. Gender stereotyping begins already n school. And later on, you can have working conditions that are not family-friendly.

If we want to have more women in research and technology, it is important that we get girls interested in science at an early age – we need education systems, schools, teachers, parents and role models to encourage them. And we also need more varied gender roles for young boys and men. It’s not only about the emancipation of girls and women, it is also about men who should be free to choose their careers and family roles without age-old stereotypes concerning male-breadwinner model and their secondary role for example in taking care of their children. The future should be about equal chances for both men and women.

There are already some good examples of nice initiatives. In Finland, one is the Super-Ada project. This is a female network in the IT sector, which aim is to encourage young girls and women to the IT field. The name Super-Ada comes from Ada Lovelace, who was the first female computer programmer for the first mechanical computer in the 19th century. This Super-Ada project is a nice example of female role models for encouraging more women into technology.

Dear participants,

This first Forum on Women in Technology offers a nice range of speakers on this important topic. I am confident this will allow you to discover and open your minds to new perspectives. And I hope this will lead to many fruitful discussions and ideas for new initiatives.

I wish you all an excellent seminar and discussions