‘Datalogy’ (or computer science) is the academic foundation and practice that determines how digital technologies are designed, developed, and introduced into peoples’ lives. Digital technologies shape society, life, and work and influence how people think and act with technology in all aspects of life. In a democracy it is vital that the people who create technology mirror the society’s diversity, to ensure that new digital technologies do not constrain people’s agency but enable people to act and take part in society. Today, in 2022, diversity and inclusion is one of the main challenges for computer science as a field and profession in Western countries such as Denmark and the USA (Frieze and Quesenberry 2019; Borsotti and Bjørn 2022), and studies have shown that computer science will not reach gender parity in this century (Holman et al. 2018) without interventions directed at change.

Three Pioneer Women in Computer Science in Denmark

All the research we present in this book took place in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen (Datalogisk Institut Københavns Universitet [DIKU]), in Denmark. Thus, our work is situated in Denmark, and since gender is culturally shaped (Butler 1999), providing some contextual information about the Computer Science Department is important. The University of Copenhagen was established in 1479 and is the oldest university in Denmark and the second oldest in Scandinavia (Uppsala University in Sweden was established in 1477). DIKU was established in 1970 by Turing Award winner Peter Naur and grew out of the Department of Mathematics. DIKU was thus created during the ‘68 student rebellion at universities in Denmark, where students and administrative personnel fought for voice and decision power in the universities, thus challenging the prior unified power owned only by professors (Hansen 1997). At this time, universities in Denmark transformed from elite institutions for the few to mass universities that were democratically organized. At DIKU this meant that students were highly engaged with the department’s planning and teaching – active in creating the institution – and that Head of Department was an elected position. At that time approximately 20% of the students were women (Sveinsdottir and Frøkjær 1988), and one of the core faculty members creating the department in 1970 was professor Edda Sveindottir (1936–2022). Considered the first woman computer scientist in Denmark, Professor Sveindottir was the first woman to be appointed Head of Department for Computer Science. Professor Sveindottir was never appointed full professor at DIKU, remaining an associate professor until she left DIKU, but became a full professor at Roskilde University, where she stayed until her retirement. Professor Sveindottir is to date the only woman Head of Department at DIKU, and her pioneering research and impact on the development of computer science in Denmark is well celebrated.

The PhD degree was introduced in Denmark in 1987, and the first woman to earn the degree in computer science in Denmark was at Aarhus University, the second largest university in Denmark, Professor Susanne Bødker, that same year. The Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University was established in 1975 – and Professor Bødker continues to be one of Denmark’s most influential and international leading computer science researchers to this day. The first woman to earn a PhD in computer science at DIKU was Professor Emeritus Elin Rønby Pedersen, in 1988. After finishing her PhD with Peter Naur as supervisor, Professor Pedersen become associate professor at Roskilde University. She left Denmark and academia and moved on to industry at Google and Microsoft for more than 25 years. Professor Rønby Pedersen returned to Denmark in 2021, continuing as a senior research scientist at Google, but was also appointed professor at the University of Southern Denmark.

There is no doubt that these amazing women all had – and still have – a huge impact on how computer science research has developed in Denmark and internationally. They have each in different ways been pioneers and trailblazers! Unfortunately, they are also only a very small set of the very few women who managed to succeed in computer science academia in Denmark during the period 1970–2010. Let’s look at the numbers. First, however, it is important to mention that we are aware that gender is not a binary construct divided into only two categories: women and men. However, for reporting numbers we are basing our observations on the available historical data, which are reported in binary terms.

Lack of Diversity: PhD Degrees & PhD Supervisors

The PhD degree is the highest obtainable academic degree, and it documents a person’s research skills and qualifications. Since its introduction to Danish academia in 1987 (there were other merit systems in Denmark before that), the PhD degree has been a requirement for obtaining a faculty position at universities in Denmark and internationally. Thus, to understand the diversity potentials in universities, one must start by looking at the numbers for people obtaining the PhD degree.

If we look at the numbers from the Department of Computer Science at University of Copenhagen (DIKU) focusing on PhD degrees, we find the following. Since the PhD degree was introduced in 1987 in Denmark, only 23 women have been awarded the degree in computer science from DIKU, whereas 155 men have been awarded the degree. Of the 35 years that DIKU have been awarding PhD degrees, there have been 21 years with no women graduating with a PhD degree but only 2 years for men. In the period 1987–1997, only 4 women received the PhD degree in computer science from DIKU, whereas 37 men did; and in the period 1998–2008, only 2 women received the PhD degree from DIKU, whereas 38 men did. If we look at the statistics for the last 5 years (2017–2021), 8 women and 42 men graduated with a PhD degree from DIKU. While PhD degrees have been awarded to women from DIKU since 1988, the numbers are clearly unbalanced (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1 PhD degree awarded in the period 1987–2021 from Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen

The Privilege of PhD Supervision

To fully comprehend the gender unbalance in the Computer Science faculty at DIKU, it is important to consider the different measures and metrics by which faculty success is considered. While there has been a change in recent decades in terms of evaluating the impact and research quality of universities in Denmark – with an increased focus on citation indexes, grant procurements, and relevance to industry – most academics would agree that PhD education continues to be an important measure both nationally and internationally within computer science. Supervising and graduating PhD students is thus a privilege that allows faculty to extend their research agenda and continue their personal research interests. Having the opportunity to supervise PhD students in Denmark depends on individuals’ success in winning research grants to pay for those students. However, as clearly demonstrated by research on grant distributions in Denmark (Aagaard et al. 2018; Madsen and Aagaard 2020), the 20% most-grant-winning researchers in Denmark are awarded 75% of all available funds (Norn 2019). Further, even considering the gender unbalance in the overall Danish academic environment across all topic areas, only 22% of all funds are allocated to female PIs.

Overall, 40% of Danish researchers are female, while this is the case for only 34% of the grantees. However, when considering the distribution of grants and funding amounts only 29% of all grants have a female PI, and only 22% of all funding is allocated to a female PI. (Madsen and Aagaard 2020)

Funding influences career advancement in academia, not only in terms of having available resources to do research but also as part of the merit that provides access to faculty positions. The ability to win funds is perceived as part of the qualification criteria for academic hiring – and for the next funding application. This means that researchers who have already demonstrated their ability in attracting funds are more likely to continue attracting new funds (safe bet). This phenomenon that scientists who have previously been successful are more likely to succeed again, producing increasing distinction, is referred to as the Matthaeus (or Matthew) effect (Bagilhole and Goode 2001). The Matthaeus affect refers to the Bible quote “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Matt. 25:29); the term was coined by sociologists Harriet Zuckerman and Robert K. Merton (Zuckerman and Merton 1971), who studied the scientific elite of Nobel laureates in the USA (Merton 1968; Zuckerman 1977). Their research showed that in the matter of academic credit, credit is given to already famous people, and in cases of co-authorship where the authors have unequal reputations, the person who is best known gets more credit and the names of the additional authors tend to be forgotten (Merton 1968). If we apply this pattern of recognition and academic credit to the funding landscape in Denmark, the Matthaeus effect seems to apply given that only 20% of Danish researchers receive 75% of the complete available funding.

Access to external funding is highly connected to the privilege of PhD supervision in Denmark. First, in Denmark, PhD students are both students and employees, which means that they are accepted to the PhD school as a student but that their supervisor must be able to fund their salary as hired employees. Because of the decrease in universities spending basic funds on PhD students and a higher reliance on external funding for PhD employment, gaining the privilege to supervise PhD students relies heavily on individual faculty success in winning external funding to pay for PhD employment. Successful supervision of PhD students will in most cases lead to an increase in high-ranking publications, which in turn will increase the citation index of the individual PhD student as well as the supervisor – which again would improve the chances of winning research grants, and so forth. The increased pressure on securing grants and decreased chance of receiving funds mean that brilliant ideas and excellent qualifications are not enough to win. Innovative international initiatives try to reduce bias and improve openness to radical, non-mainstream ideas by implementing new mechanisms for distributing grants based on a lottery (Adam 2019), and Danish researchers have also suggested that the Danish funding landscape should consider such approaches (Baggersgaard 2021). In 2022, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, one of the largest private funders in Denmark, declared that they will experiment with partial randomization of fund distribution (Frandsen 2022).

Gender Distribution of PhD Supervisors

Given the unbalanced funding distribution, the low number of women PhD graduates, and the low number of women faculty in the Computer Science Department – we decided to explore the gender distribution of PhD supervisors. Associate and full professors can be PhD supervisors, and tenure-track assistant professors can be co-supervisors until they are promoted to associate professor. Examining the relationships between supervisors and their PhD students who graduated from DIKU during the period 1987–2021, we find no PhD student graduate with a woman supervisor until 2010. This means that for the first 23 years of DIKU awarding the PhD degree, only men received the privilege of supervising PhD students. There are multiple cases from the period 1990–2010 where the privilege and work of supervising a PhD student was shared by a group of supervisors. However, not until 2010 did a mixed-gender supervisory team graduate a PhD student. Even after 2010, women supervisors were a rarity – and of the 35 years (1987–2021) in which DIKU awarded the PhD degree, there were 31 years where no women had the privilege of solo supervising PhD student graduating. In comparison, there is only one year without male supervisors, 1992, when no PhD student graduated from DIKU.

Of the 35 years, DIKU awarded the PhD degree to students with mixed-gender group supervisors in only 8 years, during the period 2010–2021. Further, in only 4 years were PhD graduates solo supervised by a woman (2010, 2019–2021), graduating in total 6 PhD students. There have been no women-only group supervisions and only 13 mixed-gender group supervisions in total over the 35 years, whereas there have been 27 men-only group supervisions. Co-supervision is also a privilege, which means that where a faculty member benefits from being a co-supervisor, it is most likely a man. In comparison, 133 PhD graduates from DIKU in all 35 years have been supervised by male supervisors. Graduating PhD students as a supervisor confers privilege and power, as it is a core measure for promotion. Further, extremely few PhD students experience women supervisors (Table 1.2).

Table 1.2 Supervisors of PhD graduates, 1987–2021: 133 solo men supervision, 6 solo women supervision, 13 mixed-group supervision, 26 group of men supervisions, and 0 women group supervisions, for a total 178 PhD graduates

Finally, we should mention that besides Professor Edda Sveinsdottir who was associate professor at DIKU until she left (1970–1987) and was promoted to full professor at Roskilde University; Senior Scientist Dr. Julia Lawall was also associate professor at DIKU during the period 2000–2011, before she left to work at INRIA. Both Edda Sveinsdottir and Julia Lawall were the solo women faculty during their time at DIKU. We have not been able to identify any women who were faculty at DIKU during the period 1987–2000. Corinna Cortes is VP at Google Research in New York, and also hold the title as adjunct professor at DIKU since 2011. Marleen de Bruijne was recruited as associate professor at DIKU in 2011; Christina Lioma was recruited as tenure-track assistant professor in 2012; and Aasa Feragan was recruited as associate professor in 2014; Katarzyna (Kate) Wac was recruited as associate professor in 2015; and Pernille Bjørn was recruited as full professor in 2015.

The point here is that to fully comprehend the state of affairs shaping the unbalanced gender representation in computer science in Denmark in general and at DIKU specifically, it is not enough to pay attention to the gender disparity between bachelor’s and master’s degree students; we must also look at the gender disparity within the PhD student cohorts – as well as the gender disparity within the faculty having the privilege of supervising PhD students.

Slow Change 2015–2022

In May 2015, DIKU hired a woman into a full professor position for the first time. As of 2022, DIKU has increased the number of women faculty for tenure-track assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors. For women faculty, DIKU has as of January 2022 four full professors (Professor Pernille Bjørn, recruited in 2015; Professor Marleen de Bruijne, promoted in 2018; Professor Christina Lioma, promoted in 2019; Professor Irina Shklovski, recruited in 2020), three associate professors (Associate Professor Melanie Ganz-Benjaminsen, promoted in 2021; Associate Professor Joanna Bergström, promoted in 2021; and Associate Professor Isabelle Augenstein, promoted in 2020), and six assistant professors (Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Maria Maistro, Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Sarah Homewood, Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Valkyrie Savage, Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Naja Holten Møller, Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Hasti Seifi, and Assistant Professor Stina Matthiesen).

As of the beginning of 2022, DIKU has 13 women faculty, the majority recruited after 2017. We do not have the number of current PhD students with women supervisors; however, to the best of our knowledge, most of the women faculty are currently supervising PhD students, and in all tenure-track packages new faculty receive funding for one-half a PhD grant to help them begin their research. Further, women faculty have been included in department management since 2018 as Head of Section and since 2019 as Deputy Head of Department for research.

For historic documentation, it should be mentioned that Professor Aasa Feragen at the Danish Technical University (DTU) was recruited from her associate professor position at DIKU to become full professor at DTU in 2019; and that Professor Katarzyna (Kate) Wac was promoted to full professor at DIKU, but was immediately recruited by University of Geneva, Switzerland, in 2020. Finally, late Dr. Luana Micallef was assistant professor at DIKU 2018–2019.

The latest official statistics from the university as of September 2021 show that the current faculty (assistant, associate, and full professors) measured in full time positions is 85% men and 15% women (67 full time positions); while the numbers for PhD candidates are 65% men and 34% women (72 full time positions). At the Professor level the difference is 93% men and 7% women full professors.

The FemTech.dk initiative was started in 2016 with a focus on gender diversity within the bachelor’s and master’s student cohorts; however, the above numbers for the department provide important context for understanding the lack of gender diversity which has existed for many years. Improving gender diversity at universities cannot focus on bachelor’s and master’s students alone. We must include critical examination of gender diversity for PhD students and the representation of gender diversity in faculty. For excellent young students to engage with computer science, universities will benefit from demonstrating how people from different backgrounds can become successful within the field and profession. The 17 women faculty who have been or currently are at DIKU are such a small percentage of the full faculty who have been doing research and research-based teaching in the 52 years the department has existed (1970–2022).