Home » Stories » Women in research: How to navigate sticky floors and break glass ceilings

Women in research: How to navigate sticky floors and break glass ceilings


Forty-six women researchers gathered in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss the underrepresentation of women in academia and explore pathways to greater gender equity.

By Vibeke Quaade

Today’s global challenges require innovative solutions from diverse perspectives across natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Diversity not only enhances research quality but also broadens perspectives. However, globally, women are underrepresented in the research community, comprising less than 30%. In Africa’s top 97 universities, women hold only 21% of chancellor positions, 14% of vice-chancellor positions, and 26% of registrar positions. Europe faces a similar issue, with Danish universities having only 35% female researchers, 24% female professors, and 28% female leaders.

To address this challenge, 46 women researchers from 12 African countries, the USA, UK, and Denmark gathered for the “More women in research” seminar held in Arusha, Tanzania, 4-8 March 2024. The aim was to bring together women researchers and to facilitate research sharing and reflection, while also offering advice on how to navigate an academic carrier and on useful tools for advocating for more women in research. Yet another of the seminar’s important objectives was to provide an opportunity for the participants to network.  See the programme and read the press release.

From mentorship and policy engagement to publication strategies and gender-sensitive research
The seminar programme covered a variety of topics, including publication strategies, strategies for funding applications, and inspirational talks on overcoming structural barriers for women in academia. Esteemed speakers such as Dr Susan Kaaria, Dr Caroline Mose, and Professor Sarah Ssali led sessions on mentorship, policy engagement, and gender-sensitive research approaches, and Dr Evelyn Wamboye and Magdalena Skipper, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, provided insights into academic publication and editorial processes.

Overcoming the hurdles
The takeaways from the seminar were many, and so many observations struck an immediate chord with the participants, such as Dr Nsubili Isaga’s statement “Women in research – once we identify the challenges, half the battle is done!” Sarah Ssali, Dean of Gender and Women Studies at Makerere University, emphasized the broader struggle, saying, “The struggle isn’t limited to breaking glass ceilings. We also have the challenge of sticky floors. Systems working to keep us in the same places.” Professor Lotte Meinert, Aarhus University added, “It’s not only about being superwomen and ninjas but about bringing down the structural barriers that hinder women’s acceleration in academia.”

Arusha debate and storytelling
A core activity of the seminar was an Arusha debate streamed online on 7 March LINK to engage a broader audience, particularly youth. Moderated by renowned TV and radio host Sheila Mwanyigha from Nairobi, and amplified by YouLead Africa’s network in addition to MS TCDC’s and Danida Fellowship Centre’s ditto, the debate garnered media coverage across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. In acknowledgement of the power of storytelling to share experiences and convey knowledge, there was space dedicated to storytelling throughout the seminar and an evening was reserved for inspirational fireside stories. Watch the YouTube playlist with bench talks and fireside stories.

A manifesto and call to action
Towards the end of the seminar, a group of participants formed a task force to craft a manifesto advocating for more women in research and urging women to make a concerted effort to dismantle the obstacles they encounter. The manifesto will represent the fusion of the aspirations of women in academia and will make an appeal to various stakeholders: women in research, governmental bodies, academic institutions, research establishments, funding agencies, private enterprises, publishing entities, civic organisations, and media outlets. It will be launched later this year (2024).

Revisit YouLead’s #AfricaUnplugged about More Women in Research

Thursday 1st February 2024
Thursday 22nd February 2024
Thursday 29th February 2024

The seminar was co-created by MS TCDC and Danida Fellowship Centre within the framework of their “together for impact” partnership in alignment with the partnership’s emphasis on promoting more women researchers in Danida’s research calls.


Go back to our stories