Goran Hansson said the prizes should be awarded to “the most deserving”, but laments the historic lack of female Nobel laureates.
The director of the academy that awards the Nobel Prizes in Science has ruled out the introduction of gender or ethnicity quotas after this year’s Nobel Laureates included only one woman, perpetuating a historic imbalance between recipients.
Göran Hansson, director of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said on Monday he regretted that there were “so few female Nobel laureates” but added that the prizes should go to “those who are judged the most worthy “.
“We have decided that we will not have quotas for gender or ethnicity. We want every winner [to] be accepted… because they made the most important discovery, not because of their gender or ethnicity, ”Hansson told AFP news agency.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded 609 prizes to 975 laureates since their first presentation in 1901.
Of these, 59 went to women, accounting for 6.2 percent of the total.
Investigative journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines was the only woman honored this year. She shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.
Hansson, whose mandate covers the chemistry, physics and economics awards, said the disproportionate shortage of award winners reflects historical and persistent “unfair conditions in society”.
“There is so much more to do,” he said, citing the scarcity of female natural science teachers around the world.
“We will ensure that an increasing number of women scientists are invited to nominate. And we’ll continue to make sure we have women on our committees, but we need help, and society needs to help here.
“We need different attitudes towards women entering science… so that they have the chance to make these discoveries that are rewarded.”
Hansson said progress has been made over the past decades, with the trend for female winners rising, albeit from a “very low point”.
Last year, three women won awards.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna jointly received the Chemistry Prize for their work on gene editing technology.
Astronomer Andrea Ghez won the physics prize alongside two male scientists – Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel – for his research on black holes.
Ghez was the fourth woman to win the physics prize.
Other notable laureates in recent years include Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, American writer Louise Glück, who received the 2020 Literature Prize, and Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, who received the medicine award in 2015 for helping to create an antimalarial drug.
Marie Curie, winner of the physics prize in 1903, is the first female laureate. It was again recognized in 1911 with the chemistry prize.
She remains the only woman to have won several Nobel Prizes.