"It would be boring if we were all the same”

The Department of Biomedicine has awarded the Diversity Award for a second time. The award is given to an employee who makes an extraordinary effort to contribute to the department's diversity.

Helle Hasager Damkier received this year’s award at a department day. The 43-year-old associate professor had been a little puzzled over a PhD student's tenacity in making sure she attended the event, but it was of course important that she was present to receive the Department of Biomedicine's Diversity Award 2021 in person. The assessment committee selected Helle Hasager Damkier as the recipient of the award and the accompanying DKK 10,000 based on her ability to lead a research group with focus on diversity in gender, age, nationality and educational background, as well as a good work-life balance.

"I'm incredibly touched by the recommendation. I think it's important to be a role model for junior researchers," says Helle Hasager Damkier.

She heads a research group that works with a section of the brain called the choroid plexus. Among other things, the group conducts research into the fluid that is formed by the choroid plexus, which membrane proteins are in play, and whether it is possible to curb the development of e.g. cerebral haemorrhages by preventing the formation of too much liquid when the pressure rises in the brain.

"I place a lot of focus on work-life balance in the group concurrently with talent development, because they’re not actually opposites," says Helle Hasager Damkier.

"We focus on having as diverse a group as possible, so that we don't all have the same type of personality, gender and nationality. We’re at different stages of our careers, as younger people often have a different perspective on research. It’s important for different cultures and environments to meet in the research, because it would be boring if we were all the same," she declares, although she adds that it is difficult to find funding for international recruitment.

An advantage for all parties

The diversity award was founded in 2019 and has been awarded once previously to Associate Professor Christian Kanstrup Holm.

Diversity is a broad concept, but this year's nomination of Helle Hasager Damkier was specifically connected to her work towards ensuring that women, especially those of childbearing age, have the same conditions as men.

Among other things, a PhD student in the group previously returned from maternity leave earlier than planned, but with the option of spending the rest of the maternity period on reduced hours.

"I think that was only beneficial, so she didn’t find herself in a worse position compared to other PhD students," says Helle Hasager Damkier., who does not have children herself.

She is pleased that Aarhus University has focused on the problems associated with gender equality.

"It's huge that it’s been written it into the strategy. There are several reasons why there aren’t so many women in leading positions at the university, and it’s frustrating when a workplace misses out on the talent and the values that women contribute with," says the associate professor, who is a qualified medical doctor and was already became caught up in the world of research while still a medical student.

"When so many talented female researchers don’t apply for positions at the university, I think it’s connected to the working life that you must have in the university sector. There’s something structural at the university which means that you as a woman don’t find the opportunity attractive. One reason may be that it’s more difficult for women to get funding. "

Working towards a more flexible framework

Critics could argue that the opportunity of distributing maternity leave over several weeks with a weekly day off – or of having flexitime – is so common at workplaces in 2021 that it should not trigger a diversity award.

But the award emphasises that gender equality is a focus area at the Department of Biomedicine, says Department Head Thomas G. Jensen.

"The flexibility that Helle exhibits is not possible in all research groups, and it has therefore been highlighted and rewarded with the award. The person who recommended her for the award was very enthusiastic about it, and of course we need to work towards creating optimal frameworks for all employees," he adds.

The award comes with DKK 10,000, and according to Helle Hasager Damkier the money has already been spent – on laboratory equipment and attending a conference in Copenhagen.



Examples from the nomination:

  • “She gave me a weekly maternity day. This has allowed me to stretch my remaining maternity leave to the end of 2021. This arrangement has made it possible for me to come back to work earlier than I otherwise would have done, with no guilty conscience towards work nor family.”
  • “During my maternity leave, Helle kept me posted on things happening in the lab, so I didn’t feel left out.”
  • “I am enormously privileged and thankful to have a supervisor who is a firm believer in a good and healthy work-life balance and who accepts flexible working hours to match unexpected things in life.”
  • “She immediately arranged meetings with the safety representative from the lab and made several precautions, so that I could safely continue my work during my pregnancy.”



Biomedicine Diversity Award:

According to its charter, the award is given to an employee who:

  • Allocates responsibility across gender and age.
  • Allows flexible working hours for parents and has a positive mindset about parental leave for both genders.
  • Supports initiatives to ensure the well-being of students and colleagues.
  • Recruits using generally inclusive job advertisements and calls – for example at poster days where people might forget to use inclusive language when recruiting new students.
  • Has the courage to express inclusive attitudes in public.

Assessment committee: 

All employees at the Department of Biomedicine can nominate colleagues on all levels from animal technician to secretary, research colleague or manager.

Read more about the award here.