The Nobel Prize has a diversity problem

Jake Watson discusses the controversy the Nobel Prize has faced in recent years

Jake Watson
25th October 2020
With Louise Glück winning the Nobel Prize for Literature 2020 – the 16th woman to win the prize since its establishment in 1901 – critics call to light the systemic issues that the prize faces around diversity.

The Swedish Academy named the first Female American poet to win the prize in 27 years ‘for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal’. The announcement makes Glück the seventh woman to win the prize in the last 20 years.

It doesn’t take a genius to notice that women and Black scientists are not proportionally represented among the Laureates, and the United States is home to more winners than most countries.

Aware of the issue at hand regarding an imbalance in Gender Diversity, last year the Secretary-General of the Royal Swedish Academy, Göran Hannson, announced that they had made changes to their nomination system in order to diversify the selection of nominated winners. Measures put in place included asking a greater number of women to suggest candidates, as well as making changes to the language used in the letter inviting nominations. The revised letter explicitly asks for the consideration of diversity in ‘gender, geography and topic’.

Measures put in place included asking a greater number of women to suggest candidates

In an interview with, when asked about the noticeable impacts of the new measures in the nomination process, Hannson noted "it looks like there is a positive trend, with more women being nominated. It’s small, but it’s a trend. We will follow this very carefully for several years to see if there is statistical significance before we draw any firm conclusions. But it looks like we may be on the right track."

Yet despite these measures being put into place in 2018, the 2019 awards made no reflection of the changes to the nomination system. There were no Black or female recipients in physics, chemistry or medicine at the December 2019 Nobel ceremonies.

More needs to be done, yet with prize only given once a year, only time will tell.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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AUTHOR: Jake Watson
3rd year French and English Literature student at Newcastle University, with an interest in all things Arts, Culture & Food. Fran Leibowitz wannabe. @JMichaelWatson on Twitter.

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