A quota to redress the imbalance, however, would not be “in line with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will,” he said.
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and chemist, laid out the founding rules for the prizes in his will, written a year before his death in 1896. He specifically stated that the committee should not consider a nominee’s nationality when awarding the prize.
In the years since, the prize has become synonymous with the pinnacle of professional achievement. But the achievements of many women and people of colour have not been part of this history.
The gender gap has been particularly stark in the sciences. Only four of the more than 200 winners in the history of the physics prize have been women.
Last year, scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were the first two women to ever win the Nobel Prize in chemistry without a male collaborator, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Recipients also remain overwhelmingly white. Just over a dozen Nobel Prize winners have been black, and no black person, male or female, has won in a science category, according to Smithsonian.
Hansson said he and his colleagues have tried to close these gaps by encouraging more diversity in the nomination process.
“We made sure that we know about the problem and also about subconscious bias, etc., in the [prize-awarding] committees and academies,” he said. “We’ve had lectures by sociologists, we’ve had group discussions, we have put quite a lot of effort into it.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that “only about 10 per cent of the professors in natural sciences in Western Europe or North America are women, and even lower if you go to East Asia.”
“We need different attitudes to women going into sciences,” he added, “so that they get a chance to make these discoveries that are being awarded”.
In a tweet this month, UN Women, the United Nations agency focused on gender equality, highlighted how rare it has been for women to break through the Nobel Prize ceiling.
“Unfortunately, the under-representation of women Nobel laureates over the years is just another indicator of the slow progress on gender equality,” UN Women wrote on Twitter.