Top science body to boost women’s representation

The SNSF move will boost visibility of women in research, the body says © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

The Swiss National Science Foundation is introducing quotas for women on its evaluation committees. This is to raise the visibility of women in research and take their perspectives better into account for research policy decisions.

This content was published on February 5, 2021 - 16:11

The decision comes into effect immediately, the SNSF said in a statementExternal link on Friday.

Political equality between men and women was achieved 50 years ago when women won the right to vote in a referendum on February 7, 1971, the SNSF pointed out.

Women account for almost 45 per cent of doctoral students and even make up a narrow majority among all students, the SNSF said. But only 23% of professorships in Switzerland are currently held by women. This phenomenon, in which women do not progress up the academic ladder in part due to the difficulty of combining career and family, is known as “the leaky pipeline”.

"Women are currently underrepresented in some of our bodies," said Matthias Egger, who heads the SNSF’s Research CouncilExternal link, a body of some 100 top researchers which evaluates research applications and makes funding decisions.

40% for some committees

From now on, men and women will each be represented at least 40% in the Research Council and the Presiding Board of the Research Council.

Elsewhere, the quota will be adapted according to the field. In disciplines with few women, female representation in SNSF bodies should be raised by around 20% above the average number of female professors. For example, if women hold 10% of professorships in an academic area, the SNSF would apply a 30% quota in evaluation bodies for this discipline. "We hope to achieve this target by 2026 at the latest," said Simona Isler, SNSF gender equality officer.


The quotas have four gender equality objectives, the SNSF said: increasing visibility of female researchers, giving higher priority to concerns related to women and a wider range of perspectives, distributing power more fairly and improving collaboration through increased diversity.

The SNSF already has several schemes in place to encourage female researchers, notably the PRIMA funding scheme for women researchers with a high professorship potential.

Quotas have long been debated in Switzerland. In the business world, a new benchmark of 30% women on the board of directors and 20% on the executive board of listed companies has applied since January 1 this year. But there are no sanctions for non-compliance.

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