Quotas to promote gender equality in research

Gender equality is a prime concern of the Swiss National Science Foundation. To offer additional visibilty to women in academia, it is introducing gender quotas in its evaluation bodies with immediate effect.

Political equality between men and women was achieved 50 years ago when women won the right to vote. But the underrepresentation of women in academic leadership roles continues: only 23 per cent of professorships in Switzerland are currently held by women. This seems incongruous considering the almost 45 per cent share of women among doctoral students. If you look at all students, women even hold a narrow majority.

Inequality in leading roles has an impact on society: the perspectives, needs and experiences of women are given less weight and are less likely to play a role in knowledge generation. Research-policy decisions risk being one-sided.

Ambitious goals

To do something towards balancing out this inequality, the Presiding Board of the SNSF Research Council decided to introduce a gender quota in its evaluation bodies. "Women are currently underrepresented in some of our bodies," says Matthias Egger, President of the Research Council. The decision, which was taken last December, will enter into force with immediate effect. Egger adds that it is important to avoid situations in the future where only a small minority of women is involved in discussions and decision-making. "Therefore, we have given ourselves clear rules."

According to the new rules, men and women each need to hold a share of at least 40 per cent in the Research Council and the Presiding Board. In commissions focussing on a specific field, the quota is adapted to the respective research area. "We want to be ambitious and lead by example," says Simona Isler, SNSF gender equality officer. In disciplines with few women, female representation in SNSF bodies should be raised by around 20 per cent above the average. An example: if women hold 10 per cent of professorships in a discipline in Switzerland, the SNSF applies a 30 per cent quota in evaluation bodies for this discipline. "We hope to achieve this target by 2026 at the latest," says Isler.

Promoting gender equality

By introducing quotas, the SNSF is pursuing four important gender equality objectives:

  • giving more visibility to women in bodies that make an important contribution to research policy, such as the National Research Council
  • giving higher priority to concerns that are relevant to women and to a wider range of perspectives
  • distributing power more equitably
  • improving collaboration thanks to more diversity

In addition, the SNSF is hoping its quota will set a new trend that will encourage partners in academia and research promotion to follow in its footsteps.

Gender equality has been enshrined in the Federal Constitution since 1981. As a national research funder, the SNSF is therefore obligated to work towards achieving gender equality. The PRIMA funding scheme, the networking platform AcademiaNet and the Marie Heim-Vögtlin prize are all examples of the SNSF's efforts to fulfil this constitutional obligation.

The quotas

  • Research Council (of each division): at least 40 per cent women and men, 20 per cent flexible.
  • Other evaluation bodies: quota adapted to the field. Share of women must be 20 per cent higher than share of professors in the field.


Gender equality in research funding