Research in Switzerland needs gender equality

The demands of the women's strike on 14 June 2019 also concern science. The SNSF supports women researchers in a variety of ways. This on its own will not suffice, however.

Progressing in academia is more difficult for women researchers than for their male colleagues. Only approximately 20 per cent of professorships in Switzerland are held by women - even though they account for 50 per cent of the doctoral students. This is a real problem. "First of all, it has to do with fairness: both genders should have the same chance of doing scientific work," says the Director of the SNSF, Angelika Kalt. "Secondly, to make the most of its innovation potential, Swiss research will need the skills of women."

The higher education institutions bear the main responsibility for gender equality in research and teaching. But the SNSF, too, is making every effort to achieve this goal. Indeed, this is part of its statutory mandate.

Special measures for women

With its PRIMA funding scheme, the SNSF is promoting outstanding women researchers who want to become professors. In 2018, 22 women received grants totalling 28 million francs for projects spanning several years. Since April 2019, PRIMA grantees have benefited from a leadership programme. It enables them to attend workshops and networking events and to enlist the help of coaches.

Young women scientists working for an SNSF-funded project receive a gender equality grant worth 1000 francs.

"Such SNSF measures, which benefit women exclusively, are not only justified, but necessary for as long as it takes to achieve gender equality," Angelika Kalt stresses. "This was confirmed by an expert opinion published last year"

Balancing research and family life

The SNSF is also making it easier for both women and men to reconcile research and family. For instance, it offers grants for parents engaged in doctoral or postdoctoral studies. They receive up to 30,000 Swiss francs for external child care or for additional project staff to take over some of their duties. This gives researchers with children a fair chance to hold their own in scientific competition.

Further steps planned

The number of women in science is increasing only very slowly, particularly in leadership positions. Against this backdrop, the SNSF wants to press ahead. It will introduce a gender quota for its National Research Council and verify the formal eligibility criteria for its funding schemes. And, as of 2021, it plans to award grants to female doctoral students in the STEM disciplines (maths, IT, natural sciences, technology) and in the life sciences - provided the government approves the budget proposed in the SNSF's multi-year programme 2021-2024.

Politicians need to act

However, these measures are not sufficient - which is why the SNSF supports the demands of the women's strike. It calls on politicians to make gender equality a reality and to improve conditions for working mothers and fathers. This includes equal salaries for the same kind of work, sufficient child care and parenting time that is in line with actual needs.

"Lack of gender equality will adversely affect the competitiveness of Swiss research in the medium term, thereby hampering economic and social progress," says Angelika Kalt. She will be standing up for the needs of women researchers together with colleagues from the SNSF offices and Research Council at Bern Bundesplatz on 14 June 2019.