Universities fail to fulfil female quotas

Many professorships are still held by men in Switzerland Keystone

The stated goal of having 25% women professors in Swiss universities by the end of the year will not be possible.

This content was published on October 28, 2016 - 11:37

Swiss universities have been trying for years to employ more women as professors, and the number has been rising, albeit very slowly. They now account for 20% of professorships.

In a report for Swiss public television SRF,External link Martina Weiss, the secretary general of swissuniversities,External link the body representing higher education institutes in Switzerland, said that the 25% goal would not be achieved in time. “We know that, in conjunction with the universities, we have more work to do,” she said.

The main reason for having fewer female professors is the fact it is the woman who often stays at home to look after the children. In addition, fewer women have the confidence to make the step to professor, Weiss said. Women should be encouraged more strongly to take this option, she added. Plus universities should reach out to women academics more actively and take a more targeted approach to filling positions with highly qualified women. 

The government is also following developments, having made available almost CHF14 million ($14 million) in the last years to promote women at universities. Irene Rehmann from the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERIExternal link, told SRF that the government regretted that the goal had not been reached. “We can only hope that progress will be made, but unfortunately development is still very slow,” she said.

There is one positive development: among newly hired professors the percentage of women lies at 33%.

Quota debate

The news around female professorship quotas comes amid a debate about quotas for women in business.

The government has backed having non-binding quotas for women on company boards and top executive posts at major listed companies. Currently few women occupy top posts in leading firms like UBS, Novartis and ABB. But not everyone agrees this is the best approach.

Neighbouring Germany introduced a gender quota of 30% women for supervisory boards at the largest companies at the start of 2016.

Meanwhile, a report published on Friday by Swiss executive headhunter Guido SchillingExternal link looking at the numbers and positions of women in the top companies in Switzerland found that they accounted for 15% of positions in upper management and almost 25% in middle management. This means that there is a “promising pipeline” of female talent, according to a statement.

The Swiss business world could improve its gender mix, also in executive positions, “considerably and sustainably – if it uses the opportunity”, added the statement.

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