Who can fix a leaky pipeline?

Get to know 5 gender-friendly measures implemented by the SNFS to support female researchers in their academic careers and fix the leaky pipeline.

Click to enlarge. The leaky pipeline data of UZH and selected individual Faculties. Data are shown as percentage of women and men at different academic levels per 31.12.2016; yellow shading indicates the point of divergence, which in most cases occurs at the postdoctoral stage. Similar data are obtained when time-lag is considered. *without PhD candidates; **only BA/MA without doctorate. Graphs: Mirjam Bastian.

Women represent only 20% of faculty members in Switzerland (press release Federal Statistical Office) and 22.6% at University of Zurich (UZH) (UZH Gleichstellungsmonitor). This statistic, per se, should not be surprising, assuming women also constituted 20% of total number of students and graduates. However, this is not the case.

Data clearly show that women outnumber men at entry, master and often doctorate level; this is true for UZH in general as well as for individual faculties such as medicine and science (See Figure to the right). The loss of women in these faculties is not a linear process, but rather a dramatic and sudden drop that happens at a very precise stage of the career. ‘Leaky pipeline’ is the term used to indicate this phenomenon. The hole in the pipeline (through which UZH is slowly but steadily missing hundreds of highly-educated women) is located at the postdoctoral level (shaded areas in Figure).

Why do female postdocs abandon academia?
Difficulties in juggling family and professional lives, lower rates of applications for grants and academic positions, and implicit bias at universities are currently considered to be the main drivers of this phenomenon (Challenging the “leaky pipeline” in faculties of medicine). In particular, female early-stage researchers with family obligations tend to ‘loose’ time (resulting in a gap in their career development), as well as mobility (therefore less visible internationally).

What is the SNSF doing about it? Not everybody knows that…
If you are already funded by the SNFS (i.e. you are employed in SNSF-funded project or career funding schemes, or you are the grantee of a career funding scheme) you may be eligible for one of the following supplementary measures:

The 120% support grant: A grant to give you some extra time and flexibility to balance career and family
In its current form, this grant allows father and mother postdocs lowering their workload to a minimum of 60%. The freed-up salary, plus an additional 20%, may be used to hire a support person that can continue their project in their absence. Alternatively, or in combination, the extra 20% can also be used to cover childcare costs (anything from Kita to Tagesmutter). This grant is currently under revision and will change its name and further aspects in 2018, but its essence will be maintained and its goal strengthened. More
The gender-equality grant: A grant to facilitate female researcher’s mobility and career development
This grant amounts to 1000 CHF per year of approved project-running time (SNSF-funded projects or career funding schemes) and is available to female researchers (PhD or postdocs) only. The money can be drawn from the project funds and is covered by a deficit guarantee (no application needed), and may be used for activities (mentoring, coaching, courses, workshops and conferences) that benefit the professional development of the candidate, but not childcare costs. Travel costs for conferences, workshops and collaborations are included, making this grant ideal if you need financial help with mobility. More
Mobility grants in projects: A grant that finally makes mobility family-friendly
Not to be mixed up with Doc.mobility and Postdoc.mobility grants, this measure is available to male and female PhD students (sadly, not postdocs) who, for their career development, wish to spend 6 to 12 months abroad. The eligible person receives up to 20.000 CHF to cover travel and living costs as well as fees for conferences and workshops, plus 5000 CHF for each accompanying family member (partner/spouse/children). This allows covering part of the expenses of your family, should you wish to bring them with you abroad. It’s a win-win, where you obtain mobility without ‘abandoning’ your family. More

In addition, the following  measures are available to female researchers:

PRIMA: A grant that gives you five extra years to build your professorship with unprecedented flexibility
The grant provides up to 1.25M CHF for five years.,  It has broader eligibility criteria as compared to Ambizione, and is extremely flexible in its actuation, giving you almost complete freedom in terms of what you want to do, when and where. Only 10-12 excellent researchers will be awarded per year, to support female postdocs’ transition into professorship. More
Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) prize
Since 2009, this prize (worth 25.000 CHF) has been awarded annually to the most meritorious MHV grantee of the year. Since the SNSF will not launch any further calls for MHV grants, the exact conditions of this prize will change in the future. (website under construction)

Additional information on SNSF and UZH gender-specific action can be found here:


This text was provided by Maria Teresa Ferretti from the ZNZ Gender Equality Committee. The Committee would like to thank Mirjam Bastian and the Gender Equality Office at UZH for providing updated and faculty-specific graphs on leaky pipeline. Thanks to the Gender Equality Office of the SNSF for support with the gathering of SNSF-related information. We recommend consulting the original SNSF links for exact guidelines and eligibility criteria of all measures.

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