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UZH News

Appointment Procedures

Fair Chances for Women

Who gets the coveted professorships, and why? UZH has developed new guidelines on professorial selection procedures. The new guidelines should also lead to the recruitment of more female professors.
Marita Fuchs


equal opportunity
The more balanced the relationship between men and women is, the lower the bias in joint decision-making.


The role of professor is one that comes with a great deal of responsibility – both for the development of a particular subject area and in relation to the university as a whole. Professorial appointment procedures are thus quite rightly careful, thorough and very complex affairs. As well as looking at the academic record, teaching skills and leadership abilities of the potential appointee, attention must also be paid to ensuring diversity and gender parity at the professorial level.

The proportion of female professors in European and Swiss higher education institutions continues to be low. While women are now in the majority among students at UZH, and 51.5 percent of PhD candidates are women, the proportion of women who hold a professorship is only 23.4 percent, though this percentage varies greatly across the different faculties.

The reason for the existing gender gap among professors is manifold – historical trends, structural issues, education policy, society’s expectations, social gender roles, to name a few. There has been awareness of the problem for quite some time now, and yet the proportion of women at professorship level is increasing more slowly than expected, despite many efforts to improve the situation.

Proactive search

In the context of reviewing and optimizing the professorial appointment procedures, the Executive Board of the University has decided to try to create a more level playing field. “To this end we have introduced several improvements,” says Christian Schwarzenegger, Vice President Faculty Affairs and Scientific Information. One new measure stipulates that at least one third of the members of a professorial appointment committee must be women – or men (i.e. no more than two thirds of members of the same sex may be represented).

The committee chairperson should have experience in appointment procedures in order to ensure the continuity and retention of knowledge and competence, as well as good leadership and the smooth running of processes in the committee. It is therefore also recommended that appointment committees are led by a faculty dean or a member of the faculty council.

In addition to simply advertising the job opening, particularly suitable female academics should be personally encouraged to apply. It is hoped that this gender-equitable approach to recruitment in the form of proactively searching for and personally approaching female academics during professorial appointment procedures will go some way to combating the underrepresentation of women among professors.

Scrutinize the quality criteria for academic performance

The academic notion of qualification that provides the basis for the selection criteria must be sufficiently broad and focus on quality. Guidelines are provided by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), of which UZH President Michael O. Hengartner is a signatory. The declaration criticizes the use of publication metrics such as the journal impact factor as quality criteria for academic performance. Since the fall of 2018, the Executive Board of the University has recorded data on the numbers of women and men who apply, are invited for interview, shortlisted and finally appointed as professors.

New regulations presented at network meeting

The new regulations for professorial appointment procedures were presented last week at the network meeting with the topic “Professorial Appointments in Focus. University Measures and Strategies” as part of the Gender Equality Action Plan 2017–20. The meeting is organized several times a year by the UZH Office for Gender Equality and deals with topics relating to equal opportunities at UZH.

All the measures cited are based on the “Open, Transparent and Merit-Based Recruitment of Researchers” (OTMR) project, a sub-project of the Gender Equality Action Plan 2017–20 which focuses on increasing the proportion of women appointed as professors at UZH. Professor Gabriele Siegert, Deputy President and Vice President Education and Student Affairs, is in charge of this project.

The OTM-R package includes a checklist, a toolkit and best-practice examples. The aim is to make the appointment procedures more transparent and more directly related to achievements, and to make sure decisions are more easily justifiable, from a structural and organizational as well as individual perspective. Measures include for example guidelines and regulations relating to quality criteria and gender equality, and training opportunities for committee members.

A additional benefit of these measures is that implementing the OTM-R will help UZH meet the Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) criteria, a current requirement for appointments within Horizon 2020 projects, said project leader Nina Jakoby.

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