Professor Alfonso Sánchez takes part on a discussion on Gender Equality in Academia at the University of Zurich

Are we moving towards gender equality in academia?

The NCCR Democracy Peer Group Women in Democracy Studies has organised a public event on the topic of Are we moving towards gender equality in academia? on 20th July, 2017 at the University of Zurich where a diverse array of professionals  came together to share their views on the state of gender equality in academia. Two thematic panels took place– one addressing the issue of innovative employment structures and the other on an equally important matter of mentoring and career development. Tapping into the invited guests’ rich experience and expertise, lively and open debates and discussions were undertaken.

For the first panel that seeks to examine the topic of reconciling academic and personal life with a gendered perspective The panellists which hail from a variety of backgrounds were not only able to inspire and offer their personal experiences in coping with the challenges of managing academic career progression and personal life aspirations, but also provided insightful advice and possibilities of innovative solutions for alternative employment opportunities.

Dr. Simon Bornschier for example shared about how he and his wife who is also a professor handled their academic careers while caring for their 6 year olds twins. He candidly admitted that the flexibility in academia, while a boon, may be a little idealised. Beyond the flexibility in the percentage of working hours and supporting families with childcare facilities and costs, it has been pointed out, rather interestingly, that some institutions are also able to accommodate co-chair sharing professorships.

Dr. Christiane Löwe who represents the gender equality office of the university affirmed this positive development and mentioned that this is something that is currently possible in the University of Zurich. As it has been well established that the ‘personal is political’, issues pertaining to work-life balance often reveal entrenched mind sets about gender roles which often spill over to the different pressures that men and women face in juggling their academic career and family life. Heated discussions regarding the complexities and contradictions that both genders are subject to had generated frank and also fresh perspectives from both panellists and audience members alike.

Prof. Dr. Alfonso Sánchez Carrasco who has a good exposure to different cultures having lived, studied and worked in 3 different countries offered a good comparative perspective of how different countries could set different gender roles and expectations that could influence the ability to manage the work-life balance. While no firm conclusions were delivered in light of the difficulty in casting a one size fits all solution for such a multi-dimensional issue, many conceded the need to undertake both institutional and societal efforts to continue enhancing prospects of having a good work-life balance for all, regardless of gender lines.


  • Moderator: Saskia P. Ruth, WIDE representative, University of Zurich
  • Simon Bornschier, Department of Political Science, University of Zurich
  • Christiane Löwe, Head of Office for Gender Equality, University of Zurich
  • Dr. Alfonso Sánchez Carrasco, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Universidad Loyola Andalucía

After the vibrant discourse on the challenges and possible solutions for achieving work-life balance, the second panel delves into another issue of equal salience, that of mentoring and career development and how does the gendered aspect play a part. A few key issues such as role models, mentoring and networking were explored as the panellists and the audience exchanged ideas and opinions on how these critical features of establishing a good academic career could be substantially shaped by gender. On the importance of role models and mentoring, as well as how could one go about in seeking one, divergent ideas were thrown out for an intense discussion.

Sylvia Jeney for instance thinks that it would be strategic to have a male mentor since that would increase your chances of career success since males dominated top ranked positions.

Dr. Saskia P. Ruth’s mentoring experiences were however rather different since she had encountered positive outcomes with both male and female mentors. The varied experiences of different people demonstrated that while it could just be a matter of personal preference whether one should seek out a role model and mentor belonging to the same gender, there are different dynamics and even outcomes regarding these decisions. In this day and age, who you know rather than what you know could make the difference so networking is undoubtedly very crucial for building up an academic career.

Dr. Christiane Löwe remarked that while she has personally observed a seemingly gendered way of networking, the university does offer workshops and course to boost the confidence of female academics who may have been diffident and are not fully optimising the potential of networking. The intricacies of the art of networking were highlighted and the interesting question of whether there is a gendered way of practising networking opens up the idea of different strategies that could be possibly adopted. There is no one definitive best practice but definitely some sound and practical pieces of advice to help all aspiring academics to pursue mentorship.


  • Moderator: Anna-Lena Scholz (ZEIT Chancen)
  • Sylvia Jeney, Equal Opportunities Office, Swiss National Science Foundation
  • Christiane Löwe, Head of Office for Gender Equality, University of Zurich
  • Saskia P. Ruth, WIDE representative, University of Zurich

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