Gender quotas in academia – Challenges and opportunities

After conducting interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, the authors organized a closed workshop in Berlin, where options for the use of gender quotas were analyzed. The working group included gender researchers, heads of research institutes, funders and scientists. They discussed measures such as cascade models for hiring, quotas for the composition of committees, and equal success rates in funding schemes.

“There will be no perfect system to assure gender balance in academia and other research organizations,“ said Michele Garfinkel, Manager of the EMBO Science Policy Programme. “Some administrators and politicians may want to use quotas but this is not straightforward,” added Sandra Bendiscioli, Programme Officer. “Quotas require sensitive implementation. Moreover, they are not sufficient. Further changes in academic settings are necessary to assure that everyone has a fair chance.”

“The cascade model can be an effective type of quota setting,” commented Gerlind Wallon, EMBO Deputy Director. The cascade model envisages flexible quotas for female participation at various levels: The quota is calculated on the percentage of women at the level immediately below. “This seems a reasonable method that takes into account the number of available, qualified candidates. I would call this a smart quota,” added Wallon.

Quotas can produce an immediate increase of female representation in higher academic positions. Quotas, however, do not address two fundamental problems: significantly more men then women choose scientific and/or technology-based careers in the first place and, if women do choose this path, they tend to leave academia early.

Ingrid Wünning-Tschol, Senior Vice-President at the Robert Bosch Stiftung: “Gender inequality is a critical issue in academia. To increase the number of women at the highest career levels, every possible solution should be considered. Quotas are one potentially powerful option”.

A full list of participants in the project is available in the report. Gerlind Wallon, Sandra Bendiscioli and Michele Garfinkel from EMBO are the authors of the final report.

„Exploring quotas in academia“ was funded by a grant from the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The full report is available at

EMBO Science Policy Programme:
EMBO Women in Science Activities at
Robert Bosch Stiftung’s Women in Science Activities is available at

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The Robert Bosch Stiftung is one of the major German foundations associated with a private company. It holds 92 percent of the share capital of the Robert Bosch GmbH. Established in 1964, it represents the philanthropic endeavors of Robert Bosch (1861–1942), focussing on the fields of science, health, international relations, education, society, and culture. In Stuttgart, the Foundation maintains the Robert Bosch Hospital, the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute for Clinical Pharmacology, and the Institute for the History of Medicine. Between 1964 and 2014, the Foundation has made 1.3 billion euros available for projects. In 2014, approximately 68 million euros were spent on project funding. For more information:

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