Could you explain in more detail what the ETH WPF does and how it sees its role? What benefits does the network provide?

        
We founded the ETH WPF as an independent association. We took the idea for the forum from Yale University, whose women faculty supported us in the early stages. We asked ETH Zurich for permission to use the ETH label for our association, and that was approved. We then formulated our vision, guidelines, etc. in writing.
The advantage of being organized as a network is that one professor does not dominate all the others. The network is based on the views of the majority, even if our views sometimes differ. The concerns of one person are seen as individual, which is not the case with a group. It’s much more difficult to dismiss the concerns of an entire group, or to claim that all options have been exhausted. We believe our inputs are constructive suggestions for improvements, and hope it is not perceived as complaints!
We define the ETH WPF as an active network, which can also serve as a sounding board for the ETH Executive Board. Because the challenges are not the same in every ETH Department, we believe it makes sense to adopt a tailored approach to increasing the proportion of women. A rigid standard procedure is not helpful if it leads to administrative barriers and unnecessary regulations, is timeconsuming, and does not create enough added value. With our groups’s depth of experience, we are in a good position to help and advise the Executive Board on our concerns, for example in relation to decision criteria for appointment procedures.
One key concern, for example, is the composition of the committees. Younger women, in particular, should not be overburdened with this kind of committee work, as they need to concentrate on their research. Getting experienced women professors to serve on these committees is certainly preferable, although this option is limited by the low numbers of women available. Secondly, it’s impossible to rule out stereotyped perceptions – in men or women – in appointment procedures. This kind of bias needs to be actively addressed, for example through self-testing, followed by training on mechanisms which have been shown scientifically to reinforce or reduce prejudices. Thirdly, in the selection procedure, consideration should be given specifically to female candidates, or the search may even – as in affirmative action – be restricted to female candidates, so as to actively increase the representation of women in the various disciplines. This has worked very well at MIT. Following the example of the University of Zurich, we also formulated recommendations for appointment procedures, which we were invited to present at a meeting of ETH Zurich’s Executive Board.
We have also made the Scientific Lunch a key professional platform. In the first part of these one-hour lunchtime events, one member gives a presentation on her research interests and important career decisions. In the second part, people have a chance to talk informally with other women professors over a sandwich. Later, as they’ve seen or met each other at these lunches, which are held three times a semester, people find it easier to get in touch again. The main advantage of the lunches is the opportunity for networking: women obtain better access to important information. In the ETH WPF, we can offer each other advice and support. Sharing of knowledge and good practices are very important. One can find out, for example, where a certain idea has been implemented or a new process introduced. Ideas are less likely to be dismissed if one can show that they’ve been successfully implemented in another Department. In addition, senior professors in the ETH WPF can draw on their experience to support assistant professors.
Our network continues to grow: the ETH WPF has been expanded to include the EPF Lausanne. In addition, we’ve become a model for others: our women physics students recently set up their own association.
I’ve also benefited in a personal way from founding this network: in the various ETH Departments, women are often relatively isolated. Through the ETH WPF, I’ve met a lot of new female colleagues. Some of these acquaintanceships have developed into friendships. All these exchanges, personal contacts and relationships have been very rewarding for me personally. It is also just great to see all the exciting work being done by the women professors at ETH!
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