NWO accelerates the career of 112 female top scientists

17 April 2015

Between 2010 and 2012, the NWO funding programme Aspasia made a contribution to increasing the number of female professors in the Netherlands. This is clear from the evaluation held in 2014. A total of 112 female top scientists obtained a tenured appointment more quickly and in a higher position than they originally had. This included 18 new professors. There is strong and widespread support from researchers and their employers for the Aspasia programme. The influence of Aspasia on the diversity policy of the research institutions is, however, limited.

The aim of Aspasia is to enable more female assistant professors to gain promotion to associate professors or full professors. The Aspasia grants of 100,000 and 200,000 euros are linked to the individual Vidi and Vici grants of NWO. In 2015 the budget for Aspasia is 7 million euros. That is an increase of the planned budget by 4 million euros compared to 2014.


Aspasia exists since 1999 and is periodically evaluated. The most recent evaluation was held among 24 representatives of research institutes, 40 Aspasia laureates and 10 Aspasia candidates. The candidates were nominated but their promotion was not realised. The evaluation showed that in the period 2010-2012, 166 women were nominated for the Aspasia grant. In the end more than two thirds of these nominations (112 women) were accepted. This is a considerable and highly promising number that makes a significant contribution to the promotion of women in science. In particular, a large proportion of the women are supported in the step to become associate professors.

Furthermore, the funding instrument was widely supported by both researchers and their employers. A large majority of the respondents considers Aspasia to be a welcome and effective support for the careers of women in academic positions. According to the laureates the strengths of the programme are the influence on the promotion from an associate to full professorship, more financial resources for research, and an increased awareness of the problems faced by female scientists and these being made more visible. As weaker points the respondents stated (responses to) the positive discrimination, the size of the grant, and the limited attention for the change in mentality about diversity.

Follow-up actions

Following the evaluation, the Governing Board of NWO has decided to make 7 million euros available for the programme in 2015. How the policy grant is spent is a point for attention. This is the part (50,000 euros) of the Aspasia grant that must be used by the employers of the Aspasia researchers for activities that facilitate the career progression of female scientists. The evaluation revealed that this part is mainly used to support ad hoc initiatives that often only have a temporary effect and benefit just a limited number of female scientists. NWO will address the institutions concerned about a new setup with a clearer guideline for spending the policy grant so that a structural embedding in the diversity policy of the institutions is safeguarded in the future.

NWO and gender diversity

Gender diversity policy is a focus point for NWO. Aspasia is part of a package of measures that must lead to an equal representation of women and men in science. The proportion of women in academic positions is gradually rising, but at a slow rate. In 2012 the percentage of female professors in the Netherlands was 15.7%. Unless this rate increases it will be 2058 before there are just as many female as male professors in the Netherlands. (Source: Monitor Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren (Dutch))



Further information

Source: NWO