LEAP – Leadership and Excellence for Aspiring Postdocs is a Mentorship Programme with external mentors tailored for female postdocs who want to pursue a career in academia. It was made possible thanks to donations from the EMBL network of supporters: the Friends of EMBL.

The LEAP Mentorship Programme will provide advanced training and personal support to female post-doctoral fellows to become Group Leaders/Principle investigators/Assistant Professors in their field. The programme is part of EMBL’s larger goal and commitment to advance the leadership role of women in science. Scientific institutions have been facing challenges in attracting and retaining women in senior academia roles. While the ratio of female to male scientists is roughly equal for females at the Ph.D. level (or even higher: 60% at EMBL), many women decide not to pursue a Group Leader/Professorship position following their postdoctoral studies. This results in a strong gender imbalance in the number of applicants for academic faculty positions. This suggests that the gender imbalance in Group Leader/Professorship positions in academia stems primarily from the initial aspirations or uncertainty of women to pursue such positions, rather than in the success of those that choose to do so. These data point to a need to engage our fellows early to better prepare them for academic Group Leader/Professorship positions and foster and cultivate latent ambitions in this direction. It is imperative to address this leaky pipeline as academic institutions are, at present, losing a large proportion of the potential talent pool and even a small increase in the number of women applying for academic faculty positions could have a major impact on the quality and diversity of academic science.

The LEAP Mentorship Programme aims to increase the percentage of female EMBL postdoctoral fellows who pursue and obtain Group Leader/Professorship positions in academia. The programme will boost research in our member states by providing more talented and motivated women scientists to their faculty recruitment pools and could have the knock-on benefit of attracting more women to pursue postdoctoral training at EMBL. The initial pilot project will run for two years (2020-2021), and aims to enrol 15-20 postdoctoral fellows. The programme will be evaluated after completion of the pilot and expanded if deemed sufficiently successful and funding permits. A future expansion of the programme will explore the possibility of extending the program to other underrepresented researchers.