For the last 12 years, I have had the pleasure and privilege to serve as the Director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) and as a professor at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) Zurich and Lausanne (EPFL). My affiliations have afforded me a rare opportunity to observe the structure and governance of academic institutions and to reflect on my own experience in institutional leadership. I have attempted to place my experience in the context of the literature on leadership, particularly that relating to women and academia. On the basis of my experience and reading, I make some recommendations for women faculty, for women in positions of institutional leadership in academia, and for academic institutions. I am deeply convinced that greater participation by women (and members of other under-represented groups) in institutional leadership is needed if academia is to make a meaningful contribution to addressing the huge challenges that face humanity.