“Some years ago, a dean told me that gender policies would not make a difference, as “women have different ambitions then men”. Up to that point, gender issues had not really interested me and I am still no expert in the matter. But that remark made me realise that action was perhaps necessary after all. Because mixed teams are nicer to work in and of course universities should attract all talent, male and female, and change does not happen automatically.
No ticking boxes
Last Monday, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft and Leiden University organised a session on women in science. Around 100 people were present, many of them with more expertise in gender issues than me, including my colleagues Simone Buitendijk from Leiden and Paulien van der Meer Mohr from Rotterdam. Nevertheless, I was asked to say something about gender in the EU Horizon 2020 programme and women at TU Delft.
Gender has been included as one of the criteria in Horizon 2020. The goal is to create gender balance in Horizon 2020 research teams, the decision making teams that decide which project proposal will be funded and in the content of the proposals, i.e. in all parts of the research cycle. So no ticking boxes, but real stuff.
Women are underrepresented in higher positions in academia. That is especially the case in science and engineering. At TU Delft, 26% of our students are women, 28% of our PhD candidates, and only 10% of our associate professors. We make progress (9% of our full professors are women; 10 years ago that was 4%), but slowly. Still, I do have hope that this will change.
Culture is changing
In education there is already a gender balance in programmes such as Life Science and Technology, Industrial Design, Architecture and Mathematics. The same is true for research areas like Water Management. We have female deans and directors. TU Delft’s “Fellowship” recruitment programme for women academics has attracted talents from around the globe. And most importantly: culture is changing. Recruiting talented women is normal and on the agenda of every faculty now.
So what makes the difference or who? Policies, targets, actions and perseverance. I also know that one person played an especially important role at TU Delft: Nynke Jansen, HR director until 2013. By showing the necessity and evidence, setting targets and defining the practical steps to get there: a world class university that is open to all talent.
This blog was published earlier on the website of TU Delft