News - December 11, 2015

Impose gender balance?

Rob Ramaker

Wageningen University has the smallest proportion of female full professors of any university in the Netherlands, revealed the Dutch ‘Monitor of female professors’ recently. And it hasn’t gone up in the last 12 years. Time to up the pressure?

Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek

Liesje Mommer, Professor of Plant Ecology and Nature Management


‘I am ashamed to be working for an organization which scores so badly on gender balance. This way we neglect potential, because it has been proven incontrovertibly that diverse teams achieve more. What is more, a better gender balance makes the organization more open to minorities. Personally I do not favour quotas as such but it is a fact that nothing has changed in 12 years, so something must be done. I think it’s time to set targets per science group. We need a clear statement from the head office on the importance of this theme. And all members of appointment committees – especially those appointing a chair-holding professor – should be trained in gender awareness.’

Bert Holtslag, Professor of Meteorology


‘It is not clear to me why the monitor only looked at chair-holding professors. At Wageningen it is among the personal professors that you see the number of women increasing, and elsewhere no distinction is made between chair-holding professors and personal professors. So I would count all professors, otherwise it is an unfair comparison. And I don’t know how you can increase the number of women professors except through participation in tenure track. Targets - such as 30 percent women among new professors – were already suggested a few years ago by a committee I was on myself. They were rejected by the executive board of the time.’

Katrien Termeer, Professor of Public Administration and Policy

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‘There is a need for more ambition, at any rate. It is a good thing for the university to say it aims at a balanced ratio of men to women and more professors from all around the world. But I think you should be cautious about imposing rules. As a woman you want to be appointed because you are the best candidate, not because of a quota. The most you can do is to require appointment committees to invite at least one woman for interview. What you can do is to change incentives. Currently at Wageningen you get four months’ deferment for pregnancy, while at the NWO you get a year. What is more, this is funded by the chair group and not from a joint fund. That discourages chair groups from appointing women.’

Bart Thomma, Professor of Phytopathology


‘This is a sorry and shameful state of affairs. For me, it is no excuse that we score better if you look at all the professors, not just at full professors. There is obviously still a glass ceiling somewhere. I don’t know what we can do about this in the short term. You can of course argue that it is time for quotas. But I don’t think you do women any favours that way because you are really saying woman don’t seem able to make it by themselves. One option that has never been looked at seriously, I think, is talent-scouting. There have been coaching initiatives but at an earlier stage too you can consciously go looking for talented woman.’

Ellen Kampman, Professor of Nutrition and Disease


‘The organization needs to pay systematic attention to gender balance and that is why it is importance to allocate funding to this. There is already an action plan led by Kristina Raab, but she is paid from Aspasia funds from the NWO. It is not clear whether her contract will be renewed. I think we’ll be missing an opportunity if this action plan isn’t taken any further. Let’s follow the example of the business world, where the gender balance at the top is already much better. A good start has been made in Wageningen. Now we must keep going with training appointment committees, creating woman-friendly job advertisements and scouting for women in a targeted way. It is also good to get women students to start thinking about their careers at an earlier stage.’

Wouter Hendriks, Professor of Animal Nutrition

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‘I’ve done two gender awareness workshops myself. There we discovered that we’ve all got prejudices – mindbugs. That is in the system, at every level of the organization. I think Human Resources should pursue a policy aimed at getting more woman professors. You can make sure everyone on an appointments committee has taken that workshop, for instance. Of course you want to appoint the best candidate but you must also actively look for suitable women in your network – and above all outside it. I am much more aware of how I deal with these things now – for example when we were looking for ‘opponents’ for a PhD graduation recently.’

Marian Stuiver, Chair of the WUR Council


‘This absolutely must be given more priority. We need clear-cut goals at every level of the organization. That means for every type of professor as well as for the executive board and the supervisory board, which are now almost all-male. Wageningen UR sets clear-cut goals in relation to every theme we commit ourselves to, so why not here? And it’s not just a matter of gender but of diversity across the board. Everyone who plays a decisive role in appointing professors and managers should take a course in gender awareness. Including women. They are just as prone to the unconscious prejudice that leaders are male. One of our requests to the executive board is to continue with the current gender action plan after its term ends in March. We must keep it up now.’