Organisation - November 22, 2018

‘We could make better use of our differences’

Tessa Louwerens

PhD graduate Fokje Schaafsma dedicated one of the propositions in her thesis to differences between men and women. On our way to greater equality, we shouldn’t seek to erase these differences, she feels. ‘Precisely the mix in a group is important.’

Fokje Schaafsma graduated with a PhD on 16 November for her study of the role of sea ice in marine ecosystems.

Proposition: ‘Gender equality is the acceptance that women are not, and don’t need to be, men’

‘Sometimes I get the impression that people think gender equality means that men and women have to be the same. Or in fact, that women have to be the same as men, or even a bit more ‘masculine’. I feel that underlying this is the idea that certain ‘feminine’ qualities, such as being emotional, vulnerable and caring, are forms of weakness. Whereas such feminine qualities aren’t necessarily at all disadvantageous. There are studies, for instance, that show that more empathy and consideration for each other, rather than acting very directly and competitively, lead to better business results in the end.

The mix in a group is precisely what’s important. Of course the difference is not a matter of black and white, and of course there are men who are very empathic and women who are very direct. And I certainly don’t mean this as an attack on men; I just think we could value our differences more, and make better use of them.

Luckily for me, I don’t feel I am taken less seriously at my work because I’m a woman. Although I wouldn’t easily mention that I’m suffering from period pain, because I feel like you are supposed to keep that sort of thing to yourself. And you do hear stories, for example about employees who see it as inconvenient if women get pregnant. Of course it might be inconvenient sometimes, but it’s just part of life.

I think it’s important to distinguish between being equal and being the same. In the Netherlands we get equal opportunities but I think the image of women as the ‘weaker sex’ still persists. Both among men and women. It’s gradually changing and it’s already a lot less than it used to be. I hope we can change our thinking in future, but I think it will take more time.’