Organisation - September 19, 2012

Women professors still a minority

There are very few women professors in Wageningen. Only nine percent of the structural chairs in Wageningen are occupied by women, while the average in other universities is 20 percent.

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'This is a matter of concern,' says Frances Brazier, chair of the Dutch Network of Women Professors, and professor of Informatics in Delft. 'The number of women professors will not increase automatically; that requires policy changes.' She spoke this month with Wageningen rector Martin Kropff.
It is notable that there are more than 50 percent of female students and the male-female ratio among PhD candidates and postdocs is 50-50. 'But then it stops there,' says Brazier. 'That's cultural. Women are just as talented and work just as many hours as men. But the academic culture is not always what they have in mind. So they perform differently from men and they are less often selected by appointment committees.' Therefore, there should always be two woman professors in an appointment committee, Brazier feels.
But we are already doing the latter, responds rector Martin Kropff. He also sees the problem. The percentage of women has fallen in the last few years, because three women professors have retired and very few women have been appointed as professors. For example, the three recently appointed soil professors are all men. 'We looked actively for women for these chairs, but the three best candidates are men. And quality goes above everything else in our selection criteria.'
According to Brazier, women candidates who are just as good are available, but finding them is a challenge. 'Very often, they are outside The Netherlands. You would also need a headhunting plan.' Kropff comments: 'I want to have more foreign professors, including women, but finding candidates who meet our chair profiles remains tricky. In Wageningen, we often have academic niche topics for which there are not many, including women, to choose from.  
However, the rector remains optimistic. 'We do already have many women professors holding a personal chair and professors by special appointment.  And we have a tenure track policy, where we offer talented researchers a career path leading to appointment as a personal professor. It's a success, and more than half of these talents are women. We also give specific attention to talented women in our leadership development and supervisory programmes.' Kropff expects that these measures will ensure that more talented women can move on to regular professor positions in time to come.

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