This year, Saskia Krijger won the second Athena Prize – a prize awarded to EUR staff members who strive towards diversity at the university – especially due to her role within the Mature Talents Programme at the Erasmus School of Economics. She was a little nonplussed: ‘I didn’t set up that programme’.

Saskia Krijger. Image credit: Michelle Muus

On Sunday, the phone rang at the Krijger residence. The chairperson of the Erasmus Network of Female Professors (ENVH), Hanneke Takkenberg, was on the line, announcing that Saskia Krijger, the committee secretary of the EUR Holding, had won the 2016 Athena Prize.

“I told her, ‘I’m honoured to win the prize’”, explains Krijger. “But I also queried why I was being awarded the prize now. According to Takkenberg, I was receiving the prize primarily due to the Mature Talent Programme at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), but that was actually founded by Philip Hans Franses, the dean of the ESE.”

Modesty is a virtue, yet the jury report depicts an image of a passionate woman who continuously argues for the furtherance of diversity, a woman who mentors other women within the organisation. “Often invisible to others, demonstrates enormous input in creating opportunities for women. A driving force.” Colleagues affirm her vital role, explains Krijger: “I said to a female colleague: ‘but I haven’t done anything though’. She then said I obviously didn’t realise what I meant to her and other women.”

Mature Talents Programme

As head of human resource management at the ESE, Krijger was responsible though for implementing the Mature Talents programme, a programme via which women are drawn from the enterprise sector to the university in order to obtain their doctorate and subsequently commence a career within the scientific sphere.

Each year, as of 2007, three or four women came. “Nearly all obtained their doctorate, one became chronically ill, and as a result pulled out. And, although some of the women returned to the enterprise sector after obtaining their doctorate, they did return to a higher position.” In her own words, Krijger’s role primarily involved ‘a lot of talking to people’. “What motivates them, what do they come up against, what opportunities are there? In that regard it’s more about clarification and information, after which individual choices can be made. In my opinion, diversity is very much about presenting a palette of choice, and the subsequent discussion thereof. Then it appears everyone is in an excellent position to select the path best suited to them.”

'No quota’

In this regard, Krijger opts for an approach that differs slightly from her associates’ in her fight for gender equality. Takkenberg, who is also chief diversity officer at the EUR, and Chair of the Board, Kristel Baele, argue for a ‘women quota’ in the selection of assistant professors, associate professors and professors. Moreover, the EUR has pledged that by 2025, at least a quarter of all professors will be women.

Krijger is opposed to a quota. “If you were to ask someone like Kirsten Rohde (endowed professor ESE, ES) her thoughts on this subject, she says: Nevereverever! She wishes to reach the top under her own steam. She doesn’t want to be helped in this particular way. Because, even when you don’t need that help, you’re always regarded as someone who came out on top via a quota. No, it must always be about the best candidate.”
Besides, an EUR women quota now working within a scientific sphere could even be a hindrance, says Krijger. A route to professorship is protracted. “You obtain your doctorate; it then takes you six years as an assistant professor to become an associate professor. Then it takes at least four years before you become an endowed professor. And then it’s a further four or eight years before you’re a professor. If one now starts filling the quota externally, there’ll be no place left later on for those presently in the process.

The next gap

Krijger also believes that, at present, the EUR focuses too much on a single aspect of diversity: it only looks at gender, but doesn’t look at origin or cultural background. “If we do nothing with the broader concept of diversity, and by that I don’t mean buying a professor directly from China or the US, but rather the recruitment of people that have a migrant background, then that is the next gap to close.”

Which is why a different project personally makes Krijger most proud: the ESE research traineeship, which she was involved with from the outset. “That is for ethnic minority students with a Dutch passport with foreign parents. They are allowed to work as a student-assistant with a good scientist one day a week for twelve months. They also attend a series of seminars on the possibilities of a scientific career. Of the forty in the programme, there are presently ten busy taking their doctorate, whilst just one said in advance that this was their intention. Some had never even heard of the possibility of taking a doctorate!”

'A man or someone from an ethnic minority group’

When asked for a nomination for next year, Krijger doesn’t immediately have a name to hand. She does though hope that the Athena Prize shall also have a ‘broader outlook’. “We’ve now had a female scientist and someone from support services. It would be wonderful if next year it could be a man who strives towards diversity, or perhaps someone from an ethnic minority group. Such a person can again be a role model for others.”