Mr Schinkel does not seem to understand in his article ‘JOVD, Stay Out of the Diversity Debate’ that JOVD is concerned about the direction the diversity debate at Erasmus University is taking, and that JOVD seeks to clarify the opinions held by several students and members of staff to EUR’s Executive Board, just like the authors and signatories of the open letter did.

The main reason why we are voicing our opinion on Erasmus University’s diversity policy is because many of our members are EUR students, and many of these members have their reservations about the course on which the university has embarked with regard to diversity. They are wondering whether they will still have the best lecturers when gender rather than proven quality is the main criterion used in recruitment procedures. Moreover, the new diversity policy basically amounts to EUR saying that female professors are inferior to male professors. The university is choosing to prioritise a professor’s gender over what should be the main criterion used in recruitment procedures, which is the quality of the candidates. We seek to use messages such as this one to try and voice different opinions on the subject of diversity. Lastly, we feel that the diversity debate should be about more than just gender. In our opinion, diversity should be about a variety of individual characteristics rather than solely about gender.

Demographic changes

Let us begin by providing an explanation on the demographic changes to which we are referring. In 1998 EUR only had five female professors. By 2016, this number had risen to 74.[1] This amounts to 16% of the current 462 professors. Moreover, by year-end 2016, 52.3% of all EUR employees were female. When we look at the university’s student population and women’s employment rate, we can see that women’s participation in tertiary education and the labour market has grown immensely since the 1990s. Among younger generations, highly educated women now outnumber highly educated men. The figures also show that despite the fact that the employment rate of women has increased immensely since the 1990s, a remarkable number of Dutch women have part-time jobs. At present, less than 15% of women work full time.[2] In other words, women still often choose to work fewer hours than men. As a result of this decision, women tend to gain less experience in their chosen fields than their male counterparts who are the same age.

Dutch women make a conscious decision to work part time, and no one forces them to make this decision. However, we must recognise that this decision may affect their career options. High-ranking positions such as professorships require a certain amount of experience, hard work and most of all, a willingness to focus exclusively on one’s work, at the expense of other aspects of life. Therefore, JOVD Rijnmond calls on all female EUR students who aspire to high-ranking positions to make an explicit choice in favour of their careers. If a leadership position is what you seek, devote yourself 100% to attaining the goal you wish to attain, even if it means giving up on other aspects of your life.

Furthermore, it is vital that we remember that the composition of a group of professors will always lag some twenty years behind the composition of the student body at any given faculty. Female students have only recently begun to make up the majority of all students. By now they also make up the majority of successful PhD candidates. As a result of this trend, the number of female professors will grow of its own accord.

It is also clear from the figures that women who do manage to be appointed to professorships tend to leave their positions much sooner than their male counterparts, which constitutes a further setback to the universities’ attempt to bring the number of female professors in line with trends in the student body, because the number of female professors leaving academia exceeds that of male professors doing the same.

Many changes are currently taking place that may increase the female employment rate. For instance, the new Cabinet allows fathers to take more days off after the births of their children, fathers are more likely to take one day per week off to look after their children, and social attitudes to mothers and women who work full time are changing. All these facts may cause women to become more likely to work the same number of hours as men. This, in turn, may cause women to be able to devote more time and effort to their work and thus to gain more experience. We feel that this will make a greater contribution to women’s equality than the introduction of a counterproductive quota.

Quota for women holding professorships

Which brings us to an explanation of where JOVD got the idea that a gender quota was being imposed at EUR. Even if we were unable to read between the lines, a new article has just informed us that nine new female professors will be appointed by February 2018.[3] Only women will be able to be appointed to these nine chairs. After that, there will be new targets to be achieved. By 2020, 20% of all professors must be female, up to 25% by 2025. Naturally, targets are not the same as quotas. However, we fear that measures such as quotas will be used to ensure these targets are achieved. Moreover, we feel that this hiring of nine professors who must be female sounds suspiciously like a well-disguised attempt at introducing a quota.

The reason why we object to quotas is because they do not alter the root cause of a problem. They are merely designed to resolve the consequences of an underlying problem. As a result, such measures may well be counterproductive. Take, for example, Norway,[4] where a mandatory quota for female representation in the supervisory boards of listed companies was introduced in 2003. Since 2003, the supervisory boards of Norwegian listed companies have had to have a female participation rate of 40%. Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study on the consequences of this drastic reform and came to the conclusion that the introduction of this quota had resulted in deteriorating performance and decreased profit margins. Furthermore, the quota resulted in Norwegian supervisory boards being less experienced. JOVD Rijnmond fears that the introduction of a quota at EUR will have a similar effect. The Norwegian example shows once again that proven quality should always outweigh the wish to promote diversity.

Diversity debate

JOVD Rijnmond would like to see the diversity debate conducted in a different manner – focusing on individual characteristics rather than gender. We feel it is more important that teams boast a wide range of different personal characteristics, educational backgrounds, ideologies and individual qualities. JOVD Rijnmond has noticed that many professors, columnists and individuals wrongfully attribute certain characteristics to certain genders. For instance, women are supposed to be better at collaboration, while men are supposed to be better at taking risks. However, introducing a quota will not necessarily help EUR achieve the objectives inherent in this assumption. There are plenty of women who, judged on these characteristics, fit into the masculine culture, as Mr Schinkel showed very nicely in his plea. If a gender-based quota is introduced, there is a good chance that the positions will be filled with rather masculine women, which will not exactly promote diversity. Therefore, we feel that the actual matter at hand is being ignored because people are too busy focusing on the means and not on the ends. A diversity policy should steer us towards a debate on individual characteristics rather than a debate on hiring men or women.

We would like to close this letter by calling on Mr Schinkel to visit JOVD some time and enter into a respectful debate on diversity with us. We would like to grant him the opportunity to explain his views on the matter, after which we will be able to have a conversation on the views and opinions held by the various parties to the debate. Perhaps this conversation will allow us to gain a better understanding of the other party’s views and opinions and bring us closer together.

Puck van Putte, Chair of the JOVD Rijnmond