It is a well-known fact that Erasmus University has few female professors. In her lunchtime lecture at De Nieuwe Poort on Tuesday afternoon, Kristel Baele, the President of EUR’s Executive Board, put forward her views on diversity, but she did not have much to offer in the way of specific solutions.

“Today I would like to talk to you about what it’s like to be different from the people around you,” was the opening line of Baele’s lecture. In 1983, Baele travelled from Belgium to the Comoros, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Madagascar, Africa.

“When I got off the plane, I was surrounded by black people. I felt vulnerable, and realised what it must be like to be a black person arriving in a white country. It was a lesson in humility that I have never forgotten.”

Trial and error

From there, Baele moved on to the policies she is implementing at Erasmus University. “By trial and error, we are now taking steps to make the university more diverse and inclusive, but it remains hard to do justice to diversity,” she explained.

“You see, eighty to ninety percent of people suffer from implicit bias. People unconsciously have prejudiced ideas about groups of the population or genders that significantly inform their behaviour. This is an important reason why only twelve percent of professors at our university are women.”

Not too specific

When it came to measures that could be taken to solve this problem, Baele’s lecture was not particularly specific. She seemed to be about to launch into plans for action when she quoted the philosopher Maureen Sie: “Prevent our prejudiced minds (which are implicitly biased with regard to male/female relations) from having to select professors. Implement a female professor quota to safeguard parity.”

But then she quickly put this into perspective by citing the psychologist Wiebren Jansen: “A one-sided focus on minorities may result in members of the majority – in our case, men and Dutch people with a Dutch background – feeling excluded.”


After quoting these two scholars, Baele drew the following diplomatic-sounding conclusion: “If we wish to establish a genuinely inclusive and vigorous organisation and society, all parties will have to be committed.” And in order to facilitate this commitment and connectedness, she brought up the concept of compassion. “This means learning to live in sympathy of all living beings, without any exceptions.” She concluded her lecture with a Buddhist wish for protection against implicit bias:

The thought manifests as the word;

The word manifests as the deed;

The deed develops into habit;

And habit hardens into character;

So watch the thought and its ways with care,

And let it spring from love;

Born out of concern for all beings.

“So let me ask you,” Baele said. “What thoughts manifest as your words?”