Chief diversity officer Semiha Denktaş and Rector Magnificus Rutger Engels welcomed the guests and opened the conference. “I don’t want to talk about how important gender equality is, I want change,” Engels proclaimed. His address was followed by presentations from three external speakers.

Jadranka Gvozdanovic from Heidelberg University, who also represented the League of European Research Universities (LERU), gave her academic perspective on the subject. Karima Belhaj, an expert in managing diversity and inclusion in business, provided insight into the business perspective. And finally, Marjan Hammersma, secretary general at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, spoke about the government perspective on the issue.

Alarming pay gap

“We need incentives,” emphasised Gvozdanovic, focusing on the alarming gender pay gap in the academic and commercial worlds, across countries. She presented data obtained from ‘She figures’, a European Commission publication demonstrating that the gender pay gap in the Netherlands is substantially larger in the academic world (25 per cent in academia vs. 16 per cent in the commercial world). As a result of this inequity, the popular question among female professionals is “Do I continue in academia, or do I leave it?” said Gvozdanovic.

Not only in academic world

Following Gvozdanovic’s eye-opening presentation, Karima Belhaj stepped on stage to talk about her experiences in the world of ‘big money’, as she called it. Having worked at ING and NS, she openly disclosed that gender inequity and other diversity issues not only exist in the academic world but also beyond. She spoke of an inclusive work environment as a great stimulator for creativity and hard work. In order to promote diversity, however, she feels that three things are necessary. These are: robust structure, removing biases from the human resource processes and building an inclusive culture.

In reply to a question from a young woman on how to individually contribute to equity and deal with personal circumstances, Karima Belhaj answered: “We have a tough culture. Yes, there is exclusion, but it works both ways. Empower yourself!” She later stressed that all the successful women she had seen at the top shared one quality: tenacity.

New policy

The final speech addressed the measures currently being taken by the Dutch government. On behalf of the Ministry of Education, secretary-general Marjan Hammersma spoke of her hopes of achieving substantial improvements in the near future. “I think, I can’t promise yet”, she humorously responded to loud applause on mentioning a new policy on diversity that is being developed at the moment. “The Ministry should be an example of a diverse organisation itself,” she stressed.