She leaves an unfillable hole at the group’s table. The group that came together several years ago: Dianne organised a lunch and invited Semiha Denktaş, Professor at ESSB and chief diversity officer at the university, and Hanneke Takkenberg, Professor at Erasmus MC and chair of the National Network of Women Professors, calling it: Three female professors having lunch.

Infectious energy

Sometimes they were joined by other women, from the academy or from industry. One time, Rotterdam-based lingerie queen Marlies Dekkers talked about entrepreneurship and what she had learned from her bankruptcy. One of the last times, they met at a sort of snack bar run by a woman. “Dianne brought a positive energy when she came into the room, and that was infectious: we always had a laugh,” says Denktaş.

Which is how the third professor at the table, Hanneke Takkenberg, remembers her too. Last April, she took over Bevelander’s tasks at the ECWO. “Dianne was slightly less political than I am,” Takkenberg chuckles. As chief diversity officer at EUR, she didn’t hold back either. “She was direct and compelling and could be pretty insistent in getting her own way, so that you ended up thinking: what happened there? But she got away with it and got things done.”

European funding

However, she didn’t always have things easy at RSM with her battle to draw attention to gender inequality and female leadership. “She got more support for her work outside the university than inside,” says Takkenberg. It was only in the last few years that the business faculty started to take note of these themes. In 2019, they could no longer get around Bevelander and her ECWO when she won 3 million euros in European research funding for removing obstacles to the recruitment, retention and career development of female researchers.

But Bevelander’s work transcended the ECWO alone. One of Takkenberg’s fondest memories of Bevelander is the event in 2017, when young girls from secondary school were able to spend a day with a female professor and do workshops. “That was Dianne’s idea. It was amazing what happened there. That day I learned what swag was; how those girls left the hall with so much swag to apply what they had learned the next day. That made such an impression on me.”


And then there was her illness – cancer – in recent years. Two years ago, just before her sixtieth birthday, when she heard that it was terminal, she gave a big party on the SS Rotterdam. Her father used to work on a cruise ship, and as a child she often travelled with him. She asked all the guests – men and women – to come as the person they had always wanted to be. “There were hippies, farmers and witches, and we all had to do an act,” Takkenberg remembers. “I came as a witch, magicked myself away and reappeared as Michelle Obama. I used Obama’s speech with an alternative text about Dianne.” Dianne was dressed in traditional South African clothing as a tribute to the country she was born in.

“She taught me that women can lead wherever they are,” says Takkenberg. “Whether you are very young or at the top of an organisation, you can lead through your own strength. And she taught me that women should not only be assertive for themselves but also for each other. Sisterhood.”

Great pioneer

Takkenberg calls Bevelander a great pioneer for ‘gender balanced leadership’ at Erasmus University. “With ECWO via the Women in Academia programme and various workshops and events, she encouraged many ambitious female academics to take the next step in their careers and to support each other. As such, she was very significant for Erasmus University, and her influence will continue to be felt in the coming years via the networks of women she inspired. We will continue to promote Dianne’s vision of ‘a world where women have an equal share of organisational power and influence’.”

Liesbeth Noordergraaf, left, presents Dianne Bevelander, right, with the FAME Athena Award at the Dies Natalis 2019. Image credit: Ronald van den Heerik