Hanneke Takkenberg is chair of the Dutch Network of Women Professors until 1 January and is both a professor at Erasmus MC and the Rotterdam School of Management and co-executive director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations. She was chief diversity officer at Erasmus University until 2018 and previously set up VENA, Erasmus MC’s network for women academics.
The most important message in the 2022 Monitor was that we need to get the position of women academics back on the diversity agendas of Dutch universities. How come?
“We’re seeing the growth stagnate. Many universities have reached their 25 percent target, and some boardmembers take the view that the remaining growth will happen organically. In the discussions we held with several executive boards, I sensed that they felt the matter was more or less done and dusted and that they were keen to shift their focus to other forms of diversity. That always annoys me. It’s not about working your way down a checklist of all the different groups.
“It’s not that devoting attention to other forms of diversity isn’t important – but when it comes to it, we need to make progress in terms of diversity and inclusion for all rather than just ticking boxes for different groups.”
So it won’t happen organically?
“No. Attention has slackened recently. This is obvious from the figures, and it’s such a shame now that the finish line is in sight.
“The Monitor shows that progress is being made in terms of the number of associate professors, which is great. However, the inflow of women academics through PhD and assistant professor positions isn’t growing, and that’s concerning. On top of that, we don’t have an overview of the outflow. Even though universities are doing their utmost to appoint women, the effects are disappointing. All those efforts will have come to nothing if there’s an exodus of women at the other end due to a culture of microaggression and inadequate social safety.
“You can see that when the focus slackens, everything automatically reverts to the standard position.”
But hasn’t a great deal been done in recent years by drawing attention to social safety, and through the Recognition and Reward programme to foster other career opportunities?
“Yes, all sorts of things are being done at the individual level for women academics and within the organisation, with new structures like the Recognition & Rewards programme. That diversification of the reward component is all well and good, but would a women academic formulate the same narrative as a man? The gender aspect needs to be factored into this policy as well. It could be that men enlist the services of a copywriter to make a real impression, whereas women adopt a more modest approach, which might make their narrative less appealing as a result.
“Obviously, it’s great to see that teaching activities are now included in performance reviews. But what the Monitor reveals is that men are heading up research institutes and women are heading up teaching institutes. We addressed this point with Minister of Education, Culture and Science Dijkgraaf last week and he hadn’t really given it much thought.
“Social safety is about so much more than having extra confidential counsellors and red buttons on a website. Universities are fixating on fixing problems rather than preventing them in the first place.
So what else needs to be done?
“We need to learn to treat each other differently. The academic community of today has to dedicate itself to reducing hierarchical relationships and dependencies on those higher up. Focus more on cooperation, less on competition. It’s those underlying traits of academia that are inhibiting the career progression of women and others outside the norm and prompting them to leave.
“There’s still some way to go when it comes to that cultural shift. As the saying goes: culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
And yet, isn’t it right and proper that university administrators are looking beyond the position of women in their diversity policy and also focusing on other disadvantaged groups? One criticism is that, until recently, diversity policy mainly meant helping white women to be promoted to professor.
“I don’t see that as a criticism. The LNVH’s new strategy broadens our focus, rather than shifting away from our specific focus on women. We’re there for all women in academia, not just professors. Besides, the LNVH has moved forward as well this year by also counting the number of non-binary academics. In addition, we’re looking at the academics’ passport nationality.
“I believe that having a stimulus policy in place for women academics will have a knock-on effect on other non-white-male groups. The rise in the number of women in influential positions will automatically foster a greater degree of diversity, too.
“Another thing we’re focusing on is cooperation with other interest groups, such as ECHO, which is striving for cultural diversity in higher education. I think it would make more sense to set up a network of networks rather than putting all our eggs in one basket.”
Is there competition between the various interest groups?
“Not at the moment, but I can sense it coming. The diversity agenda is shifting towards inclusivity, which we’re championing too. Everyone is trying to promote their own interests, and collectively the common good – for all groups, including men. Plenty of men are trapped in a masculine culture that they don’t like.
“We need to consider men’s emancipation as well. After all, men would be better off if there was less infighting among them and more of a community that is robust enough to tackle future challenges.”