“Women's Day should be everyone's day”

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“Women's Day should be everyone's day”

For more than a hundred years the Netherlands has celebrated International Women's Day. As we are doing today, Friday March 8th. This year's theme is Heroines. For Evangelia Demerouti, Chief Diversity Officer at TU/e, a day like this is not just about women.“For me, it's about making sure everyone here feels welcome and included, that's our aim.”

Of course, TU/e is aiming to increase the women in its ranks: 20 percent of professors should be women by 2020, as our university has agreed with the government.

But for a long time now, women haven't been the only group bringing diversity to the organization. “If you're talking about diversity and inclusion, then it's about men, women, people with a disability, internationals; everyone,” says Evangelia Demerouti, professor at the Human Performance Management group (IE&IS) and TU/e's Chief Diversity Officer.

We're aiming for an inclusive work environment

Within Demerouti's group a study was recently completed of how TU/e employees assess their work environment and how they experience its inclusivity. “It's about having a sense of belonging, your sense of wellbeing, regardless of who or what you are. When people feel like this, we have an inclusive work environment, and that's our aim,” explains PhD candidate Janna Behnke. She started working on her doctorate in 2018, on the topic of diversity and inclusivity, and it was she who set up the study with, among others, her supervisor Sonja Rispens. The aim was to investigate how TU/e can support its employees and ensure it is an attractive employer.

Work pressure

One of the most important findings of this study is that the work pressure, as it is experienced by both men and women, has not changed in recent years; employees still feel the same level of pressure. When men experience work pressure, they perform better. “The more is asked of them, the better they perform,” says Demerouti. Exhaustion has decreased a little compared to previous studies. The enthusiasm of TU/e employees has increased. All this is good news, says the Chief Diversity Officer.

In many areas there was little or no difference between male and female respondents. Performance is at the same level, as is wellbeing.

So what's the situation with inclusivity and diversity among TU/e employees? “If you create an inclusive and diverse environment in which people help each other more, feel at home and feel they can be themselves,” says Demerouti, “it has only positive effects. This really boosts academic work and creativity. People learn from each other and benefit from one another's networks.”

Awareness

Women think more positively about diversity, that a diverse organization is valuable. Men perceive greater diversity at TU/e than women do. These views were revealed by the survey. “If we want to increase belief in diversity among men, we need to increase inclusivity,” says Demerouti. “Then diversity has a positive effect. But the question is how we can achieve this. Even if we only manage to create awareness, I'll be happy. And not only in order to recruit more women. No, we are doing this for everyone at our university.”

For the rest, women stated that they behave in an inclusive way more often than men did: by having lunch with colleagues, having a chat, showing interest and respect, regardless of someone's background.

The work obligations experienced by TU/e employees and other work-related matters that sap energy, like work pressure and conflicts at work, stifle the positive feeling of diversity and inclusivity. “The more pressure, the less the feeling of inclusivity,” says Demerouti. This applies to both men and women. Matters that boost energy, by contrast, relate positively to inclusivity and diversity, such as access to information and equal opportunities for employees. “It's a shame that we don't know what's cause and what's effect here.” It will be possible to say more about this in two years' time, when this study is repeated at TU/e.

The survey was sent out at the end of last year to 5,700 TU/e employees and 1,600 people completed it. As one-third did not state a gender, the conclusions are based on the answers of some 1,000 of our colleagues. Of the respondents, more than 54 percent were men, more than 44 percent were women, and 1 percent wrote ‘other’. The majority of the respondents work in the departments (more than 68 percent).

And now?

What will be done with the findings of this study? “They've already been used in lots of ways,” says Demerouti. A Diversity Committee has been set up, with people from different levels in the university. It meets four times a year to brainstorm on inclusivity and diversity.

Moreover, members of the interdepartmental committees and HR advisors have received training to help them lose their subconscious prejudices, for example relating to gender. Demerouti: “Thus members of selection and doctoral committees and promotion committees are now more aware of their preconceived notions. For the rest, we should help managers to hire people who bring diversity and then help those individuals to feel more included. We are talking with DPO about how we can best do this, for example, through leadership training. We are trying to create a context in which everyone feels welcome and can use his or her talents.”

The positive aspects should predominate

 “We are also going to discuss how we can give TU/e employees a greater sense of the necessity of this matter.” Reducing work pressure and workplace discrimination and giving more access to things like information, as well as fair treatment all help employees feel they belong and are valued, regardless of their gender. “In any event, the way diversity is presented at TU/e is important. It is also important that women talk about what interests them in their work, what motivates them and enthuses them. We want people to see that we are not here to complain. The positive aspects should predominate.”

Superpowers of M/F scientists

Studium Generale is holding a lecture on stereotypes in academia on Wednesday March 13th. Ruth van Veelen studies how men and women deal with gender bias and inequality at work. After her lecture, those present can discuss their experience with a panel of TU/e researchers and students, and a discussion will be held on what both men and women can do to initiate change.

The meeting will be held on Wednesday March 13th from 19.30 hours to 21.00 hours in the Blauwe Zaal of the Auditorium. Admission is free.

Studium Generale asked people on our campus for the solution to a riddle on gender bias.

Do you know the answer to this riddle?

Studium Generale asked people on our campus for the solution to a riddle on gender bias.

International Women’s Day: What do our women have to say?

What are you proud of, what drives you in your work, what was a decisive moment in your career? These are some of the questions we asked women at TU/e in honor of International Women’s Day.

 

“We need to keep working on creating awareness of biases”

Dr. Regina Luttge (50) is Associate Professor in the Microsystems section at the department of Mechanical Engineering and Chair of the Neuro-Nanoscale Engineering group. She is also connected to the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS).

Who is your hero and why?
“Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, because she was passionately engaged in her research and presented us with a role model of a gentle woman making the very most of her exceptional talent.”

Wat drives you in your profession/work?
“My curiosity for making small-scale tools that teach us about the working mechanisms of life.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?|
“I am proud to have received grants for bold and pioneering research, based on my personal vision, such as the Veni- and ERC Starting grants.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
“I wish to believe my gender has been entirely irrelevant in my career. However, I actually believe my gender made a difference in finding my intrinsic motivation for taking the longer route in the engineering sciences that I love so much! The knowledge I have now did not come easy, and this makes me who I am today: ambitious in setting my research goals, and self-compassionate when it comes to accepting my weaknesses.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
“We need to keep broadening the awareness of biases and of everyone’s well-being throughout the entire TU/e community, and we need to introduce accountability guidelines for leaders, male and female, who should provide unconditional support for women professionals.”

"Science requires perseverance; talent alone is not enough"

Andrea Fuster (41) was appointed Assistant Professor within the Mathematical Image Analysis group at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at TU/e in 2014.  She studied physics in Spain and came to Groningen as an exchange student. She obtained her PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and then came to TU/e.

Who is your hero and why?
“I have several heroes. In random order: my mother, because she always supported me and taught me that as a woman, it is important to work at your career and to do so fulltime. She always did so herself, I didn’t know any better as a child. Also, if you want to succeed in science, you have to work fulltime.

In the field of science, I have two heroes: the first is Ana Achúcarro. She was the first full professor in theoretical physics in the Netherlands. She is from Bilbao, where I was born, and she has set the example for me. I came to the Netherlands as an exchange student thanks to her. I think her achievement is remarkable.

The second is Ines Lopez Arteaga. She is the first full professor at TU/e’s Mechanical Engineering Department. She has achieved a great deal and is always willing to help people, including me. She offers me helpful advice, not just concerning the content of my work, but also morally. It helps me to persevere.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“I have an enormous drive to want to know more, to understand things better and to find out how something works. It’s what drives all researchers. That’s a good thing, but it’s also long-term work and it involves uncertainties. I get short-term satisfaction from teaching and coaching students. Passing on knowledge is also satisfying.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“I’m proud that I persevered when I studied for my doctorate. There were many obstacles: I didn’t have a clearly defined subject, I wasn’t supervised properly, I became a mother for the first time. It would have been easy to quit, but I persevered and succeeded in the end. I am proud of that. It still helps me because I know how important it is to persevere in science. Talent alone is not enough.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
“It sometimes helps me, makes me more visible. I get asked for this interview, for instance. I used to be chair of WISE, the network of TU/e female scientists. I like to participate in activities that stimulate girls and women to choose a future in science. It takes up time that I would otherwise have spent on my résumé. That can be a disadvantage, but it's worth it.

In most other cases, being a woman usually works against you. Everyone has an implicit bias, both men and women. That works against women in reviews, grant applications and promotions. It doesn’t happen consciously, but it happens.

And then there are the inequalities in the private domain. I know men with partners who take care of everything at home, but I don’t know any women who have a similar arrangement. It’s difficult to compete with people who have that.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
 “I think we have to look for these women in Southern and Eastern Europe. The number of women who choose a technical study is much higher there. When I studied physics in Spain, the male/female ratio was almost fifty-fifty. In Groningen I was the only woman for almost two years.”

“Female scientists and leaders are on the way up!”

Patricia Dankers (40) is a chemist. She is full professor in Biomedical Materials in the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS) and the department of Biomedical Engineering at TU/e.

Who is your hero and why?
“I don’t have one specific hero. I also never had an idol when I was a child. I never understood why you should ‘idolize’ someone. I do greatly admire many people. Men, such as my PhD supervisor and father in science Bert Meijer. But historical figures as well, such as great painters, including Rembrandt van Rijn, whom we named our son after.

Among women, I admire Marie Curie. She was an extremely intelligent female scientist, well ahead of her time. Perhaps we’ve moved backwards as far as women in science are concerned. I also admire my mother and our next-door neighbor. They take care of everyone each day and make sure everything runs smoothly in their families. There are many charismatic Dutch administrators and managers I admire, like Neelie Kroes, Louise Gunning, and Rianne Letschert, who is younger. They are strong women with clear opinions and strong personalities. And there certainly are some excellent Dutch female scientists, such as Carlijn Bouten, who works at our faculty.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“Working together with young people. I love guiding young students and researchers as they take the first steps in their careers. I remember taking those steps myself. They are the most intense, important and exciting moments of your life. You only realize this when you are older.

I’m also passionate about the world of molecules. What is the molecular composition of materials, and of our bodies? What can we learn from that? And how can we copy that? Interesting questions. I enjoy giving lectures on this subject. And sometimes I’ll explain what we know and are capable of and what we’re not capable of in a more informal setting over drinks. For example, during carnival, someone asked me if it is possible to see if certain atoms are connected. How can you determine that? I really take the time to explain that we use different analytical, physical-chemical techniques for this every day. Isn’t that great, conversations like this during a carnival parade?”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“I am very proud of two steps, and I’ve also enjoyed them very much. The first is when I obtained my doctorate in 2006. It’s nice to defend the thesis you’ve worked on for four years in front of a commission and your family, friends and colleagues.

The second time I was equally proud was when I held my inauguration speech as full professor last year. It was a great and special day. My parents, husband and two sons of three and five years old were present. I’m proud to have achieved all this. All on my own, I sometimes think. Of course, I had the support of my family and loved ones, but still. I’m very proud.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
“I don’t think I was ever hindered. What I would like to say though, is that there aren’t that many women in our academic field. And this does lead to a certain opinion. For instance, ‘doesn’t she want to get ahead too fast?’, ‘isn’t she too impatient?’, ‘can she manage that all at the same time?’ I often hear these kinds of remarks. I don’t hear people make similar remarks to men.

I also think it’s important to say that it is not just about being a woman, but about being a minority within a certain group as well. That makes you stand out. Men who work in ‘female’ environment are also approached differently, such as male teachers at a primary school, who are quite rare. This also leads to an imbalance. That’s exactly what we women in the field of science experience.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
“That’s a difficult question. It’s important to look at the percentage of female students, PhD students, and so on at a certain faculty. There needs to be a faithful reflection at each layer, and consequently a balance. This is possible only when students can follow the example of female role models. I don’t think we should rush this. Female scientists and leaders are on the way up! I’m sure of that.”

“We haven’t bridged the gender gap yet”

Ida Damen (30) is a PhD student at the Department of Industrial Design. Her research focusses on creating a healthier work environment. One of her projects, the WorkWalk, can be found at the TU/e campus.

Who is your hero and why?
“A bit of a cliché perhaps, but Aletta Jacobs, the Dutch activist of equal rights. And TU/e’s Yvonne de Kort. She’s a great professor and very engaging in her manner and discussions.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“I think I have the best job in the world: I get paid to learn, I have much freedom, and I try to make a contribution to society with my work.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“Perhaps it’s not a clear single step, but I’m most proud of the fact that several project proposals written by me have been approved, such as an EIT-proposal for TU/e written in cooperation with Carmen van Vilsteren, and a number of ZonMw Sports Activator proposals for the gymnastics association of which I am chairwoman. The EIT-proposal helped realize my PhD position. I have much freedom and support from the members of the committee who allow me to follow my interests. I am very grateful for that.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
“That’s hard to say, because usually they don’t tell you ‘this is because you are a woman.’ What did trigger me to become more aware of women in academia is a book by Nicola Gaston, who was president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists. In it, she refers to research by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick from 2013 that shows the significant impact of unconscious gender biases on the evaluation of scientific publications.

Knobloch-Westerwick tested the impact of gender and gender stereotypes on the rating of conference abstracts.Abstracts from male authors on ‘masculine’ topics were rated as having significantly greater scientific quality than abstracts from female authors. Of course, double-blind reviewing helps with the rating process of scientific articles, but it is only part of the evaluation and acceptance of women in science.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
 “I think it is important to realize that we haven’t bridged the gender gap yet. If we are aware of this, without blaming anyone, we can change this. I would advise everyone to read the book Why science is sexist by Nicola Gaston. Her final conclusion is: ‘Why is science sexist? Unconscious bias. Who makes science sexist? All of us. We are equally sexist.’”

“It takes courage and leadership to attract more women”

Until recently, Nicole Ummelen (50) was secretary of TU/e. On January 1, 2019, she became vice-president of the Executive Board.

Who is your hero and why?
“I admire and learned a lot from many people, and many people have played, and still play, an important role in my life and career, but I don’t have one specific hero. I’m mostly grateful for the heroes close to me in my daily life. They help me in many ways, both in my work and in my personal life.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“The shared goals, the content of the work, the question of ‘what do we want to achieve and how do we set about doing this?’ As a result of my background, I’m passionate about academic education and research in different domains. It feels like a privilege to help improve the connection between the operational management processes.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“The switch from scientific work to management when I was in my early thirties. A great dilemma, but it was the best possible step for me.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
 “I’ve never felt that, but people hold different views when it comes to this. When I became secretary at TU/e, there was a strong preference for a woman. It is always a matter of debate whether that helped me or not, but I never put too much thought into it to be honest. People sometimes address me with ‘sir,’ and just the other week, someone sent me an email asking me to make an appointment with the chairman. Well, I just let that pass and do it. I sometimes joke about it, or give in to the temptation and lash out a little when someone approaches me with just a bit too much disdain, as in the case of the letter from the Rotary club I tweeted about once. But usually, I don’t think about it too much, also because I was never really hindered in my career. In general, I tend to put things into perspective when it concerns myself, but I’m aware that in many situations you can’t do that.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
 “We’re heading in the right direction as far as support is concerned, although that doesn’t apply to all sectors. There is still a lot to be done in the academic part of our workforce. I don’t pretend to know what needs to be done exactly because first-hand experience has taught me how complicated it can be. It doesn’t happen naturally, and if we sit and wait for women to climb the ladder of academia, it will take many years. We don’t want that. But in order to break that pattern, we need to make choices that require great courage and that will meet with opposition. So: ‘courage and leadership’ is one answer. ‘Much patience and acceptance’ is the other if we choose for the natural course. My choice would be the first option, although that’s easier said than done.”

“Hire someone because he or she is right for the job”

Laetitia Ouillet (40) has been director of Strategic Area Energy at TU/e since 2016.

Who is your hero and why?
“Swimmer Femke Heemskerk. She was completely overtrained at the Olympics in Rio and has managed to recover by relying on her technique and qualities instead of by training and swimming too much. I follow her on Instagram and see almost all of her races. She also seems very approachable.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“Its content and relevance. I read an article on the electricity market in England when I was fifteen. All of my school essay’s dealt with energy ever since. I gave my study an ‘energy twist’ as well. I usually lose interest when it has no relevance. I’m also intrinsically motivated to do something about climate change.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“I don’t think I’ve taken that step yet. I had a so-called ‘important’ job, but I felt it wasn’t the right place for me and I couldn’t do what I had in mind. I also felt that I didn’t spend enough time with my children. So, I’m not very proud of that.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
 “I hope that’s not the reason why I am here today. You are sometimes ‘helped’ because people are obliged to hire more women nowadays. I don’t really care for that at all. Hire someone because he or she is right for the job. The fact that I am a woman often makes people remember me because you do stand out from all those men in grey suits.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
“We need to make people aware of how relevant our research is to society. TU/e’s strategic areas played an important role in attracting new students, often girls. That makes students see beyond their field of study and understand their future relevance. From ‘catalysis’ to ‘one day, we will fill up our cars with energy from the sun.”

“Diversity is an opportunity, not a threat”

Evangelia Demerouti (48) is Full Professor of organizational behavior and human decision processes at the faculty of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences. She is head of the Human Performance Management group and Chief Diversity Officer at TU/e. She has a background in occupational and organizational psychology.

Who is your hero and why?
“I don’t really have heroes. There are people I admire for what they have accomplished, such as Marie Curie and Obama, but ‘hero’ is too big a word for me.”

What drives you in your profession/work?
“Having observed up-close how people became sick from their work or the threat of losing it, my mission as a professional is to help employees be healthy and motivated in their work. My research focuses on how to stimulate health and motivation at work in order to make employees happier and businesses and organizations more successful.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“I am proud that I managed to survive in two different countries - Germany and the Netherlands - even though I was a complete outsider in both. I am also proud that I managed to keep working on topics that I find interesting, though this was not always self-evident.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
“I don’t know whether my gender has helped or hindered me in my career. I think my personality - being authentic, hard-working, social, modest - has helped me more.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
“Unfortunately, there is not just one way to increase diversity and inclusion. Here are some things that I think can be effective within the TU/e context: First, we need to look at the facts of the matter, i.e. the awareness that having women, or more diverse employees in general, at TU/e will contribute to better performances in research and teaching because of the different perspectives they bring.

Secondly, we need true commitment from leaders in all layers of the organization to attract, retain and support women and employees with a diverse background. This commitment can be enhanced through training, provision of resources and communication to help create more awareness.    

Thirdly, we need to create transparent procedures for selection, promotion, and distribution of financial resources. And lastly, we need everyone to make an effort to embrace diversity and inclusion in daily work behavior, instead of discriminate or exclude people on the basis of their gender or other characteristics. Diversity is an opportunity, not a threat.”

“We need more female role models”

Carmen van Vilsteren (57) has been director of Strategic Area Health at TU/e for three years. This is her first position at a university after a 30-year career in high-tech medical innovation. She also takes the lead in the Health and Vitality Program in the Brainport region.

Who is your hero and why?
“Oh dear, that’s a difficult question. I don’t have one hero, but three. Neelie Kroes, because she broke through the glass ceiling, although I don’t always care for the way in which she has accomplished this. Richard Branson, because he built a startup into a number of international industries that have changed the market, and because he also manages to enjoy life. And Pippi Longstocking for her sense of justice and her fearlessness.”

Wat drives you in your profession/work?
“Making an impact on people’s health worldwide.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“The change from a broad role at Philips to the post of project leader at Philips Medical Systems in 1991. In this capacity, I was able to develop a new component of an X-ray system for cardiovascular treatment. It is still state of the art today and treats a patient worldwide each second.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
 “Hindered, sure. I’ve cracked my head against the glass ceiling at least once, though that’s always hard to prove. The world of technology is still dominated by men. As director of Health at TU/e, I started almost at the top and never had too much problems with it. But I do worry about the fact the TU/e is at the bottom of the list of female full professors in the Netherlands.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
 “We need more female role models. During my career in the industrial sector, I came to realize what a positive effect this can have.

People who need to fill a vacancy often search within their own network. At TU/e, that usually comes down to a man with a network mostly made up of men. The chances of a woman getting the job are quite slim. You need to look more effectively within female networks, such as female TU/e employees, female students, recruitment agencies for women, and so on. And take a closer look at how the other (technical) universities are getting things done; they are ahead of us on certain aspects."

“Building a replacement organ one day has always intrigued me”

Dan Jing Wu (29) is a PhD student at the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is also ambassador for KNAW Faces of Science and co-founder of fashion label NOYA NOIR.

Who is your hero and why?
My grandfather has always been my great hero. This highly intelligent man was an architect who designed many buildings and he was a cartographer in the army as well. It seemed as if he had a talent for whatever he set his mind to, but he actually taught himself everything, using his enormous willpower and perseverance. That’s why I admire this man so much. He taught me: ‘Life is full of opportunities, it’s up to you to grab them. Everything is possible with perseverance and willpower.’”

Wat drives you in your profession/work?
“The idea of building a replacement organ one day has always intrigued me. It could save so many lives. Of course, it’s still very far away, but the idea that you’re making a contribution, however small, drives me to continue with my research.”

What decisive step in your career are you most proud of?
“The moment I started my scientific career and simultaneously co-founded, as entrepreneur and designer, fashion label NOYA NOIR with a friend. Those are difficult enough tasks to accomplish in themselves, let alone combined. I only realized what I have accomplished after both careers started to run smoothly. I worked very hard for it and certain things will never run smoothly, but looking back occasionally on the career I’ve chosen, I can say I’m proud of having persevered and making my dreams come true.”

Did the fact that you are a woman ever help or hinder you during your career at TU/e or elsewhere?
 “Actually, the fact that I’m a woman has never hindered me - so far - in my career. Perhaps it did help me in designing fashion items for my own company, because I loved fashion ever since I was a child. I’ve always worked with men, but I never stopped to realize my gender might hinder me in my work. Special days like this and indexes of women at top positions have made me more aware of this during the last few years.”

What do you think should be done to increase the percentage of female staff at TU/e?
 “If we want to increase the number of women in technology and science, we need to address this in high school. It’s difficult enough to choose a study, and ‘technology’ sounds more suited to boys, leading girls to believe they don’t have what it takes to be successful in this field.

As ambassador for KNAW Faces of Sciences, I want to show students how things work at a technical university and motivate them with my enthusiasm for science. I also found it very difficult to choose a study, especially since I was advised against choosing a technical study. But I think that by gaining a better understanding of what research entails, students will automatically feel stimulated to choose this field. And these days, social media helps bring the message across. Hopefully, high school students, and girls especially, will become more enthusiastic about a technical study. Because if I can do it, so can they!”

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