Demerouti: “Chief Diversity Officer is not a token appointment"

A new weapon in the fight against the glass ceiling: TU/e is getting a Chief Diversity Officer. Evangelia Demerouti, Professor at Human Performance Management, will take on the task to enhance diversity at TU/e. She does not want that job to be cold comfort for the present situation – it should actually contribute to a pleasanter working climate.

“It is essential that there should be a diversity policy at TU/e”, says Demerouti, originally an industrial and organizational psychologist. “Firstly, this is still very much a male environment and, secondly, TU/e is facing numerous challenges for which greater diversity of its staff members may be useful.” She is referring to the pressure felt by researchers in relation to publications, citations and the acquisition of projects. Moreover, TU/e as an organization feels a need to excel, for instance in the rankings.

Demerouti emphasizes that the policy will not be limited to gender diversity, but will include diversity relating to age, culture and specialization. “TU/e has to provide conditions that enable people to be all they can be. I want to ensure that people like to come and work here and can excel, regardless whether they are man or woman, western or non-western and whether or not they have a technical background.”

She herself came to TU/e in 2009 as full-time professor with the following characteristics among others: woman, Greek and psychologist. “Only here have I become fully aware of gender diversity. In the Department of Psychology at Utrecht University I was never the only woman, whereas at TU/e I was constantly the only woman taking part in discussions.”

Her task now will consist mainly of reaching the middle management. “The top knows that diversity is important. The staff members at the basis experience that it is important. The middle management, however, will have to bring about changes. We need to support and train the decision-makers and the managers so as to create equal opportunities for everybody and to enable staff members to perform well. This involves a culture change process.”

Demerouti has full discretionary power in this job. In the initial period she will be brainstorming frequently with Rector Frank Baaijens and visit the departments as well as fellow universities. This will result in a policy plan and interventions, which will also be evaluated scientifically. “Until now I have been a researcher here. This appointment entails that I will be doing some more managing. Another change is that I will no longer look at individuals or teams, but at departments and the whole organization.”

She intends to do everything to prevent the policy from ending up in a back drawer. “We really need to start doing something, go into action so that actual improvements will follow.” During the opening of the academic year Executive Board President Jan Mengelers will officially announce Demerouti’s appointment, which will remain in effect until 2021. 

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