Evaluating TIU’s Gender Policy: 25% Female Professors by 2017- A realistic Goal?

Evaluating TIU’s Gender Policy: 25% Female Professors by 2017- A realistic Goal?

Tilburg University openly prioritizes gender equality as a crucial policy focus point. The most striking short-term goal that the university has set itself is to have roughly twice as many female professors in two years from now. The university’s Board of Direction acknowledges the fact that Tilburg University scores frighteningly low on gender equality among professors and salary equality compared to similar universities in the Netherlands. Currently, a mere 13% of all professors and lecturers at the university are female, whereas the amount of female professors at similar (non-beta) universities such as in Nijmegen and Maastricht is around 20 to 25%. Acting on the situation, the University Council has put together a specialized Gender Equality Committee (GEC) in 2014. This GEC aims to successfully analyze the roots of the university’s gender inequality and subsequently solve the different problems the university faces when it comes to gender equality in around 3 years. One and a half year later, the GEC’s noticeable progress remains questionable.Closer look at the roots of the problem
According to the University Council’s document on Gender Equality, Tilburg University is in the 10th place out of 14 universities used for comparing data. The ranking is even worse when considering the fact that four universities that scored lower than Tilburg University are two technical (Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology) and two business-oriented universities (Erasmus Universiteit and Wageningen UR), where the amount of female scientific staff is a priori lower on average. Universities that round out the top three on the list are Radboud University Nijmegen, Open University and University of Maastricht.

Sometimes the lack of female staff on campus is attempted to be explained by the Catholic background of Tilburg University. Marloes van Engen, the president of the Gender Equality Committee of Tilburg University, states that Catholicism could be, but is not a sufficient reason for the low ranking in female academic staff. Inge Sieben, a professor in Sociology, goes even further in claiming that the Catholic background of Tilburg University plays no role in the gender inequality ratio. What could be the reason then?

Tessa Franklin*, a female professor from the Tilburg University Law School, suggests that it has to do with the social pressure on women to go pro-family rather than pro-career. Another factor is that the most important and highly ranked positions, especially in recruitment, are dominated by men. As Alkeline van Lenning, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences puts it: “One does not discriminate consciously- you tend to pick something you know. For example, male professors are usually higher assessed than female professors due to the fact that leadership and success are highly associated with a male figure. Logically, when an HR advisor is a female, she would go for a female, whereas men would subconsciously pick a man.” Marloes van Engen agrees on this as well by explaining that since the top positions are dominated by men and in most cases their acquaintance circle consists of other males. When a vacant position pops up they tend to quickly fill the gap with another man.

According to Marloes van Engen, Tilburg University is one year behind with its goals

The Gender Equality Committee at work- successful or not?
Recently there have been many discussions on the Gender Equality issue at Tilburg University which initiated the foundation of the Gender Equality Committee (GEC) and the preparation of the new Gender policy- the Gender Equality Roadmap 2014-2017, which aims at increasing the number of female professors from 13% to 25% and female associate professors from 26% to 40% by 2017. How is the GEC planning to achieve those rates? Marloes van Engen says that in designing gender policies it is important to develop instruments that help to fight gender stereotypes. At the moment, the GEC is working on several policies. One of them is the Fellowship Programme which was successfully launched at Delft University of Technology. The goal of this programme is to attract excellent female scientists by offering them a good function for five years that fits within a faculty. The pitfall of the programme is the artificial creation of extra work on top of the already existing positions in order to affect the gender ratio, and this, of course, costs money. Another policy the GEC is currently applying has to do with the appointment of the advisory committee. The committee decides on the promotion of a person. The gender composition of the committee affects the judgement of the person directly, therefore the new policy states that there should be at least one woman in this committee.

Questioning whether the Roadmap Gender Equality 2014-2017 will be successful or not brings us to an unnerving forecast. According to Marloes van Engen, Tilburg University is one year behind with its goals. If they had started earlier, it would have been an absolutely different story. Van Engen believes this inconsistency is caused by the decentralisation of decision making of faculties and their unwillingness to apply costly policies. Also, reworking and adopting a policy takes too much time on its own. “Success of the Roadmap is only possible if the outflow of female capital will cease and with the adoption of the Fellowship Programme the instant inflow of females researches in the university will be ensured”, says Van Engen. The biggest problem with the goals set by the GEC is the decrease in the amount of young people applying for the universities throughout the country. This makes the creation of more positions for females more difficult. All in all, the goals are claimed to be both unrealistic and artificial by most people engaged in the topic of gender equality- even Marloes van Engen herself. Alkeline van Lenning points out the following: “The Roadmap is more about making people aware of the problem and setting the standard as high as possible; if a standard is set low, the motivation will be lost once the standard is reached.” Another key disadvantage is the absence of financial consequences for not fulfilling the requirements of the programme which makes the whole thing seem not legally binding.

The Labor market as a mirror of cultural patterns
Shining a light on gender diversity in the labor market, Rene van Os − Human Resources manager at Philips − expressed his opinion on the subject. Here at Philips, we recognize that the majority of our employees, about 75%, is male, but we do strive for diversity. This does not mean that we would like to attract just females to create this diversity, but also people from different cultures and nationalities. There is no strict gender policy at Philips to increase the number of female employees, but we strive to have at least 1 female applicant for every new job opening to create more chances for woman.”

At Tilburg University, not only the low amount of female professors is striking. Females are also underrepresented in the higher salary scales, according to the University’s year report of 2013. Looking at the salary scales 15 and higher, only 36 out of the 245 employees are woman. Looking at the lowest salary scales (1 to 12), females are overrepresented (957 out of 1634). As far as the representation of males in the higher salary scales in comparison to females is concerned, Van Os states that females are rewarded extra sometimes just to cover up the fact that they are underpaid compared to males. Males, however, tend to make more money and earn promotion sooner because they get more trust. Van Os connects this fact with our nature and culture and states that sometimes most people are not even aware of it.

Van Engen (GEC) also recognizes that culture plays a role in inequality on the labor market. It is very difficult to address a cause to this issue but what we can see is that the same performance is evaluated better for men than for women. According to an American study, the cause lies partly in the perceptive both men and women have of men and women. These perceptives seem to me more important than the achievements of both men and women, which is sad.”

Another cultural pattern in the labor market is explained by Inge Sieben. According to her, research shows that when a male becomes father, he starts earning more money in comparison to when a female becomes mother. It turns out that this is not because of the fact that females work less hours once they become mother, but because the employer shows more confidence and trust in the male once he becomes father. The employer sees it as a sign of stability and thus sees the male as a good employee. Sieben was asked whether these decisions are consciously made by the employer or not. That is hard to answer but it is for sure that these thoughts are ingrained in us. I think even females themselves have these ingrained thoughts and thus they would reward a male sooner than a female. It seems like ingrained patterns. Human capital is a very rational reason to explain the salary differences, but there is also this cultural explanation.”

At Tilburg University, not only the low amount of female professors is striking

The idea that cultural and historical patterns are responsible for (in)equality is supported by Olha Shkaravska, ex-PhD- researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen. As an example of cultural effects on gender features, Shkaravska states that girls from eastern European countries developed rather stronger characters (having slightly more sexist men around themselves) and they seem to be more ready for hard brain work. The women from the former East-Bloc were educated in an environment where feminism became an official policy much earlier than in Western countries. In Soviet Union it was introduced since its beginning in the mid of 1920-ies.

Quality wins over gender
Fractie SAM, one of the student parties of Tilburg University, finds the gender equality very important and is actively discussing the issue of female professors’ percentage on campus. For example, a board member of Fractie SAM said that they tried to gain some control over the voting system by balancing the number of candidates according to the gender. SAM prefers positive discrimination methods in order to promote gender equality and give females more chances, however if a male candidate is better in some criteria than a female candidate, the male candidate will be chosen. At the same time, a Fractie FRONT representative believes that the gender should not be a concern, since the capacities and qualities of both professors and the representatives in the council of the student party are more important than their gender. Fractie FRONT calls it “an employee concern, rather than a student interest”. Thus, although Fractie FRONT seems less interested and engaged in the matter, both student parties go for the principle ‘quality wins over gender’.

Many men- many minds
Most of the forecasts concerning the gender issue seem positive- there is a tendency to believe that the gender inequality will eventually disappear by itself. Alkelline van Lenning suggests introducing gender-related topics in the history and economics classes at schools and universities. This way it becomes easier to raise awareness and educate people about it from their early childhood on. Nevertheless, it is important not to impose the gender issue on people, otherwise they get angry and reject it even more. Many men- many minds, and while some people stress gender equality, others find the problem made out of thin air. The vast majority is not in favour of the gender quotas though. By trying to get rid of discrimination, quotas create another discrimination and make both females and males feel mistrusted in their capabilities as well as making feminism as a movement an excuse. Not only the external factors, but women themselves are responsible for their success, and as Olha Shkaravska says: “Encouraging little girls not by stories about Disney princesses, but by examples of great females in history will lay the basis for a stronger personality in the future.”

*Name changed on request of the respondent.

Dit artikel is geschreven door studenten Transmedia Journalism van Tilburg University: V. Ande, P. van Dijck, P.M. Kuss en F. Ruesink.

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