Candidates at the announcement of the results of the university council elections (on the far right in the photo Ashley van Driel). Photo DUB

Genderquota explained: 'Much needed at the UU'

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Last week, the Executive Board reacted reluctantly to the University Council's proposal to introduce a gender quota. Previously, DUB had an opinion piece that questioned the plan. The submitters of the nota, Lieke Schrijvers and Ashley van Driel responded to the criticism on their proposal in this opinion.

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We are aware that with this proposal, we adopt a, according to some, controversial position. We welcome the discussion that arose and believe it is a crucial conversation to have. In the last meeting with the Executive Board, Annetje Ottow stated that the Board does not see the benefits of a genderquota, but does acknowledge the importance of equal representation. De Vrije Student has voiced their opinion, the minority view in the council, as well. We’ve also received numerous responses and questions on social media and DUB, both with support and with worries.

We emphasise once again that a quota is an important and necessary means to realise actual change within our university. This article addresses the most heard questions and concerns, and summarises our standpoint. The nota itself provides a broader explanation.

1. Are we only concerned with gender? How about other forms of discrimination?
If there is one thing the last weeks have shown us, is that diversity is indeed far broader than equality between men and women. Of course, one could make the case that some issues are far more urgent, and that it is crucial to focus our attention there, like institutional racism in the Netherlands and at our university. As council, we do focus on that and will take action.

This proposal is therefore not the only, nor the complete, programme on inclusivity and diversity. It does not provide a solution to all problems, and does not, for example, focus on social safety and discrimination of people of colour; of LGBTQI people; or of people with dissabilities. We would like to emphasise that these issues have our fullest attention as well, and we’re committed to acceptance and inclusivity in a complex and intersectional way. We regret that, for some, it might appear as if we are only devoted to women’s equality.

At the same time, we realise that not all forms of discrimination can be addressed with the same measures. An intersectional approach to diversity sheds light on the multitude of ‘axes of difference’ tha can shape a person’s life. That a genderquota focuses on one of the axes, does not mean that other axes are not, or less, important. If you look at the opportunities of people with a migration background, it appears that women in particular are 'double caught'. A quota only partially corrects this inequality, because it focuses on gender and counteracts sexism-bias. Additional measures are needed to straighten the difference between white people and people of colour. For example, one could think of applying anonymously, where a surname isn’t visible. We are in close contact with the Taskforce Diversity and Inclusion, and wholeheartedly support an intersectional approach to diversity.

2. Is this only about the outcome?
A number of respondents wonder whether the focus of a quota does not divert attention from the real issues at stake, by only aiming for a percentage of women. We agree that the underlying problems and issues should be dealt with heads-on. We also believe that a needed culture change does not happen on its own. In our view, a genderquota is an important means, but not an end. It invites faculties to critically reflect on issues such as social safety, (subconscious) sexism, and representation, and is a powerful incentive to speed up the culture change.

Even though the term ‘genderquota’ might appear as radical to some, our proposal is relatively modest in comparison to other contexts, and therefore, in our view, feasible. The faculties will have freedom to make changes in their policy. They also have five years to take measures toward the quota of 40% female staff in 2030. Only after a negative prognosis in 2025 the sanctions of the quota will be felt. This because the current target numbers are a noble pursuit, but in the end nothing more then that: there are no consequences if the targets are not met. In the case of a quota, there are.

3. Isn’t this discrimination of men?
The argument that a genderquota will lead to the discrimination of men, is known. There are different answers to this questions. For one, many positions have historically known an overrepresentation of men. A quota, we write, is a means to counter subconcious bias, in for example job application procedures. As Belle Derks said in De Volkskrant: ‘“a quota does not mean that men have less opportunities than women, but they do have fewer opportunities than in the past.” A genderquota will certainly cause some worry among men about their chances. Awareness about this issue is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, women have struggled with fewer opportunities for centuries. The quota still leaves 60 per cent of the job positions open for men, so discrimination is certainly not the case.

It is true that in, for example, the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science, more women are represented among students and PhD candidates. It isn’t desirable that 100 per cent women should be appointed here, although that is not the case anywhere. With a quota of 40 per cent, it is certainly not only women who need to be hired. In situations like this, it would be important to look at a gender balance. We want to give the faculties and boards of directors the freedom to do so.

However, the statistics also show that the number of women declines along the academic career. Furthermore, the percentage female PhD candidates even decreased the last year, to great concern of the Executive Board and Taskforce Diversity and Inclusion. Our proposal is that the 40 per cent in these faculties, will function as a bottom limit.

What is next?
The Executive Board is waiting for the advice of the Taskforce Diversity and Inclusion, along with an evaluation of the past target numbers and a plan for the upcoming years. We appreciate that the Board supports diversity and inclusion, but see too little action. Therefore, we call upon the Board once again to turn words into deeds and to adopt on our proposal for a genderquota.

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