We provide anyone who needs to ask us a question the opportunity to do so. This opportunity comes with a few ground rules.

  • Questions cannot be asked anonymously. In order to answer a question adequately, we need to have some information about the position and professional background of the person asking the question.
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  • It is not possible to react to questions submitted by others or to enter into a discussion of our answers. This website is meant to be a source of information, not a discussion forum; there are plenty of other opportunities for discussion available.

Dear Angels

  • The offer of a NWO Aspasia grant has led to little enthusiasm among my managers who feel that NWO is too involved in personnel policy, how can I best respond to this?

    Based on a specific case, it is always very difficult to indicate how career decisions are made and what role gender bias plays in this. A role such as an associate professor does not only mean that someone is able to write good research proposals, and it may well be that people in your environment do not (yet) have sufficient insight into your abilities with regard to other relevant tasks and skills, e.g. in education or management. The Angels advise you to request a career interview, in which clear agreements are made about performances, tasks, and skills that you must demonstrate in order to be eligible for promotion to associate professor, so that you know what you still have to work on. It is good to record these agreements and to agree on a period within which the specified agreements will be assessed. Ideally, that period is chosen so that the Aspasia grant remains within reach. 

    More generally, it is interesting to note that many universities are often unclear about career opportunities that they can offer people, and requirements that must be met to qualify for this. It is also not always clear what the background is of the choices that are made to promote some people and not others. They often hide behind NWO in terms of their career policy. This applies, by the way, for both men and women. Many candidates tell us that requests for a permanent appointment or promotion are rejected by stating that they should first get a grant from NWO - even though everyone knows that there are more good and excellent proposals submitted than NWO can grant. It is of course possible that there are budgetary restrictions, so that no firm commitments can be made, even with good performance. Nevertheless, we are receiving more signals that a department or supervisor prefers to decline an Aspasia grant, than to use NWO's judgment and financial support to promote a female employee. For example, many subsidies for women at Dutch universities remain unused. At the same time, in the 'pipeline' for female talent, the proportion of women in the position of associate professor is relatively low. De Volkskrant recently also paid attention to this, see also here.

    Given the importance of the function of associate professor in the entire career trajectory, and the general pattern that women's capacities and competencies are not always appreciated, there is a real chance that this will results in the loss of female talent.

  • Different rules for a permanent contract seem to apply for men than for women, how do I create room for discussing this without appearing biased?

    Based on a specific case and without complete background information, it is always very difficult to indicate how career decisions are made and what role gender bias plays in this. When assigning permanent contracts, for example, choices may be made on substantive grounds, for example because specific expertise is indispensable for the educational program. But even then you have a right that this is explicitly motivated, especially if it seems that some people have to meet different performance requirements than others.

    The Angels advise you to request a career interview, in which clear agreements are made about performances, tasks, and skills that you must demonstrate in order to qualify for a permanent contract, so that you know what you still have to work on. It is good to record these agreements and to agree on a period within which the specified agreements will be assessed. If you have the feeling that different criteria are used for different people, it is worth asking for an explanation. It may well be that these are "difficult" questions, or that no concrete commitments can be made because there is no longer a permanent formation available. Even then it is better to know this in advance, and possibly look out for other options, than to hope for something that might not happen anyway.

    When we come across studies that show that women must meet more / higher criteria than men, we usually place them on our website, see also:

  • Just after I was hired as an assistant professor at a Dutch university, I received an offer for a full professorship abroad. How can I negotiate my position?

    Question:  Just after I was hired as an university lecturer at a Dutch university, I received an offer for a full professorship abroad. How do I deal with this, and can I negotiate my position in the Netherlands?

    Answer: The Angels advise you to be honest with your employer in the Netherlands. Make it clear that you do not want to play some bargaining game, but that you really want to work with them. However, also indicate that you are curious about the career consequences of that.

    The Angels also advise you to inform about the long term perspectives, as opposed to concentrating on the here and now. For instance, concrete commitments for tenure, promotion to a higher position and the required terms and requirements. This is more important than an adjustment of your pay grade right now. Questions you could ask are, for example, what you have to do to become a senior university lecturer or a professor, when this would be possible and what are the factors involved this promotion. You could also inform about the tenure track.

    In the meantime, the Angels advise you to continue the procedure abroad to see how this progresses. You can make a final decision at the moment that both alternatives are concrete and clear. In this case, the more concrete the offer from abroad is, the clearer it is for the party in the Netherlands that it is wise to offer you a serious career perspective. The offer of the other party can therefore be used to ask questions about this and make agreements. This often works better - especially for women - than 'negotiating' about your salary.

  • Is she going to be a professor in the future?

    Question:  It is my career and performance review soon. On the basis on earlier reviews, I have the impression that my publications and teaching is fine, but that there are doubts about my capacities for leading a research group. I also think that my physical build and moderately light voice are not contributing positively towards my image.

    Answer:  The best advise the Angels can give you is to read the book “What works for women at work” by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey, and, if you dare, to show it to your supervisor.

    This book describes four kinds of implicit bias and explains what you can do about it:
    1.      Prove it again bias : women are asked for more proof of competence than men before they are awarded a position or a promotion;
    2.      Tightrope bias: assertive behavior expected for a position is evaluated positively when men show it, but negatively when men do;
    3.      Maternal wall bias: having children (or the assumption that this is going to happen) is evaluated negatively in women, but positively in men;
    4.      Tug-of-war bias: when senior women are in an exceptional position, there are several reasons why the feel less inclined to help junior women.

    This is a strongly reduced summary; it addresses general patterns, of course, in individual cases it can be different. In any case, this kind of implicit bias is very difficult to demonstrate in an individual case - systematic gender bias only appears when comparing larger numbers.

    The most important thing to find out is if your supervisor really doesn't think you have it in you, and refers to possible shortcomings in your performance or person to 'justify' this assessment. If that is true, then the assessment doesn't have much to do with what you may or may not have done or achieved. In that case, there is not a lot to be saved, as, even if you were to do exactly what is asked from you, another explanation would be given not to promote you. Maybe they just don't want you and are uncomfortable about saying this to you directly, and therefore look for reasons that seem more acceptable. If that is true, then it is better for you to know that, so you can focus your attention on other things. It will be hard, but if you enter an open discussion about this subject, and ask for the facts without entering into an argument or attack, you are most likely to get an honest answer.

    Your supervisor may think it can still happen for you, but based on implicit bias you seem too young, inexperienced or different than others. They may not see you as a future professor because of the male-dominated image of professors, or they are not confident enough to counter possible criticism of others (why is she getting the job instead of me, she is still so young and I have much more experience). If that is true, then the situation is different, and it may be a case of ‘prove it again bias’. Then it could help to work together to get the facts straight and show that you CV and track record are definitely strong enough.

    In short, it all depends on whether you can find out if they who are in charge of the decision think that you are 'not ready yet' (in which case you can ask what you can do to strengthen your CV), or that you 'don't have it in you'. The latter is too bad, but there is not very much to be done about it.
  • I have to get a VENI-grant in order to get a permanent position, but my male colleague doesn't. Do you have input for my meeting with HR?

    Question: I have a temporary position as a university lecturer and am expected to get a VENI-grant in order to get a permanent position. I can't do this before the end of my employment period, because of my maternity leave. However, this didn't apply to my male colleague, as he was given a permanent position without a VENI-grant.

    I have the feeling that a double standard is being applied here and I feel badly disadvantaged by the course of events: 1. because I can never meet the requirements for the application of a VENI-grant because of my pregnancy, and therefore I can not qualify for a permanent contract and 2. because a male colleague is given a permanent appointment, without getting a VENI-grant.

    I do not want to force them into giving me a permanent contract, because I did go on maternity leave. But I do want a fair chance to prove myself and pursue a career in academia. I have a meeting with HR soon. I have not found anything online that could be a possible solution for this situation. Do you have suggestions for my meeting with HR?

    Answer: If you can provide documentation showing that different demands have been made on you and your male colleague for a permanent position, then there is clearly a double standard. The Angels advise you to contact the Human Rights Council, formerly the Equal Treatment Commission, to see if they can help you.

    A diversity task force has recently been introduced at your university. The Angels advise you to bring your case to the attention of this task force.

    Your own situation is the most important for the meeting with HR, and the issue that you can not get an extension of the deadline to apply for a grant to compensate for your maternity leave. We refer you to the parliamentary questions that have been asked about the problems regarding extension due to maternity leave and the response from the Minister to this in our latest newsletter. The Minister clearly indicates that HR is expected to cooperate in finding solutions. Maybe it will help if you let HR know that you are aware of this. Let us know how it works out for you, in any event, we think it is important for us to document this. Good luck!

  • My research proposal was positively assessed, but I was not invited for an interview. What can I do?

    Question: I submitted a proposal to NWO. The proposal was assessed at A+ by all three external specialists. However, I was not invited for an interview. The NWO coordinator said that where one evaluator gives an A+, another evaluator might give an A or B for the same proposal. I think this is a bad explanation. I can raise an objection. Is there anything else I can do? Do you have any tips?

    Answer:  The competition at NWO is fierce, and even excellent proposals can not always be granted funding. It is also not entirely clear whether this has anything to do with gender bias. But NWO's core task is to assess the quality of research proposals, and it there is nothing wrong with asking for further explanation. Normally three times an A+ should lead to an invitation for an interview. But it is also possible that a specialist's opinion does not really 'count' because it is not further motivated, or that a specialist gives an A+ as a final judgment, but also provides 'deadly' criticism of the proposal, so that it calls its own final judgment into question. The final assessment always has to be seen in combination with the comments that are made about the content of the proposal. Another possibility is that, for some reason, a pre-adviser in the committee gave a negative advice in the meeting. In any case, it is important to find out what happened here.

    So you are have a right to a further explanation and motivation of the decision not to invite you for an interview, also so you can understand if there is anything you can tackle differently next time. I would submit a written request for this. Moreover, you can not only submit an objection to the decision taken by NWO, but you can also submit a complaint about the procedure followed, and the explanation you have received.

  • We want to take initiative to improve the policy regarding gender inequality at our research institute. Do you have tips for us?

    Question: My question is about gender inequality at our research institute. There is a discussion about gender inequality in the Works Council, where I am one of the staff representatives, and now also at management level. On behalf of the Work Council, we want to initiate policy improvement, in order to support our management. In order to do this, we want to start by getting up to speed on the topic. Has there been research in this area or is there ongoing research? Are there examples of institutes that have published the policy and results in this area? Do you have tips for us?

    Answer: On our website you can find academic articles about gender inequality under “Athena’s Wisdom”, see here.
    It is always a good idea to start initiatives from the staff level. The Works Council is an excellent start! It is important to make a good combination of academically sound arguments and the organization's own experiences. In our experience, organizations are often open to discussing gender inequality but do not know what exactly is going on or where to start. It is therefore advisable to ask informally whether colleagues are interested in forming a network and then to raise this point together. In this way it also becomes clear that there is support. If a network is created from within the organization and initiatives have been taken, it is easier to convince management that something really needs to be done.

  • Do you have ideas about what we can do to extend temporary contracts with the length of a maternity leave?

    Question:  Because of the new law regarding temporary staff (Flex-law), it is no longer possible to extend the 4-year contacts of temporary academic staff who take maternity leave with the length of their leave. We feel this leads to an undesirable situation, and we wrote a letter to two members of parliament. Because Athena's Angels address the problems that female academics run into, we thought you might be interested in this issue. We also hope that you may have some ideas about what else we could do to address this problem. We have been in contact with VSNU and VAWO- both organizations said they are aware of this problem, but there is nothing they can do about it in the negotiations for the Collective Labor Agreement, because of the Flex-law.

    Answer: It is very good that you are addressing this issue! Legally, there seems to be no possibility at the moment, but that may be because no one has realized that women in a PhD or postdoc program occupy a fairly unique position. Laws can always be revised or fixed, if necessary!

    The Angels recommend that you also submit this case to the 'Commission for Human Rights' (formerly the Equal Treatment Commission). Even though the rulings made by this committee are not legally binding, it can be helpful to highlight the problem, and have it legally checked by experts.

    It would also be a good idea to bring this problem to the attention of those who are concerned with women's rights at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. After all, this is not only a matter that has to do with legal positions and (temporary) contracts within the framework of the Flex-law, but also with retaining women in academic positions and the special legal position of PhD students in the Netherlands.

  • Don't I just have the right to an extension of my temporary contract after my maternity leave?

    Question: Don't I just have the right to an extension of my temporary contract after my maternity leave? I am pregnant and have a temporary postdoc research contract for 2 years (until March 2017) without a teaching requirement. In September, I am going on leave for 4 months. This means that the university will receive compensation for my daily wages for this period. The university will not hire anyone else to take over my duties, as I only do research. However, it was not clear if I was going to get an extension of my contract. When I ask around me how this works with postdocs, I usually hear that people do not get an extension, especially if they do not address the matter. Do not you think that there should really be a national policy? Especially because almost all young women in academia have temporary contracts? I am very interested in your opinion!

    Answer: The Angels have checked the Collective Labor Agreement of VSNU (which you can also find via a link on our website), and indeed, there is no clear procedure for this situation. If your department or faculty does not provide an arrangement, we advise you to address it to the Human Resource office of your university. The Angels will make every effort to advocate that an unambiguous national regulation is included in the next round of Collective Labor Agreements.

  • It is hard for an individual to get managers to admit that there are problems. Do you have any suggestions?

    Question: The management level our institute claims that the gender imbalance (16% female professors, according to 2012 figures) is a problem that will solve itself in the foreseeable future. There is enough recent research that shows that this is not the case; your website / 'movement' expressly emphasizes that, but our dean is sticking to the idea that the glass ceiling is not that bad, because women with children are "less prepared to work 120% than men are", and that there are no institutional barriers within the faculty. To me, it is obvious that his attitude alone is an example of the opposite, but to take it a little broader, if you go to the page on diversity policy on our websites, there is often nothing about gender (only diversity regarding LBGT). A previous attempt by the Works Council to develop an active policy failed and, in view of the current circumstances, another attempt will not be undertaken soon. I would not be surprised if the gender imbalance at senior university lecturer and professor level will get worse, and at the same time I notice that it is impossible, or at least very hard, to address this as a female university lecturer without being characterized as "difficult". I suspect that only a broad lobby of (male and female) professors could have some effect. But how does something like that develop? Do you have suggestions?

    Answer: This is one of the hardest problems: getting managers to admit that there are actually problems and getting them to actively start working on solutions. We agree with your idea that there has to be a broad lobby of women and men in order to achieve anything. To achieve that, there are a few steps you could consider.

    Firstly, it is important to take stock of the support among university lecturers within the faculty, simply by addressing one or a couple of each institute (or any program). That will take some time, but networking is very important in this process. If it turns out that there is sufficient support among university lecturers, you can discuss how you can talk to the faculty board. If there is no such support (or people are afraid to speak about this publicly), the pressure will have to come from other levels and you have to find out which senior university lecturer(s) or professor(s) in your department are sympathetic to this cause and continue to work from there.

    So yes, it is true that an individual can do hardly anything about this without the support of colleagues and it is time-consuming to get that support, but it is certainly worthwhile, even if it does not produce immediate results. Once such a topic has been addressed at multiple levels in the organization, initiatives could automatically be taken because people are actively thinking about it and are feeling more than just concerned with this issue. So our advice is: find supporters and inspire each other to action!

  • How can we systematically deal with sexual intimidation at our department?

    Question: We are seeking advice how to systematically deal with sexual intimidation on the work floor of our department. In short, two issues came to our attention over the last months. One, in the “werkgeversmonitor” a case of sexual intimidation in our department was anonymously reported. Two, some of our female colleagues have confided in us of instances when jokes and comments were made about, for example their reproductive plans, their ability to carry out their work, their success, their physique, their sexual orientation.

    Answer:  Thank you for your question. This is an issue that many women have at work. It is good that you have started to collect experiences and that you have concluded that more people share the same experiences. This is how the Angels started!

    In the literature on this subject, you can read how important it is to know that you are not the only person to have a certain experience, that it is probably not your fault that it happened to you, that it is not normal or acceptable, and that it is good to share this kind of experiences with each other. As a follow-up to what you have already done, you could start by getting all the women in the department together to make a complete inventory of these incidents. There is a good chance that more stories will emerge, that were never shared because people thought they were not important enough, or thought they were the only ones. But if you make an inventory, it becomes clear whether there is a systematic pattern, whether it is caused by the behavior of certain women (or men) or if shows a more general pattern, and whether it is serious enough to really make work of it. From what you tell us, the Angels think that this is definitely so!

    So then, how do you deal with it? It is important to remember that you want people to change their behavior, not to feel accused, or so ashamed that they to deny what happened (or "blame" the women, of, for example, hypersensitivity). It is our experience of the Angels is that a combination of two things works best.

    1. Show that it is a general problem, that more people are involved, and that it is not (just) their fault. You can, for example, refer people to the 2015 Nature article, in which sexual harassment at universities was seen as one of the ten most important academic problems of 2015. On the site of Athena's Angels under 'Athena's Wisdom' there are also other examples and links to academic publications that you can use for this purpose.

    2. Make it clear that this is also a problem in your department, that it is a systematic problem, and that it is 'worse' than people might think (both in terms of what happens and in terms of the impact on motivation and the welfare of people in the department). Make it clear that this is not innocent but that it is highly undesirable. This can be done by collecting concrete stories about what happened to people and the impact it had on them, and sharing them anonymously. In our experience, the amount of experiences and the means of expressing them (with literal quotations) seem to work well to convince people that there is something structurally wrong, and not just that women can not take a joke, and that it is not an isolated incident.

    Finally, the strategy to address all this in your department: it helps if you can submit this to someone in a management position - someone you can trust - and ask them to address it. If the manager is part of the problem, you can perhaps introduce it yourself, as a point on the agenda a department meeting, for instance under the heading 'work environment'. It is often uncomfortable for people to talk about this, so you have to do it in such a way that it doesn't become a discussion about the question of guilt, but so that people are convinced that they have to change.

    Together you are strong!

  • I have been asked to be co-Head of Department. It is a temporary and part-time position. What can I ask for?

    Question: Our Head of Department has had to transfer some of his responsibilities and I have been asked to be co-Head for one and a half years and 0,2 FTE (with the intention, but not the guarantee, that I will eventually take over the complete position). This is a professor's position, I am a senior university lecturer. They really want me, so I am in a good position to negotiate. What can I ask for? How do we, if I take the position, ensure that professors (who happen to be all men) who may feel passed by accept me as co-Head? How do I ensure that I do not become a glorified secretary? And finally: should I be honest about my application to be a professor at another university at this stage?

    Answer: First of all, the time: if this is a task that 'costs' 0,2 FTE, then it is important to see if this is a realistic investment of your time, and then to make clear which responsibilities can be dropped if you take on this task. The Angels advise you to insure that in any case your research remain intact, and that this task is deducted from your teaching or other administrative duties.

    Secondly: how do you ensure that they take you seriously? It is important that the current Head of Department clearly communicates to his colleagues that he has chosen you to replace him, and it is important to check explicitly whether he is willing to support you, instead of his fellow professors at the time that a difference of opinion could arise. Furthermore, the Angels advise you to clearly indicate that you also have to be able to take your own decisions as Head of Department, and not only function as the 'middle man' of the current Head, although of course you have to consult each other about the general approach. It is also important to check whether your position as Department Head is also supported 'higher up the line' (the dean, the Department Chair). In any case, it is important to know in advance whether you have sufficient backing, and whether there is support for you in case of a difference of opinion. In addition, it is important to explicitly discuss which tasks are to be done in the upcoming period, and what your duties and responsibilities are as Department Heads. You can also ask the current Head to share this explicitly with colleagues, so that everyone knows what to expect.

    Thirdly: the matter of using a possible alternative position in the negotiation. Filling a position like that always takes longer than you think, and the Angels think that it needs to be more concrete first. At this moment, it is probably better to approach it as two separate decisions. Taking on this task now will not be detrimental for you anyway, as if you can say that you are interim Head of Department, that can positively influence your application elsewhere. If it really comes to an option to become a professor elsewhere, that is the time to discuss it at your current workplace. Even then, we advise you to decide for yourself what you really want, and under which circumstances that would be attractive. It is never useful to use an open position elsewhere 'just' to negotiate your current position, as you should always be prepared that they might say: 'Fine - go on, good luck!' If you do not really want that other position, this is a risky strategy. And if you do want the other position, the question is whether negotiating the conditions at your current workplace will make a difference.

    We wish you a lot of success and wisdom - whatever happens, it is good to know that you are in demand!

  • Is there some way to extend tenure track contracts in case of pregnancy?

    Vraag: We are a group of female tenure trackers who are trying to create a university-wide policy concerning maternity leave during the tenure track period. At the moment there is no regulation and women who got pregnant had to "hope" that their situation was taken into account. We wrote a proposal concerning some changes and presented them to our rector today. In particular we proposed to have an opt-in opt-out standard extension per child in the tenure track policy. In principle he was not against it but claimed it is legally not possible to extend the contract (confirm with the new legal situation) regarding to pregnancy leave (for more than 3 months). Our question is: Do you have experience with that issue and in particular is it true that there is no loophole or some way to extend the new contracts in case of pregnancy? We have a legal advisor here but we would like some independent opinion in case of bias. We would appreciate it very much if you could give us some advise or help in that matter.

    De angels hebben deze vraag voorgelegd aan de Juristen van het College voor de Rechten van de Mens. 
    Dit was het antwoord:

    In dit geval lijkt oordeel 2014-72 relevant. Zie hieronder. Wel is het zo dat of sprake is van verboden onderscheid altijd afhangt van de concrete omstandigheden van het geval. Belangenorganisaties kunnen het College verzoeken om een oordeel, gedupeerden kunnen zelf ook het College verzoeken om een oordeel. Eerder gegeven Oordelen van het College zijn te vinden op:

    Oordeel 2014-72

    Een vrouw is werkzaam bij de politie en volgt een (deeltijd) opleiding Tactische Leergang Leidinggevenden-Recherche (TLL-R) bij de Politieacademie. De maximale opleidingsduur voor deze opleiding is twee jaar. De vrouw is voor alle examens geslaagd en moet voor het halen van het diploma nog een praktijkonderzoek doen en hierover een scriptie schrijven. De vrouw gaat bij haar werkgever met zwangerschaps- en bevallingsverlof. Zij vraagt de Politieacademie, in verband met dit verlof, om verlenging van de studieduur. De Politieacademie wijst haar verzoek af en schrijft haar na twee jaar uit zonder dat zij haar diploma heeft gehaald.

    Oordeel College
    Het College voor de Rechten van de Mens spreekt als zijn oordeel uit dat Politieacademie jegens de vrouw verboden onderscheid op grond van geslacht heeft gemaakt door de toegestane studieduur van de opleiding niet te verlengen voor de duur van haar zwangerschaps- en bevallingsverlof.

    De vrouw heeft tijdens de opleidingsduur zestien weken zwangerschaps- en bevallingsverlof gehad bij haar werkgever. Tijdens dit verlof kan van haar niet verwacht worden het praktijkonderzoek te doen en de scriptie te schrijven om haar opleiding af te ronden. Daarmee had de vrouw een kortere studieduur dan andere studenten, namelijk twee jaar min zestien weken. Deze kortere studietijd is een rechtstreeks gevolg van haar zwangerschap en haar afwezigheid tijdens haar zwangerschaps- en bevallingsverlof. Op basis van de wet is onderscheid op grond van zwangerschap direct onderscheid op grond van geslacht. Er is in dit geval geen wettelijke uitzondering op het verbod van onderscheid. De Politieacademie heeft daarom jegens de vrouw verboden onderscheid gemaakt op grond van geslacht.

  • My husband is a professor at the same department I work in, so I am not promoted. What can we do about it?

    Question: For the past three years, several of my superiors have told me that I am suitable to become a professor ('professor-material', as they call it), but, they say off the record, it isn't possible / allowed, because my husband is a professor in the same department. Actually, recently policy was introduced to stop/prevent a second promotion. In the meantime, colleagues with fewer academic achievements are becoming my boss. Do you think there is anything we can do about this, apart from both leaving the department?

    Answer: Combining two academic careers and a relationship is always complicated, especially if you both work in the same field. Because there is often an age difference - the woman tends to be younger than the man, which means her career is less developed - women tend to be at a disadvantage more often than men.

    It can be especially complicated if two colleagues have a relationship in small departments, and if either partner has an administrative or management position. Even if you act with integrity, other people can easily get the impression that you share information with each other, or will always support each other. If there is a professional situation where you disagree, that can be a cause of friction in the personal atmosphere. In short, in the Dutch situation, where professors are often also 'heads of staff' and budget holders of the department, there are valid reasons to avoid that spouses are both professors in the same department. In other countries this is often different, because the relations are different there. Fortunately, the Netherlands is a small country, and it is possible to travel two different universities from the same residential address. If that is not feasible in your case, because you work in Groningen or Maastricht, for example, then there might be the possibility for one of you to be appointed to another department or faculty. You can of course continue to work with each other, even if you work in different departments. But there is also a lot to be said for showing everyone what you can do without the other person.

  • Are men given tenured positions at a younger age?

    Question: I was recently told by a member of the management team that I didn't have a chance to get a tenured job there, even if I were to bring in a VIDI and/or ERC grant in the coming years. At 44, I'm "too old". I have an impressive publication record and am internationally known in my field.

    I went to this man to find out what I could do to get hired in the Institute after a younger colleague (by the way, I was on his dissertation committee!) had a position created for him, even before he brought in a VENI. 

    Answer: It is very hard to prove that these decisions are based on factors like age, or that there are other factors at play. It may be a post hoc justification, because people often find it difficult to tell you the 'real' reason, or maybe because the decision really isn't fair (because they think your colleague's research is more interesting than yours). However, people tend to think in 'standard' career paths, and look for the high potentials within a certain age category, without considering that academic 'age' does not have to be the same as calendar age. This can put women who started their academic careers later or temporarily worked part time (for example, because they started a family) at a disadvantage. Even if there are no formal obstacles (for instance, because grant applicants are given extensions of the deadline if they worked part time because of parental leave) assessors tend find it hard to 'mentally correct' for that when they evaluate a CV.

    So you have no choice but to continue to explain your situation and to indicate what would be a reasonable standard of comparison or expectation of performance for you, regardless of your calendar age. It is good to know these things, even if it means that you find out that there is really another reason that they prefer your male colleague. Maybe you will find out about 'gaps' in your CV that you can work on closing, so that next time it will be your turn. Good luck!

  • How can I enter a debate with my male colleagues?

    Question: On several occasions I have found that criticizing the research of my male colleagues has had enormous consequences for my career. For instance, I didn't get a doctorate position in the Netherlands with a professor after I criticized his work, my dissertation was rejected by another professor because I rejected one of his claims, etcetera. I expect them to enter a debate with me, but it seems that men often do not want to have a debate on the basis of equality, but prefer to marginalize me and make me invisible. All this, while they ARE prepared to have a discussion with male colleagues.

    Answer: Academic research is about what we don't know (yet), so it is important to share information that can help the discussion progress. But: academics are people too, and men can also feel insecure, or need validation and respect. Even if you criticize their work, you can find a diplomatic way of doing this, so what you have to say can actually be heard. The problem here is that the behavior that is accepted and even expected in men, is often less appreciated coming from women. If you behave in a way that doesn't correspond with the stereotype, that will be unexpected and therefore less appreciated. Research (that you can also find under Athena's Wisdom) has shown this. It is a well-known phenomenon that women who are assertive on the work-floor, who express their opinions, and enter discussions with men are often judged negatively. Does that mean that you should just keep your mouth shut in the future? No, of course it doesn't! But it is not a bad idea to realize that your behavior is unexpected and strange for someone, just because you are a woman. You can increase your effectiveness in these discussions by taking this into account, for example by stating more explicitly than you feel is necessary what you appreciate about someone's research, or by leaving open the possibility that your results may also not be conclusive. That won't make you weak, but it probably will make you a more effective partner in discussion! Good luck!

  • Is prejudice genetically determined?

    Question: My question is to which extent prejudice about men and women could be genetically determined? Around 1982, shortly after the second wave of the feminist movement, I took my five-year-old son to the hospital. The doctor was a woman and my son refused to talk to her. This was a nurse, where was the doctor? I had read 'Jip and Janneke' to him, reversing the roles, so Janneke could also break cups while washing dishes. Who 'taught' my son that a doctor has to be a man? It wasn't us, his parents.

    Answer: Because many gender stereotypes are persistent, and are also expressed by young children (as in the case of your son), you can easily think that these are 'innate'. Research that has been done in different national contexts, and research repeated at intervals of 20 or 30 years shows that gender stereotypes differ from situation to situation and change (slowly) over time. For example, under the Angels Wisdom tab you can read that the idea that women are not suitable for science (such as Mathematics) is mainly endorsed in countries where there are few women in those disciplines (like the Netherlands). This can not be explained by the idea that stereotypical images are 'innate' or genetically determined. How did your son get these ideas? Your parenting is only a small part of the information that young children are confronted with. From all kinds of directions (advertising, toys, other children, teachers), they are told that boys and men are one way, and girls and women another. Your version of 'Jip and Janneke' can not compete with that. This is also one of the reasons why the Angels attempt to make this kind of unconscious and unintentional imaging of men and women in science visible and to question it. It seems innocent, but unconsciously it can have an important effect on the image that people have about what is 'normal' and what is 'wrong', just like your son. If you want to read more about this, the Angels recommend the following book: "Parenting beyond pink and blue" by Christia Spears Brown.

  • I have been approached for the position of Educational Director, and I want to use this to negotiate my position in general. How do I approach this?

    If you are under the impression that your predecessors have made steps in their careers on the basis of this position, you can point this out, and ask if this could be possible for you as well. If they say that it is different in your case, you can ask what the difference is between your situation and that of others. You can also ask why taking on this responsible task would be attractive to you.

    If you hear that the development of your career depends on your performance as Educational Director, then you should try and make specific agreements about that. Ask when this will be evaluated and what you are expected to achieve by then. Make sure the agreements are recorded in writing (for instance, in the report of your performance review), and refer to them (in the next review). Ask for an interim evaluation before the term has passed. If it is not the custom in your department to have these evaluations on a regular basis, then request it, also because of your new position.

    Try to make the terms as concrete as possible. Make sure that the evaluation of your performance does depend on things that have you have limited influence on, like 'ensuring that students are content about the education'. Instead, it is important to formulate as many objectives as possible in activities that you can undertake. E.g. 'Ensure that all courses are evaluated, and that poorly functioning teachers are spoken to or replaced'.

    Make sure you are given the opportunity to deliver the required performance. This can regard the time you to do so (which other tasks can you transfer if you take on this task, which other performance goals - such as amount of publications - can be adjusted so that you can spend time on this), as well as on the resources (administrative support, access to data, computer facilities), the administrative embedding (competences, managerial support), or other important conditions. Make it clear that you can not be expected to deliver the required performance if the required preconditions are not in order. This is not nagging, this is professional behavior, and if they are not willing to approach the task in this way you should not take it on.

  • I am pregnant and will be starting my maternity leave soon. I am expected to do all my teaching this year, so the leave will be at the full expense of my research time. Is this normal?

    No, it is not normal that your maternity leave is only at the expense of your research time.

    According to the Collective Labor Agreement (in Dutch), you are entitled to an allowance so you can be replaced during your absence; in practice, this allowance goes to your employer. They are expected to appoint a replacement to take over your duties during your leave. If you have a mixed position, with educational and research duties, your maternity or parental leave is to deducted proportionally from all duties, including teaching.

    If there are compelling reasons why this is not possible (because there is no one who can take over your specialist course), then you can make other arrangements. In the case of an elective course, it could be decided that it will not be offered for a year, or if you do teach the course in the year of your leave, you can agree to be compensated for this in a different way. For example, you can propose not to teach another course, or you can ask for the research time that you 'lose' to be compensated in another way, for example by (temporary) extra assistance with your research.

    The employer is therefore also (financially) able to replace you for your research time, but that usually does not happen, because it is practically impossible to realize in practice. But you could discuss what can be done to prevent as much as possible that your research completely stops when you are on leave. In this case, extra assistance or an extra research time after your leave may also be an option.

  • I share my workroom with others, and there is no adequate location to express milk at our faculty. How can I address this?

    If you go to work and are still breastfeeding your baby you have the right to express milk in an adequate location during working hours (or to breastfeed your baby, if that is more convenient for you). But it is possible that no one has realized that you are still breastfeeding and want to express milk, or knows that there is not an adequate location to do so in your building or has no idea what an adequate location even entails. It is best to assume ignorance, and not unwillingness.

    Start by explaining to your supervisor or to the person responsible for the facilities in the building what your situation is, what you would like and what you need. Offer to help thinking about a workable (interim) solution if there isn't an adequate facility (yet), for instance temporary use of a different workroom. If you know other women in the same situation you could do this together; or maybe your supervisor can pass this on to the person responsible. It is our experience that there is a lot of willingness to address these issues, but the awareness of the problem is not necessarily widespread. The ball is in your court!!

  • This year, 60 men and 27 women were awarded a VIDI grant. Are there really so many fewer women than men who apply for a VIDI grant?

    Question: On (in Dutch) I saw that of 509 applicants, 87 were awarded a grant, 60 men and 27 women. I really wonder if so many fewer women apply for a VIDI grant than men. In some areas, there is only one female laureate, while a lot of women work in that field. Do you have any idea of this? How can we find out

    Answer: The Angels have requested further information from NWO. This is the answer from the NWO press officer:

    “See the numbers regarding the male to female ratio in the applications and grants in the 2014 VIDI round. We are aware that this is not a desirable ratio, and we have been aware of this subject for a long time. Prof. Naomi Ellemers has done research for us on the existing difference between the number of grants awarded to men and women. In the coming period she will carry out follow-up research into measures that can contribute to a more balanced distribution.” 

    Total number of admissible applications:                    509

    Number submitted by female applicants:        193 (37.9%)

    Amount of laureates:                                                       87

    Amount of female laureates:                                    27 (31%)

    Overall percentage grants awarded:                               17.1%

    Percentage of grants awarded to men:                             19%

    Percentage of grants awarded to women:                            14%%

  • How can I attract and retain more female researchers?

    Question: As a responsible manager, I would like to see more women working and moving on to higher positions in our academic staff, but it is not working. Women simply do not apply for positions, and if we do manage to get a woman to join our staff, she tends to leave quickly. I really do not understand what we are doing wrong. How can I break this pattern?

    Answer: There are several measures you can take. The underlying 'problem' is that managers tend to assume: that (a) people will come forward 'automatically' if they want something, (b) know what they have to do to move up in an organization, or (c) will complain if something is not to their liking. That does not always have to be so. Sometimes you have to actively search for suitable candidates or possible bottlenecks. This is especially true when you approach currently underrepresented target groups, as they do not see immediately themselves as suitable, or assume that there will be changes to existing regulations or customs.

    What you can do is to look more actively for women who may be suitable, and invite them to send you their CV. You can also contact candidates at an early stage who are not yet able to meet the criteria and meet them to discuss concrete strategies and career goals.

    Once women have been appointed, you want to keep them and motivate them through growth. In situations where the vast majority of colleagues is male, you can bring women together with other women in order to exchange experiences and support each other. You explicitly express your confidence in the capacities and potential of certain people. You can also inform if they need a different timeline or career path in order to continue to grow, or to open up creative solutions in order to meet other requirements, for example with regard to internationalization.

    All this can help to convey the message that you really want the amount of women in your staff to increase, and that you are willing to change things to achieve that. If this is not stated explicitly, women will easily draw the conclusion that they either have to accept that this is the way things are, or have to draw their own conclusions and then leave. And that way, nothing will ever change.

  • I am often asked about my children in informal conversations. How do I deal with this?

    Question: During my (now virtually completed) doctorate program, I had 2 children and I notice that colleagues often see me as 'the PhD student with children' - in informal conversations they often ask me about my children (and not, for example, my dissertation / teaching / conference paper / research period at Yale etc.). My children are not necessarily a taboo subject - I am very proud of them - but sometimes it seems as if they define me, while they are not the only or most interesting aspect of me (especially when I speak with colleagues). How do I handle this?

    Answer: It can be annoying if other people keep talking about your children instead of your work. Keep control of the situation. Do not discuss your children at length, but discuss your dissertation / teaching / conference paper / research period at Yale instead. That way, it will become clear very quickly that, when you are at work, you would rather talk about work-related topics than about your children.

  • What is your advice regarding the use of 'he' in regulations?

    Question: In the examples of implicit discrimination, I saw an example from PhD regulations (I think) that constantly referred to 'he'. I have to write regulations too sometimes, and then I also use 'he'. I find 'he/she' is incredibly onerous and hard to read. So my question is: what is your advice regarding 'he' in regulations?

    Answer: You can often avoid the entire 'he/she' discussion by reformulating regulations and naming the position, as opposed to the person holding the position. Then, the regulations will be about the 'PhD student / student / professor' who does or does not have to do something.

  • How do I know if my unpleasant experience is related to gender bias?

    Question: How do I know if my unpleasant experience is related to gender bias? In the past three years, I have had a couple of very unpleasant experiences related to gender bias in university lecturer appointment procedures. I find that I need to hear if I am right in thinking that an unethical gender bias was involved, as it definitely felt that way, but some of the people I discussed this with think that this is something I have made of it myself. It is those doubts that make me insecure and make me feel that I may be too sensitive and that it is just me. This confusion is definitely not productive. This is why I am very happy with your initiative, which I experience as a morale boost in itself.

    Answer:  Implicit bias is characteristically not easy to prove. Those concerned may not realize that gender involved their decision-making. Another characteristic of implicit bias is that the victims of it tend to doubt their share in what happened, and become insecure, at the expense of their productivity. Research shows that in these cases it helps to remember situations in which you have performed well, as it will makes the other party take responsibility for what happened. This can help you stay motivated and perform well, so that you can show what you are worth on the next occasion. So do not let this negative experience drag you down!

  • Do you also hear about unequal 'ethnical' proportions?

    Question: Do you also hear about unequal 'ethnical' proportions at Leiden University or in the academic world in general? I prefer not to use the word 'ethnical' myself, but I personally know how it feels to be confronted with prejudice that is based exclusively on skin color of cultural background. The academic world still has a long way to go in that respect, before it can be a true reflection of society.

    Answer: Implicit bias can relate to not only gender, but also to ethnicity or other characteristics that do as such concern your academic performance (sexual preference, physical disability). Research shows that the psychological effects are more or less the same in all cases, even though the content of the stereotype and the manifestation of the bias may differ. Indeed, the imbalance in the distribution of academics at the university does not only concern gender but also (and even to a greater extent) ethnicity. Promoting a climate that is open to diversity offers equal opportunities for everyone, not only for women but also for other groups such as ethnic minorities. But Athena's Angels mainly focus on differences in the situation of men and women in academia.