Gendered Research and Innovation as Complement to Current TU Delft gender policy: DEWIS talks to Claudia Werker

Nieuws - 07 december 2021

Claudia Werker serves as vice-chairwoman of the works council of TU Delft and as DEWIS Board member. She is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. We discuss how to improve gender diversity at TU Delft with the help of traditional gender policy and beyond.

Create criteria that respect women. Recognize and honour their leadership styles and women will be promoted more easily.

Do we have a problem with gender equality at TU Delft?

Claudia: ‘Currently, TU Delft has with 17% the lowest share of female full professors at Dutch universities. On the level of PhD students, assistant and associate professors, i.e. in the so-called pipeline, the shares are higher. At the same time, we know that the pipeline is leaking. A few years ago we investigated the situation at TU Delft and RWTH Aachen. The results of the study show that the pipeline is leaking women on the career paths at two moments in particular, i.e. when academics get tenure and when they get promoted from associate to full professor.

What are your perspectives on the solution?

Claudia: ‘In 2018 there was a one-time policy measure with which 100 extra female full-professors were promoted. In my view measures this is a good initiative that should be more structural. I am very much in  favour of these kinds of initiatives and also of quotas. I know that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with quotas for various reasons. In my view they are necessary until we reach a reasonable share of women on all levels of academic and leading staff at TU Delft. We know from many studies in social sciences that the culture of a group changes if about one third of its members differs from the majority. By having a third of women in academic and leading positions at TU Delft we would leapfrog into a situation where the academic culture becomes more friendly for women. So, let us do both at once: hiring more women and working on changing the culture. Thereby, we would create an environment with much less discrimination.’

How can we tackle discrimination right now?

Claudia: ‘I would like to see more compulsory methods, like mandatory training programs for everyone. Men are not the only ones discriminating against women. Men and women alike are discriminating. I suggest training everyone. We would learn to identify biases regarding gender but also age, sexual orientation and the like. We would learn to become aware of our biases and to not act upon them. I am no fan of only coaching women to adapt to our male-dominated environment. We all have to change. Women are highly qualified! They have been overlooked for years and years, because the promotion criteria are made by men. Create criteria that respect women. Recognize and honour their leadership styles and women will be promoted more easily. The discussion regarding “Erkennen en waarderen” certainly goes in the right direction. Yet I would like us to move more quickly than we do.’

What do you think about gender policy at TU Delft?

Claudia: ‘Since a bit more than a year we have a new diversity officer, David Keyson. Since September 2020 the diversity office also has more staff positions. David and his team have been filling them with enthusiastic and qualified personnel in the last year. As a consequence, I see a lot of activities. The diversity office has been writing a gender equality plan for the European Commission. This is a requirement by the European Commission to keep funding research, e.g. via Horizon Europe, from 2022 onwards. The diversity office has also published a dashboard showing the percentage of female staff and students, an important tool to design gender and diversity policy for academic, non-academic staff and students. Moreover, the diversity office organized a diversity week in October. So, I am hopeful that things will substantially change in the near future.

Claudia, you claim that there are other ways than traditional gender policy to tackle gender inequality. How does it work?

Claudia: ‘Well, it would work via our core business, i.e. research, teaching, innovation and impact. The European Commission has been endorsing the concept gendered research and innovation ever since their  financing programme Horizon 2020 was launched more than eight years ago. Gendered research and innovation has been even more specified in the calls of the Horizon Europe programme for which we can submit proposals since the beginning of this year. The idea is simple and straight forward. If you include gender to represent the diversity of human beings in research, e.g. in testing drugs not only on men between 18 and 45 years old, you get a much more diverse picture on how these drugs work in different kinds of people.’

But you are talking about Inclusive Research and Innovation. Why?

Claudia: ‘Yes, because I feel that we need to include the diversity of humans to its full extend in order to include them in our research, teaching and impact activities. Inclusive research and innovation puts the diversity of humans centre-stage. An example would be using crash-test dummies acknowledging how diverse bodies of people of different weights, shapes and heights are. You would think that this is self-evident but the standard procedure is still to use crash-test dummies that resembles men of medium height and built. Obviously, using more diverse crash-test dummies would make using cars safer for very many people, not only for women but also for very long or very short people etc.’

Should we not deal with gender first and then look into more broader issues of diversity?

Claudia: ‘Well, I think that at TU Delft we still need to do a lot about gender equality. Also on a European level gendered research and innovation has not been broadly adapted yet. There is still a lot to do. Think about algorithms used for preselecting students at an English university that were biased against women. Yet these algorithms were also biased against people with foreign sounding names. So, I think that it is worth a while looking further than gender only. Importantly, also women are not all the same. They differ regarding age, cultural background, sexual orientation etc. You probably already heard people discuss this under the term “intersectionality”.

So, is inclusive research and innovation only a concept? Is there already inclusive research and innovation going on at TU Delft?

Claudia: ‘That was exactly the question I was asking myself after I developed the concept in an opinion piece in the TU Delta. I started to talk to very many people about it and got a lot of enthusiastic reactions, e.g. from David Keyson who invited me to organize a workshop during the TU Delft diversity and inclusion week in October. I got in contact with a quite number of colleagues who are already doing research that has inclusive research and innovation features. They presented their work at this workshop and also at a theme meeting the works council organized for discussing diversity and gender equality issues with the board of the university.

Are these research projects stemming from the same or different research disciplines?

Claudia: ‘Luckily they come from all over the university. And even better I found quite a number of research projects stemming from the three pillars of TU Delft’s convergence strategy, i.e. health, AI and resilient Delta. I already mentioned examples of health (testing drugs mainly on men in a rather small age range) and AI (biased algorithms). At the same time inclusive research and innovation projects can touch on resilient Delta, e.g. by asking research questions about how a just city would look like, i.e. how space and building can be created in such a way that all groups of the population can access and use them to their benefits.

So, basically you are suggesting to incorporate inclusive research and innovation in the convergence strategy of TU Delft.

Claudia: ‘Naturally the board of the university decides about the strategy. I would really applaud this, because it would kill two birds with one stone. First of all, we would concentrate on this impactful and important kind of research. Second, we would attract academics with diverse backgrounds such as age, gender etc. in carrying out this kind of research at TU Delft.  And it is certainly not only about research either. Our research activities are strongly related to what we teach, what innovations we create and what impact we make for our society.

Dr. Claudia Werker