Introducing our new Chairperson: Zofia Lukszo
In this interview, we talk to the new DEWIS Chairperson: Zofia Lukszo, Professor of Smart Energy Systems at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management.
Zofia has been a DEWIS board member for several years now and we are very grateful that she has accepted the call to be our new DEWIS Chairperson. In this interview, you can read about her vision with regard to gender equality, diversity and inclusion. What are her ideas and ambitions for TU Delft? And what is her message to the women in science at TU Delft?
What does gender equality mean to you?
Gender equality means to me that all people, regardless of gender, have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities for success. One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. So, empowering women and girls contributes to gender equality. The UN stresses in this the noble goal of ensuring that all women have full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. This idea is also very important for our society, including our university. If we want to achieve this goal, we all have work to do.
Why does TU Delft have a women’s network?
In the working environment, women encounter barriers that prevent them to have full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership. The DEWIS network with a focus on gender equality at TU Delft has been contributing to creating inclusive working environments for everyone and empowerment of women already since 2006.
What is then the mission of DEWIS?
Our main mission is to attract, advance and retain academic women at TU Delft. We are doing this by organising activities around three themes: 1) connecting female academics, 2) raising awareness and 3) influencing TU Delft policy.
“My dream is to be the best (technical) university in the Netherlands with regard to gender diversity, equity and inclusion.”
If we look at the percentage of female professors (17.7%), TU Delft is lagging behind compared to other Dutch universities*. What is going well and what can we do better?
We have made a slight improvement over the last 10 years with regard to the percentage of female full professors at TU Delft. However, it is not just full professors who are important; we need to look at the distributions of genders in the pipeline as a whole. Faculties have made great improvements in attracting female talent at postdoctoral, assistant and associate levels. My impression is that we can do more to advance and retain academic women at TU Delft: i.e. look at how female academics at TU Delft can be empowered to take the next step in their careers.
TU Delft has set a target of 25% female professors by 2025. Do the numbers matter if we look at diversity? In this sense, are you in favour of a quota or a preference policy like in Eindhoven?
I am against targets and numbers to a certain extent. Talking about targets does not help the cultural change we need in order to achieve gender equality.
My dream is to be the best (technical) university in the Netherlands with regard to gender diversity, equity and inclusion. If we want to be the best, with regard to gender equality, and if we want to be an example to other universities, we need to set an ambitious target, something like 27% by 2025. If we all think gender equality is important, we will get there.
Do men and women who have the ambition to pursue an academic career and start a family have the same opportunities? What is needed to create equity when it comes to starting a family and pursuing an academic career?
This is a difficult question to answer for a Professor of Smart Energy Systems [joke]. I can only give my opinion and my observations. Very often, women and men start an academic career at an age that they also want to start a family. This is a fact of life. We need to incorporate these facts of life, for men and women, in our academic working conditions: in the duration of projects, in flexible working hours, in the support of peers and colleagues.
My advice to men and women is: only you and your partner can decide when to start a family. Be strong in this decision. Do not listen to suggestions that becoming a parent during a PhD project, for example, is not recommended. The employer should take appropriate measures and support parents.
Sometimes women are asked to do more teaching and ‘household’ tasks in the team; tasks that do not contribute to the research performance. Or women are sometimes seen as ‘fire fighters’ who care for people in the team. Do we need a revolution to change these stereotyping thoughts or is there another way?
I think we are at a stage that we do not need a revolution, but change is needed. Cultural change. We give each other comments and constructive feedback on research topics, but we almost never do this in relation to ethical behaviour and/or gender equity. We need to start this conversation together. A good leader puts these topics on the agenda.
Do you recommend that women take training courses on how to survive academic culture better, i.e. how to become better negotiators, how to say ‘NO’ or how to be more visible?
If we want gender equity, men and women need to reflect on their own behaviour and say no to traditional stereotyping role patterns. This is part of the cultural change: changing the social norms that we have been used to for so many years. Female empowerment is an extremely important goal for DEWIS the coming years. We organise workshops, networking events and training courses for women. In addition, we are working together with our sounding board on how we can involve men into our activities.
Gender bias is in our DNA. How do we change the DNA so that men and women have the same opportunities?
We have heard cases where biases have influenced important career decisions. During the Diversity and Inclusion Week last October, DEWIS organised the theatre play: ‘Danger, Implicit Bias at Work!’. It was very clear by observing the audience that gender bias plays a big role at TU Delft. We should continue these types of activities, create greater awareness and start having these conversations. Put these conversations about preconceptions or social norms on the table.
Another practical recommendation is to have an observer in the ‘benoemingsadviescommissies’ (appointment advisory committees, BACs), so we are checking and double-checking the procedures on biases.
Finally, yet importantly, we should all keep our ears and eyes open and address biases in our own surroundings.
How do you see the role of management?
The role of management is extremely important. If we want to be the best university with excellent research and education, we should include into the conversations diversity, inclusion and equity and take concrete actions for the needed cultural change. I suggest we organise a TU Delft Talk show with the Executive Board and start this conversation!
What can you advise young female scientists? What is the most important lesson you have learned being a woman in science?
Firstly, enjoy your work. Secondly, the glass ceiling does not exist. If you encounter barriers, try to eliminate them, with the help of your colleagues or with groups such as DEWIS. Lastly, never give up, press ahead, and enjoy. We can all make the world a better place: believe it!
As the new Chairperson, what ambitions do you have for DEWIS?
I will retire in a few years’ time. I hope by then that TU Delft has make diversity, equity and inclusion one of its top priorities. And as a result, we will have full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making for all genders. I am an optimist, so I believe we will get there!
What does your ideal university look like?
In an ideal university, the decision-making positions are equally distributed between men and women; everybody has the same opportunities and possibilities to grow in their careers and the working atmosphere is very pleasant, for everybody.