Gender diversity at Aerospace Engineering: ‘We hope to set an example at TU Delft'

News - 07 December 2021

In this interview, we talk to Henri Werij, Dean of the faculty of AE and Axelle Viré, Faculty Diversity Officer. What are their perspectives on gender equality and inclusion? What are their thoughts and actions on improving gender diversity at the faculty of Aerospace Engineering?

Striving for excellence in research and education is our primary purpose, but we can have an added value by striving for excellence in diversity and inclusion.

Dean Prof.dr. Henri Werij

r. Axelle Viré

What does gender equality mean to you?

Axelle: ‘Gender equality means to have an environment where men and women have the same opportunities and where there are no barriers for women to pursue their career.

Henri: ‘Our management team subscribes the idea that everybody should have equal opportunities regardless of race or gender in this case. I would like to add personalities. For instance, brilliant minds can be very introvert and we should respect these personalities and give them space to show their talents.

What is the importance of gender diversity?

Axelle: ‘Diverse teams are more creative and innovative. However, it is also important to mention that there can be challenges associated with diversity: the difference in viewpoints in a diverse team could be more difficult to manage. However, it is definitely more interesting and has a strong benefit. If you have a team with all the same profiles, you will have blind spots, whereas with a diverse workforce you cover different viewpoints and skills.

Henri: ‘We want to be a key player in research and education and in addition on how we operate and the culture that we have. Our aim is to set an example as a faculty by showing industry and society that we embrace gender equality and that we have measures set in place to improve gender diversity. Striving for excellence in research and education is our primary purpose, but we can have an added value by striving for excellence in diversity and inclusion.

What measures can you put in the spotlight regarding work-life balance?

Axelle: ‘We have launched the faculty parental fund on the 1st of November this year. This new policy helps both men and women who are starting a family. Often, when you take parental leave you have to continue certain activities. The fund can help you with that, for example hire someone to do the work. The first part of the fund is targeting women who welcome a child and covers 26 weeks. This is more than the official maternity leave of 16 weeks because it also incorporates breastfeeding time. The duration was determined based on the average maternity and breastfeeding leave time taken by our staff. The second part of the fund is for people taking parental leave. Staff members can take this leave up to the 8th birthday of a child. This also covers 26 weeks and compensates for the legal parental leave in the Netherlands. The applicants have to fill in a form to justify why they need the fund and how they plan to use it, but we do not have strict guidelines or criteria. We think this flexibility is important because staff members might have specific needs that we cannot anticipate. We hope to set an example at TU Delft and maybe other faculties will join us and hopefully other universities too!

What measures can you put in the spotlight regarding gender balance in leadership positions?

Henri: ‘We have a strong desire to have a gender balance in our management team. At this moment, our management team consists of only men. All department heads are men. However, this will change in time.

What measures can you put in the spotlight regarding recruitment and promotion?

Axelle: ‘An idea that our committee is currently exploring is to offer implicit bias tests to all our staff members. Everyone is biased. There is no right or wrong about this. However, we are not always aware of our biases and sometimes we think that we are not biased. We would like to offer an implicit bias test, which people can take completely anonymously to see how biased they really are. This could increase the effectiveness of a bias training.

What measures can you put in the spotlight regarding gender-based violence?

Henri: ‘We do not tolerate harassment in all its manifestations. However, I need to know. Otherwise, I cannot take any actions. If you see or encounter harassment, please contact Axelle or me. It happens that certain comments can be perceived as intimidating. Maybe because of cultural differences. We are not always aware of this. I hope we can help each other with that. Dr. Sofia Teixeira De Freitas, member of diversity committee and DEWIS fellow, wants to create a kind of sisterhood at the faculty, where female faculty can support each other and call out unwanted behavior.

What does your ideal faculty look like?

Henri: ‘I would like us to be a community where we care for each other and where people can come to great heights. Personally, I want us to be the best Faculty of Aerospace Engineering in the world, while getting the best things done in collaboration, where people respect each other regardless of differences.

Axelle: ‘I really want the faculty to set an example in attaining gender equality. My dream is that the faculty becomes a role model in the whole spectrum: in the number of women at all levels; in the policies; in the way we work together; in the creativity and the diverse student populations. And as a result, I hope we can inspire little girls who will choose Aerospace Engineering when they grow up [smile].