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D&I Symposium 2024: What have we achieved with a decade of diversity policy?

How has progress been made on diversity and inclusion at Leiden University over the past decade? Attendees reflected on this at the D&I Symposium 2024: Untold Stories. And in the workshops, students and staff discussed the next steps toward a more inclusive community.

President of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow opened the symposium at the Wijnhaven Building in The Hague. She spoke of the huge impact the war in Israel and Palestine has had on the university community. ‘The events of the past months have made it clear that our task is not simply to conduct research and share knowledge. A university is also a place where students should learn to deal with complex issues such as the conflict in Israel and Palestine, acquire the necessary skills to handle difficult conversations and find constructive ways to tackle the challenges of our time.’

President of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow

Important role of diversity policy

Diversity policy and this symposium played an important role in this, she said. ‘Learning how to engage with differences and move forward together is a key focus of our diversity and inclusion policy, and what brings us here today.’ Much had been achieved in the past decade, she added. ‘There has been considerable growth in the representation of women, also in top managerial roles such as mine, and our students and staff are much more international. This means that diverse experiences, needs and perspectives should be considered the norm rather than the exception.’

The keynote speaker was the head of the History department at the Rijksmuseum, Valika Smeulders. Museums long focused on power, wealth and a few famous figures. Smeulders described how that is changing and how these changes are being made at the Rijksmuseum.

Panel discussion about a decade of D&I

In the panel discussion, the participants reflected on the milestones and challenges of a decade of D&I Office. Diversity Officer Aya Ezawa mentioned, among others, gender-inclusive salutations in all the university’s official letters and communication and the inclusive recruitment guide. And that 31.2% of the professors are now women, up from 14% in 2005. ‘But beyond the numbers, projects and toolkits is the more important question of what it takes to facilitate organisational change possible and to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at the university level’, said Ezawa.

Ownership, allyship and collaboration are important here, she said. ‘Everything we do and have achieved is the result of a collaborative effort. Our colleagues from HR, communications, ICT, facilities and real estate have played a vital role in realising change’, said Ezawa. ‘The most challenging and also most important aspect of D&I  work is to enable structural changes. This involves strengthening the representation of diversity, not only among students and staff but also in leadership, policy and administration.’

Looi van Kessel, an assistant professor and chair of the LGBT+ Network, also emphasised how important it is for diversity and inclusion to become part of everyday policy. ‘We have to ensure that our organisations walk the walk when they talk the talk. They shouldn’t just see D&I as a good PR moment. It has to be translated into policy throughout the year, not just at visible moments during that year.’

How do you talk to people with differing views?

The attendees could choose from six workshops where they could, for example, find out about the world of people with vision impairment or learn more about the importance of archiving in decolonising historical narratives. In the ‘D&I Dialogue’ workshop the participants discussed several statements in an environment where it was safe to agree or disagree with one another.

Discussion leader Martin van Engel (D&I Adviser) showed them some video clips. He then made a statement such as, ‘There is too much emphasis on colour. Other forms of diversity are also important.’ The participants had to indicate to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement by standing along a line in the room. This made it visible how much their opinions differed and led to interesting discussions and conversations about the experiences of the various participants − conversations that continued during the drinks after the workshop.

Ella Picavet

What did participants think?

Ella Picavet, member of the University Council

Why have you come to this symposium?
As a member of the University Council, I represent some 35,000 students. This is the event where you can talk to people about what is going on in various groups and what they need.

What is the most important D&I achievement at the university?
That it has become more normal to talk about it. When I started here as a first year it was the preserve of progressives. Now it has become the most ordinary thing in the world to want gender-inclusive salutations. It’s great that it’s not such a hassle anymore. It’s become accepted.

What is needed to advance diversity and inclusion in the next decade?
There are so many projects and so many passionate people who want to work on them. But you come up against limited time and money. We have to redress the balance in how much value we place and how much money we want to spend on it.

Glen Homann

Glen Homann, student from the Faculty of Humanities

Why have you come to this symposium?
I came last year too: I was doing an extracurricular course at the time, where students worked on one of the workshops. I heard that this year was going to be about museums and heritage institutions and thought it sounded interesting.

What is the most important D&I achievement at the university?
What I notice is that there are lots of gender-neutral toilets. I am trans, so for me it’s good to have these toilets because I don’t feel uncomfortable there. It’s also good that there are now affordable menstrual products in the university buildings.

What is needed to advance diversity and inclusion in the next decade?
To decolonise the curriculum and diversify in a way that affects people daily and makes them aware of their rights and history. Not just during this annual symposium but every day.

Mustafa Jebari

Mustafa Jebari, D&I trainer

Why have you come to this symposium?
I am a trainer at No Labels consultancy, and we provide training at the university. I’ve only just started and was curious about what is being done to foster D&I here. What is our link, what has been achieved and what more can we achieve together?

What is the most important D&I achievement at the university?
Ambassadors have been recruited to get things moving. You can see that people at different levels are taking responsibility. Steps are being taken at the organisation’s own pace, which is important.

What is needed to advance diversity and inclusion in the next decade?
Even more awareness and for everyone to take responsibility. To take a good look at where we are and where we want to go. To create a collective interest together. That will take patience; change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and space.

Frank Parleviet

Frank Parleviet, marketing adviser

Why have you come to this symposium?
I work for marketing and a few of us always come to the D&I Symposium. I came last year too and found it really thought-provoking. That’s why I’ve come again.

What is the most important D&I achievement?
Change takes a long time, witness women’s suffrage, for example. But the differences have become more visible and there is more awareness of them. It’s a topic on the agenda and that is a positive change.

What is needed to advance diversity and inclusion in the next decade?
The discussion could dig deeper into what diversity and inclusion really is. It’s great that there are gender-neutral toilets but I sometimes miss the level below. At the workshop where everyone had to say where they stood, you could see that there are different forms of diversity. I’m glad we can talk about that. And talking of people’s points of view, what are the differences? I sometimes miss that in the topics that the Diversity Office is working on. We have to find other ways to have the discussion and conversation about diversity at the university.

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Text: Tom Janssen
Photos: Wilke Geurds

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