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Inclusion on International Women’s Day: pulling together for structural change

How do you achieve the structural change needed for a more inclusive university community? What challenges do female staff face in their careers and what does it take to be a woman in a leadership role? This is what over 40 female staff members from the university discussed on International Women’s Day.

Panel members Annetje Ottow, Sarah de Rijcke and Saskia Goedhard kicked off the event at the Faculty Club in the Academy Building by talking about their careers. How did they get to where they are today and what core values do they have when it comes to leadership? This made for a nice list: networking; being trustworthy and reliable; being open to others; being true to yourself; having a clear vision; and trusting in your own abilities and those of your team.

Seize opportunities as they arise

Annetje Ottow, President of the Executive Board, spoke of how important the support of others is. She also believes that women shouldn’t be too modest and should not underestimate themselves. ‘So go for that job even if you don’t think you are equally good at all that is being asked. Don’t doubt yourself. Seize opportunities as they arise.’

Saskia Goedhard is the Executive Director of the Faculty of Humanities and comes from the financial world. She spent many years working as an accountant while continuing to study on the side. She moved to an executive role partly because of the trust and encouragement of others. ‘That is what I also do as a manager. I support my people and trust in them. I owe a lot to the role models in my career and hope that I too can be a role model to the people around me.’

Hold each other to account

An important lesson that the panel had for the roomful of women was to stay true to yourself. Sarah de Rijcke is the Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and has deliberately chosen work environments where she feels safe and appreciated. In her leadership roles, she helps others make such choices too. She likes to be open and honest. ‘You sometimes face tricky issues. Then I lay my cards on the table and say that I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle the problem. For me, that’s a form of good leadership. If you then get feedback saying that a strong man is needed to make tough decisions, that is probably meant as “good advice”, but I think we should hold each other to account. That’s really not acceptable.’

After the plenary, groups were formed to share personal experiences and reflect on inclusive gender policy at the university.

Pulling together for change

No question about it: diversity, inclusion and gender policy should be high on the agenda. This means pulling together for change. It means understanding the need for a diversity officer at each faculty. It means ensuring that an event like this one on International Women’s Day is not just for show but is about a structural dialogue, with men too. It means highlighting the importance of soft skills in job postings so that more women will apply. It means more transparency in appointments. And it means listening to what the workplace needs.

Ottow and Aya Ezawa, the university’s Diversity Officer and moderator for the afternoon, are going to act on the many recommendations. ‘That’s what makes this meeting so important’, said Ezawa. ‘We want to hear what is going on and explain how urgent this is. And we are aware of the problems and frustrations. No one spoke about this ten years ago, so we have definitely made progress.’ Ottow added, ‘We hear you and by working together we can improve life for everyone.’

Text: Margriet van der Zee
Photos: Margriet van der Zee and Aya Ezawa

The Leiden Top 50

On International Women’s Day a new TOP 50 was presented of women who are making a difference in the city in various ways. They are active in different sectors, including volunteering, education, government, culture and business. The list is intended as a way to showcase these women and generate attention for the organisation, initiative or company they work for. From Leiden University, the list includes President of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow, Professor Ionica Smeets and Professor by Special Appointment Saniye Çelik.

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