Ten years ago, the Faculty of Science already had 35% female PhD graduates, but only a small minority of approximately 7% female professors. When Inge Bleijenbergh, Professor of Action Research, asked why this was the case, she was told that women didn't want to work at the Faculty.
The research she carried out with Monic Lansu and Pleun van Arensbergen revealed that these women were not ‘simply leaving', but that the organisation was strongly modelled on masculine norms. Through more extra attention for social safety and female role models, the Faculty was able to make a shift that allowed it to also retain its female talent. “Gender diversity is now integrated in the Faculty's policy plan, which sets a great example that other faculties can follow,” says Bleijenbergh.
This faculty's example sounds familiar to Chief Diversity Officer Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven. Also as action researcher, for years she has studied how overly one-sided thinking patterns in various cultures lead to systemic violence against children and youth in the child welfare system. “Take Canada, where large numbers of youth with an indigenous or African-Canadian background were placed in care. Their living standards, which involved such practices as sharing a bedroom with many people, supposedly did not meet the national standards. Cultural differences were simply ignored. The perspective taken by institutions was faulty and too limited to be able to assess what a good home situation was, and they inadvertently caused these children and young persons great suffering.”
At Radboud University too, despite good intentions, a too limited perspective has at times dictated what is good education, research, or personnel policy. “Here too, people are feeling left out because they fall outside the range of what we now consider normal,” emphasises van Oudenhoven. “And I'm not talking only about differences in ethnicity or gender, religion or sexual orientation. Diversity also includes variation in physical abilities, neurological differences and different personality types. We have to let go of the idea that one way is better than another, and during Diversity Day on 4 October, we will talk about how we can build bridges in this respect.”
Effective action research
With their expertise in the field of organisational change, Bleijenbergh and her colleagues play an important role in building these bridges. During Diversity Day, Bleijenbergh, who is a keynote speaker, will share how action research can contribute to a more inclusive campus. “In action research, the researcher is not separate from the research, but an inherent part of the process. We work closely with the people in the organisation, so that our research is given form democratically, and can easily be adjusted where needed.”
Bleijenbergh mentions the PhD research of Rasika Mahajan at Radboud University. “She studies how diversity training programmes in the commercial sector can be better aligned with the intersectional background of the participants. The current programmes are often designed based on the experiences of white Western European people. Employees with an international background don’t always recognise themselves in them. This is why Mahajan devotes a lot of attention to the correlation between different forms of diversity. Hand in hand with doing research, we also work on crating a training programme that can be applied for a broad group of participants worldwide.”
Students are making themselves heard
In part thanks to such initiatives, van Oudenhoven is enthusiastic about partnering with other researchers. Earlier this year, researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences were already involved in a series of workshops on unconscious bias. And the DEI Office also works together with Radboud Gender & Diversity Studies. “Students can come to us for internships. As part of these internships, they have to write a paper offering a scientific interpretation of concrete issues at stake at our University. For example, this spring, some students wrote an advisory report on gender neutral toilets, which is now being assessed by a policy committee.”
Diversity Day also provides an opportunity to take stock: Where does Radboud University stand at present? What is going well? And where do we need to take further steps? Bleijenbergh: “A positive change has been set in motion. The Executive Board has really put the topic on the agenda these past years.” Van Oudenhoven agrees, and adds: “The newest generations of students are making themselves heard. They’re taking a stand, and the Executive Board is prepared to listen. That is reason for optimism.”
As a University, we can learn from the example of students calling things by their name. “Be proactive and take initiative, instead of only reacting.” The Code of Conduct is a good example in this respect. Behind the scenes, people were working hard on formulating a code for months, but since the document had to be checked by so many different people, it took a really long time before it could enter into force. “Dialogue is good, but endless discussions are not. They stop the ball from spinning.”
Diversity Day Netherlands falls this year on October 4 2022. Radboud University is recognizing this day with a Diversity Day Symposium.
It is significant that we note this national diversity day is also Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the holiest, most important day of the year in Judaism, known as the “Day of Atonement.” It begins at sundown Tuesday, October 4, 2022, and ends Wednesday evening, October 5th. Yom Kippur commemorates the day Moses came down from Mount Sinai after seeking God’s divine forgiveness for the Israelites who sinned against him by worshipping a golden calf idol. The central themes of Yom Kippur are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days.
Radboud University apologises to members of the Jewish community for the exclusion that occurs as a result of hosting the symposium on this day and takes this opportunity to wish the Jewish community a holy Yom Kippur.