The Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) has a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and social safety, according to a report ordered by its board. Is the faculty due for an overhaul?
The report is far from flattering. Some employees experience a lack of social safety, there is an imbalance in the pay for men and women, there is a clear lack of women and internationals in higher positions, and it looks like these same groups don’t have proper access to the informal networks at the faculty that are so important.
‘There’s a reason we started this investigation’, says dean Peter Verhoef. When he started at the faculty in 2019, it quickly became clear that ‘the issue needed to be addressed’. The first step was to create a relatively independent, large, and diverse work group. ‘Our priority was to get a good overview of what was going on.’
Now that the sore points have been revealed, the next question is: what is FEB going to do about them? The work group, which added quite a few recommendations to the final report, says policy changes would be one way.
The work group recommends, among other things, that the criteria concerning grants and promotions should be clearer and that selection advice committees should consist of a more diverse and rotating group of people.
Verhoef acknowledges the promotion criteria haven’t always been clear. ‘Last year, we tried to create a uniform tenure track policy. We also implemented a standard evaluation form for every candidate.’
The board had also already started working on the third recommendation: expanding leave options for young parents. They’re extending the period this group will have off from teaching. ‘That means that someone who was pregnant won’t have to teach for six months’, says Verhoef. ‘The policy doesn’t just apply to women; there will be a shorter period off from teaching for men. The policy also applies to people who’ve adopted a child rather than given birth to one. Any type of family expansion, basically.’
The policy changes are the first steps aimed at providing the employees with more insight into the processes at the faculty, in the hopes that they feel less like some of them are being treated unfairly. The changes should also help to curb the potential prejudices at play during the selection process, allowing a more diverse group of people to rise in the ranks and giving them equal opportunities.
But what can the board do about the social aspects of life at the faculty? While a large part of employees say they’re happy with the faculty culture, another part says they feel unsafe to a greater or lesser extent. They cite examples such as verbal aggression, discrimination, and bullying, which is sometimes expressed in seemingly small ways.
‘These small actions and inappropriate remarks may have already been normalised’, says Ella Sebamalai, internationalisation policy advisor and member of the work group. ‘What we’d like to see is that someone can say that something is inappropriate, and that the other person responds by asking how they can change, not just by saying they didn’t mean it like that.’
But in order to get that conversation started, people need to feel free to hold people accountable. The report shows that the implicit hierarchical structure at the faculty occasionally stands in the way of that. How do you hold someone accountable for their behaviour when that same person holds your academic future in their hands?
‘Anyone who has an issue with their manager that they feel is too small to talk to them about should have access to another senior person’, says associate professor Robbert Maseland, another member of the work group. In order to bring this about, the group is proposing the faculty limits the power of informal networks by formalising networks between people.
One option is to create mentorship programmes for minorities at the faculty, as well as peer groups for PhD candidates, employees on a tenure track, and minorities.
The investigators say this could enable more employees at the faculty to make various connections with colleagues. ‘People who feel like they’re a proper part of a bigger organisation feel more powerful’, says Maseland. ‘They have the courage to hold their colleagues accountable.’
Learning from each other
Sebamalai says facilitating networks will help people learn from each other. ‘Some minorities have in fact succeeded in spite of the system.’ The reverse is also also true, she says: some people who are part of ostensibly privileged groups don’t succeed. ‘The system works in favour of some people, and against others.’
At the same time, she says, we need to be aware of the difference that diversity makes. ‘We have to think about the role that diversity plays, and we can do so in part through an individual approach.’
Both the work group and the dean agree that the investigation was a first step towards a more inclusive faculty, but that behavioural changes are also necessary. ‘I think a lot of people aren’t aware of their behaviour’, says Verhoef.
‘A report like this opens their eyes and can lead to introspection. The change starts with us as faculty board, but the rest of faculty is responsible, too. That’s why we want this to be a point of discussion at all departments. There’s a lot of crosstalk and I hope that people feel empowered to start the debate. We want to facilitate that debate.’
The report is also the first official insight into employees’ daily experiences. ‘The work group has quantifiable data to present’, says Sebamalai. ‘We can measure the results and tweak our approach for the future.’
Because, says Verhoef, once the current strategic plan is reviewed again, somewhere in 2025, this investigation needs to be repeated, and it had better show some improvement.
‘To me, the report is a snapshot of the current state of diversity, inclusion, and social safety at the faculty’, he says. ‘The process we’re starting is a long-term one. These changes will take time. But we’ve made a start. And we’re talking about how we should treat each other.’