Time to put an end to machismo (this is about that kiss)

There are many similarities between the kiss of Spain’s football association president Rubiales and the departure of a female planetary scientist from Delft, says UKrant’s new columnist Dirk-Jan Scheffers.

You may well not have been watching the World Cup this summer, but the kiss that Spanish FA president Rubiales planted on the mouth of striker Hermoso will not have escaped your notice. Rubiales crossed a line that he thought did not exist – and which also turned out to exist only when he made the whole world an active bystander. He recently resigned.

Machismo does not just claim victims in Spain, and not just in football. As the media kept us updated on every new development in the Rubiales case – like how his mother went on hunger strike – a report in the Dutch media caught my eye: planetary scientist Daphne Stam had resigned from TU Delft.

The reason: machismo. Stam was kept out of important decisions, was not given the role she was entitled to and had had enough of the ‘paternalistic atmosphere’.

Internal employee surveys and an external report proved her right: her faculty is an old boys’ network and employees do not feel heard by the bodies that should protect them – the confidential adviser and ombudsperson. These cases almost always lead to the person who actually speaks up about social safety issues leaving the institute.

Machismo does not just claim victims in Spain, and not just in football

TU Delft could not comment on this particular case due to ‘privacy concerns’, but the spokesperson was keen to stress that TU Delft ‘continues to work towards a safe, inclusive and collegial working culture’.

This was reminiscent of an announcement by our own board of directors earlier this year – they, too, were unable comment on a specific case, but are ‘making every effort to improve social safety’.

Groningen measures to improve social safety include offering active bystander training to employees, and a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. During my active bystander training, this zero-tolerance policy came up.

The trainer indicated that you could start a difficult conversation with a colleague, for example, by saying ‘You and I both know that the UG has a zero-tolerance policy…’. But ‘knowing about’ a policy does not mean you know what it means – and no one in the room, including the trainer, could explain it.

Not surprising, since the description of this policy is as pompous as it is vague. Whether it has ever been put into practice is unknown – there’s that pesky privacy issue again.

The description of this policy is as pompous as it is vague

At the same time, zero tolerance sounds so hefty that it may actually discourage people from speaking out – are you going to complain about a colleague making inappropriate jokes at the coffee machine if that means they might get fired (since we have zero tolerance)?

The one example of zero tolerance that the people in the room could come up with was Susanne Täuber. When the chairman of the board first calls someone the ‘Aletta Jacobs of our time’ and then fires them, the university has some explaining to do. Especially if a judge indicates that the university itself played an ‘important, if not decisive, role in creating the seriously disturbed employment relationship’.

Especially if that conflict arose at a faculty where, according to its own research, Dutch men are favoured and social safety for women, internationals, and junior staff leaves something to be desired. Then the university may – without directly naming names – explain the consequences of its zero-tolerance policy for all parties involved in this sorry case.

¡Se acabó! The machismo that leads to the departure of talented women has to end – for all the cases that make the news there are just as many instances where people have left silently. Decisive intervention by managers, in a way that is visible within the organisation, is needed to make employees feel that they belong, and if need be, are heard and protected.




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