“Attention to gender is important.”

Lizzy Boonen, winner of the FAME Athena Award 2018

Over the last 5 years the FAME Athena award has been awarded to some of the leading professionals and academics at Erasmus University Rotterdam. However, for the first time in this awards history, FAME Athena will look to recognise the important contributions of students as well. In 2018 Lizzy Boonen, HR policy officer at Erasmus MC, won the Award for her contribution to the ‘Female Talent Class’ (FTC) and ‘VENA’, the female network at Erasmus MC for academics. “It’s important that the department heads are aware and remain vigilant regarding diversity in their teams and the advantages it offers.”

Why are talented women so important for organisations like Erasmus MC?

“Combining feminine qualities with masculine qualities results in more creativity, and this has a positive impact on an organisation. This allows the organisation to perform better and achieve more. If more talented women attain high-ranking positions, it becomes more apparent that there are differences, and we can reap the benefits this brings. There are more than enough talented women around: 70% of students in medicine are women, 48% of associate professors are women, and there are many female post-doc researchers as well. All of these women bring talents to the table. As an organisation, you want to use the best talent, and you want everyone to have the opportunity to demonstrate their talents. It seems that men find it easier to showcase their talents. To help them find their way to the top, we have programmes in place for women to explain to them how the organisation works. In these programmes, we focus on creating awareness and the politics at play in the organisation.”

When did female talent become an important issue for you?

“It’s a topic that has I’ve always taken a personal interest in. I ran my own business for 10 years, where I was a career coach focusing on people’s personal development. In 2010, I started working at Erasmus MC’s career centre, where I spoke with people in all kinds of job roles and positions. That’s when I noticed not only how this system operated in a way that impeded the promotion of women, but also how women hold themselves back. More and more frequently I found myself wondering what was going on here in terms of leadership? About 5 years ago I started focussing on on leadership and talent development. I feel gender is something that needs to be addressed.”

What kind of impact has winning the FAME Athena Award had on your work?

“It’s given me quite a boost. It’s nice to see your efforts acknowledged and appreciated. It’s a positive reinforcement, instead of your efforts being seen as just a routine part of your work. I’ve gotten a lot of attention after winning the award, and people have had some really nice things to say when they recognise me from the article on the university's website.”

Are there other ways of giving people recognition for their work besides the FAME Athena Award?

“I see the award as an incentive, and it’s a great idea to present it to an individual. But I’ve only come to really appreciate the award after the fact. I think there are so many people working at EUR and Erasmus MC, who don’t always get noticed even though they’re working on interesting projects. Someone like Corine (a leadership and talent development colleague, ed.) who’s been working for years and has made a focus on women the norm, deserves much more recognition for her work. Another possible way of giving people recognition is by rewarding initiatives. This could involve multiple people.”

"In the end, it doesn’t matter if the supervisor is a man or a woman. What does matter is how they nurture the strengths of their most talented employees."

How can we all pitch in to promote female talent?

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s important that the department heads are aware and remain vigilant regarding diversity in their teams. That means they acquire an even better understanding of the benefits of diversity. And personal attention and recognition would help as well. Encouraging female talent means having a keen eye for the differences. No two people are the same. Some women are more the self-starter type, while others thrive when they receive support and recognition from their supervisor. It’s important for supervisors to be aware of this and use the appropriate leadership style. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the supervisor is a man or a woman. What does matter is how they nurture the strengths of their most talented employees. Talent needs to be able to find its way to the top. What’s more, it’s important that there is more understanding for the women who need extra support. This also means more understanding from the woman who made to the top purely on her own strengths.”

More information

With the Athena Award, Female Academics Moving toward Equity (FAME)aims to celebrate staff members and students who stimulate and encourage female talent within the EUR community. Do you know someone within the EUR community who’s an example for others in this field? Nominate this person for the Athena Award 2019!