Prof. Hanneke Takkenberg was presented with the FAME Athena Award during the 108th Dies Natalis. This prize is awarded annually to someone who has made an exceptional contribution to the position of women within Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) or Erasmus MC. Takkenberg: "Everyone at the university should be able to do justice to themselves and feel that they are being heard.
Striving for equality of opportunity is a common thread in your career. Where does that come from?
"When I started working as a young medical researcher at Erasmus MC, I noticed that my female colleagues had fewer opportunities to progress. I found out that women also earned less than men and wrote a letter to the Board (2006). I was invited to think up policy. At the time, it was still called 'Women's policy', and that in itself was interesting. I don't think that would be possible now, but it was revolutionary at the time. At the same time, it is also due to my character. I can't stand inequality and things that are not fair. As a little girl I used to fight with the bullies, because I couldn't bear to see them bother others.
Why do women in science have a harder time finding their way up?
"It is partly because women have only been in science for a relatively short time. Universities are male-dominated strongholds and this is also reflected in the organisational structure. Universities are hierarchical and very focused on competition and individual performance. This is evident from the criteria for excellence, for example. As long as excessive working hours, publishing a lot and bringing in money remain the norm, it is difficult to move up the ladder if you do not comply with the image of a stereotypical scientist. Prejudice also plays a role. We all have them unconsciously, but research shows that they usually have a negative impact on women.
How do you work on equity within the EUR?
"I am director of Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO), founded by previous FAME Athena award winner Dianne Bevelander, and I run the research project EQUAL4EUROPE within Rotterdam School of Management. This is part of a large European programme aimed at developing and implementing Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) in research institutions. The European Commission wants to stimulate this and has therefore developed a framework. The first step is an analysis. This involves looking not only at figures such as the male/female ratio, procedures and policy, but also at how employees perceive them. Next, we work together on a plan to bring about sustainable change. This could involve targets, changes in recruitment and appointment policy, but also interventions that promote social safety.
What does this award do to you?
"I think it's a nice recognition and I'm proud of it. At the same time, there are so many others who deserve it. Think also of young colleagues such as Maria Carmen Punzi with her initiative to make sanitary pads available everywhere on campus. I think practical initiatives like that are wonderful too."
Doesn't it also rub off a little that such a prize is needed to draw attention to equality of opportunity?
"In the end, the essence is an inclusive and safe environment for everyone, regardless of gender or origin. Everyone within the university must be able to do justice to themselves and feel heard. As long as female leadership is insufficiently present, I think we should continue with this award and the initiatives in the field of equal opportunities that are currently running."