Girls, lead your future!

Girl power at Erasmus University
Girl power at Erasmus University

Lead Your Future is the EUR movement that wants to stimulate high school girls to recognize their opportunities and make the right choices in lifestyle, education and career. It was kicked off 5 October by the Empower, INspire & Motivate Girl Power Event. Is such a girl empowerment movement really needed? Yes, says Jacqueline Schenk, associate professor at the department of pedagogical and educational sciences, one of the female scientists associated with the movement.

Do you believe in the existence of a so-called Glass Ceiling at Erasmus University?
‘I’m not sure if you can put it this way, but the answer is yes if you look at the statistics on women in university careers. Starting as research trainees, moving on to assistant professor and then to professor, one sees that at the ground level the figures for women are good. However, at the level of professors not a lot of them are left. I believe at EUR only 17% of the professors is female. And that’s not something to be proud of. Some work needs to be done at this point.’

In which way an event like EIM Girl Power helps?
‘I believe this event can truly help, because the first step is awareness. The girls who came today are high potential, even though they might not have an academic background. For these first-generation students it’s especially interesting, since they don’t have the advantage or example of parents that have studied or worked at universities. They have mainly one question: ‘Can I do this?’ I want to encourage them.’

How can you help them to empower and choose a university career?
‘I showed them around the campus and hope it will comfort them somehow. They also talked to other female scientists. Why they choose a university career and what they like about it, they asked them. Some answers suited the girls in particular, like the fact scientists travel a lot. When I told them I’m going to Miami soon, I noticed the sparkle in their eyes.’

But this will not change the statistics, will it?
‘No, but we also need some time. Fifty years ago mainly boys graduated, nowadays there are more female than male Master-students. So eventually there will be also more female professors than we have now.’

What would you advice girls and women?
‘It’s important to realize that you’re capable of a lot more than you think. Don’t think you’ve to prove first that you’re worth it. Just do it, go for it, be sure you can do it. This will give self-confidence. It isn’t true that with just work hard you’ll get the promotion. You first have to step forward and believe everything is possible.’

The EIM Girl Power event is a part of Lead Your Future: an initiative from the The Dutch Network of Women Professors, the Female Leadership Foundation, Erasmus University and the municipality of Rotterdam to empower high school girls with different activities. Lead Your Future officially starts 15 November 2017 at Erasmus University.