“I continue to promote diversity in a broader sense."
Over the past 5 years, the prestigious Athena Award has been presented to leading professionals and academics from Erasmus University Rotterdam. This year, the FAME Athena Award is also acknowledging important contributions from students. In 2016, Sascha Krijger won the award. From 2008 to 2012, she was head of P&O/Public Management and Policy at Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) and subsequently interim director of Operations at ESHCC and external advisor to various faculties and to EUR Holding B.V. She won the award for her dedication to the 'Mature Talent Programme' and the 'ESE Research Traineeship' and the way in which she promoted women and diverse talent within the organisation. "I think it's a shame not to use all the potential talent available in this world."
Why are talented women so important to organisations like Erasmus University Rotterdam?
"I'd like to put this question in a broader context. I feel that diversity in the broadest sense is important for a university. On the EUR campus, students with a Dutch passport are represented from many different cultures, but this representation of diversity is hard to find in the organisation itself. Often the diversity is found in the (academic) staff of people from abroad, the internationals. There are clear differences between someone from a migrant background who was born in the Netherlands and someone who comes to the Netherlands as an international/expat. It's important to have more role models for students and starting scholars from that first group as well as from the group of women. I also feel that the wealth of ideas that is so important in the academic world is enhanced by putting people from different backgrounds together."
When did female talent become an important issue for you?
"Diversity and culture have always played an important role in my own personal development. I feel it's important that an organisation represents society. When I was head of the HR department at ESE, I noticed that few women and few people from a migrant background were represented among the academic staff. Together with the former dean of ESE, Professor Philip Hans Franses, the ‘Mature Talent Programme’ and the ‘ESE Research Traineeship’ were developed. Within the 'Mature Talent Programme', we offered women alumni who worked in business a PhD place within the faculty. In this way, they could discover whether an academic career would suit them. This programme contributed greatly to bringing more female talent into the faculty, entering into discussions about the positive input of women to academic life and removing the bias concerning women in economic studies. The ‘ESE Research Traineeship’ was set up for talented students from a migrant background. They were placed on the job with a good scholar and spent a year doing a training programme. Of the 40 participants, 10 embarked on a PhD project. What we now need to consider is how to retain such talent. The rule is that after obtaining your PhD, you may not stay on working as a postdoc at the same university. That means that you lose talent as well as your role models. Which is a shame."
"In short, I think it's a shame not to use all the potential talent available in this world. It's as simple as that."
What is it that drives you to encourage female talent and diverse talent?
"I feel it's important that people are able to fulfil all their potential. To me, it's unfair if someone isn't given the opportunity to show their talent just because they were born in a certain place in the world. With two other people, I founded the 'Computers for Africa' foundation whereby we donate used computers from companies in the Netherlands to primary schools in deprived areas in South Africa. These children have often never seen a computer. As a result of the donation, they can learn computer skills that then increase their chances of getting a job in the future. In short, I think it's a shame not to use all the potential talent available in this world. It's as simple as that."
What else can be done to attract more female talent? What do we need?
"It's important that we draw attention to the positive aspects of an academic career and what exactly it involves. The ‘Mature Talent Programme’ and the ‘ESE Research Traineeship’ have shown that when you introduce people to academic life, it can positively change their perspective on an academic career. And even if they don't choose an academic career, most of them get a better job in business or in government after the PhD programme. So it's a win-win situation. Another idea would be to start up a minor for third-year students where they experience what an academic life might be like. That might encourage them to choose a research master."
How do you create more awareness?
“By talking to each other and regularly focusing on diversity. And also getting people with a diverse background to have their say. I also think that bias training sessions could help. If it's not an issue on the work floor, nothing will happen, despite a certain policy having been adopted. Within the 'Mature Talent Programme' and 'ESE Research Traineeship', I wasn't just the programme leader but also coach and counsellor for these students. What I remember most is the story of a male student of Moroccan origin who had taken part in the ESE Research traineeship. He said that it wasn't the right time for him to pursue an academic career but that he would encourage his children later to obtain a doctorate, if they wanted. I thought that was great to hear."
I still consider it an honour to have won the award, because it was an important aspect within my HR work. For me, it was mainly about highlighting the importance of diversity among your staff in the faculty.
How did winning the FAME Athena Award impact your work?
"I was delighted that I'd drawn attention to the broad aspect of diversity. I still consider it an honour to have won the award, because it was an important aspect within my HR work. For me, it was mainly about highlighting the importance of diversity among your staff in the faculty. I'm very grateful to the faculty for nominating me and thus recognising its importance. Even now, I am still drawing attention to issues of diversity. Of gender, ethnicity, culture and people with an impairment. It's an intrinsic motivation for me that everyone has equal opportunities."
Are there other ways of giving people recognition for their work besides the FAME Athena Award?
"I feel it's important that things are addressed and that issues are identified. An award for encouraging female talent and diversity is good, but it should really be the icing on the cake of effective policy. The policy relating to this theme should be set up in partnership with the faculties, then properly embedded and implemented by those same faculties. I propose continuing the discussion about diversity in the broadest sense. But also, how can we use the knowledge and skills of the people who have won the Athena Award and what follow-up actions can we take? That's something I'd like to discuss."