"By pushing an active policy, you can stimulate the recruitment, retention and promotion of female talent."

Werner Brouwer, winner of the FAME Athena Award 2017.
Prof. dr. Werner Brouwer
Michelle Muus

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 2017, Professor Werner Brouwer, professor of Health Economics at Erasmus School of Health, Policy and Management (ESHPM) and Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) won the award. During his tenure as dean of ESHPM (2012-2018), 23 female assistant professors, 7 female associate professors and 2 female professors were appointed at ESHPM. "The ultimate goal is that the organisation provides a good reflection of the relevant population and offers equal opportunities."

Why are talented women so important for organisations? And why is it important to EUR in particular?

"I'm an economist, so I think in terms of efficiency and fairness, the classic conflict in economics. You can win on both aspects by tackling the problems around diversity and equal opportunities. For an organisation, it's inefficient if you can't create an environment where the talented women you are teaching are also willing to stay and work there. Research has shown that mixed teams, at various levels, achieve better results. Men and women complement each other, which creates balance in an organisation. If you have a certain percentage of women professors, it becomes easier, more normal and attractive for new female talent to make a career here.

Even if it wasn't more efficient, for the sake of equality, you'd want to change the current situation. In terms of fairness, this means that you need to work on creating equal opportunities for all talent, whatever the gender or origin. I think that the numbers at Erasmus University do give a clear signal that we need to think about that fairness. Through implicit bias, one is not always personally aware of it, but the results give pause for thought."

What is it that drives you to encourage female talent?

"I work in a very nice organisation, and I assumed that everything was going well on this front too. However, slightly to my own surprise, it appeared that also within ESHPM, more attention was very much needed for this subject. As a dean, it's obviously your responsibility to give that attention. Ultimately, however, it's something that you really need to do as an organisation. By pushing an active policy, you can stimulate the recruitment, retention and promotion of female talent."

How do you create awareness?

"It's a combination of soft and hard agreements. The agreements that we, jointly as ESHPM, adopted in the covenant with the Executive Board were hard agreements. Before these are adopted and communicated, you discuss them and talk about how you can achieve them. Because, at the end of the day, it's a shared responsibility. In some respects, I'm surprised that this is also such a topical subject among many colleagues. We have explicit criteria for promotion, for example, but colleagues may experience that very differently. The will to change that, in terms of experience, process and results, and to encourage discussion about this subject is an important step forward. And again: that's certainly not something that a dean alone focuses on. You really need to act as an organisation."

"Now we are losing talent all down the line, from PhD candidates to professors. I feel that our joint task and challenge is to find where the leaks are and how to close them. "

How did winning the FAME Athena Award impact your work?

"It's a bit ambiguous. It's obviously great for an individual to be nominated by colleagues. I very much appreciated that. However, I didn't feel that my own role deserved an award. I'd have preferred to put the spotlight on people who promote female talent 'voluntarily' rather than as part of their job. Personally, I was particularly delighted that we interpreted this theme well within ESHPM as an organisation. It led to an important catch-up exercise in terms of appointments and ensuring a shared vision of the future. But there's still a lot of work to do!

Besides my position as dean, I've also become a confidential advisor, a very valuable task. Obviously, I then talk to both men and women. Among women, this sometimes has an extra dimension, also because the same problems arise. In that case, you try to ensure that this talent is retained for EUR."

What has it been like to be the only man so far to have won the award?

"Again, mixed feelings! I certainly don't see promoting female talent and making our working climate and promotion policy fairer as a task for women alone. It's a task that you face together, both men and women. The fact that my contribution received this award is very nice. However, it's a shame that such an award is necessary."

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

"There are various things you could do. One of those, for example, is publishing articles, as a lever, about people who act as a role model. Hanneke Takkenberg (among others board member of FAME and LNVH) has been actively promoting female talent in a very pleasant, persistent and effective way and is also a very respected scholar. That’s really great. But behind the scenes too, there are often women who support young talent, share their experience and network and thus help them move on. Such a buddy system, if you like, could be further institutionalised, also to recognise the individual coaching work associated with it. Certainly in this phase. Once we are in a situation in which the male/female distribution is better, these things will hopefully work more smoothly. Until that moment, you need people who are willing to take that extra step."

How can we all pitch in to promote female talent?

"I don't think that there's a generic solution that you can apply in every situation. You need to examine the issues people face in each organisational unit. Be prepared to make clear agreements with yourself and the organisation about your goal. This might not be so much a hard quota, but it does work as a constant reminder of where you want to go. This makes you look differently at your organisation, appointments and where the talent is. Now we are losing talent all down the line, from PhD candidates to professors. I feel that our joint task and challenge is to find where the leaks are and how to close them. That's sometimes customised work. One person struggles with their work-life balance and another with the group of colleagues, which makes it harder for them to move on. This requires attention and input, also at individual level, and the will to improve this.

This is an important theme for now. It's frustrating that we haven't made more progress. There's still a lot of work to do. In the coming period, I hope that we'll be able to further formulate the opportunity, the challenge and the necessity to become better and fairer!"

More information

With the Athena Award, Female Academics Moving toward Equity (FAME) requests attention for staff and students who stimulate female talent within the EUR community in a distinguishing manner and who are thus an example for others. Do you know someone within the EUR community too? Nominate them for the Athena Award 2019You can submit your nomination until the 16th of September 2019.