Sociologist Zakia Essanhaji has been awarded the Unilever Research Prize 2018. She received it for her research into how to tackle the persistent gender inequality in knowledge-intensive organisations.
People who work in the knowledge-intensive and future-oriented organization strive for constant improvement of their environment. This is one of the reasons why such organisations, from corporations to universities, have been trying for quite some time to tackle the rather persistent inequalities between men and women. Essanhaji has been working on this problem by conducting research on gender diversity policy at her own university. By means of interviews she compared the policy with the daily experiences of female PhD students.
Despite the implementation of gender diversity policies, which are mostly focused on women, the interviews show how men - often without realising it - set standards for success and pay attention and praise to colleagues who look like themselves. They are usually other men.
Essanhaji's research shows how gender diversity policy can unintentionally help to maintain gender inequality. From the perspective of women, the policy often does not fit in with everyday practice.
Gender inequality is now mainly addressed by developing initiatives in which women become empowered. However, the research shows that gender inequality is not about women's individual qualities, but about the institutional ways in which quality is valued. One of the recommendations from the study is that gender inequality is no longer seen as a problem for women, but as an institutional problem.
The nomination for the Unilever Research Prize states that during her research, Zakia Essanhaji has shown that she has the rare talent to expose delicate issues with integrity and sensitivity. She is able to bring to the surface issues that are usually left unspoken. This results in exciting and fascinating research, but also contributes to new strategies for tackling inequality in organizations.
Zakia Essanhaji graduated Cum Laude from the thesis Gender diversity policy as a continuation of gender inequality at the Master's programme in Metropolitan Issues and Policies of the Sociology programme, under the supervision of Dr. Rogier van Reekum. She is currently working as a researcher at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology.
Unilever Research price
Unilever awards research prizes to the most talented students in chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering and social sciences. The thirteen Dutch universities each nominate their most talented students in order to qualify for this award. The prize consists of a statue and a cheque for 2500 euros.