Diversity officer: ‘We need to try even harder to recruit women’

David Keyson has been Chief Diversity Officer now for more than a year. How has he fared and does he have an idea of how diverse or non-diverse TU Delft is?

David Keyson: “With inclusive research TU Delft could take the lead.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

How have you and the Diversity Office fared over the last year?
“We first needed to set up the organisation around my position. When we spoke to each other last year, I was mostly working alone. I now have a support staff of two people and we will have one other person in January 2022. Each faculty now has its own Diversity Officer for half or one day a week. We have also had a Diversity Board since November, which can provide me with information and feedback. The Board Members comprise all the Diversity Officers and representatives from the Student Council, Dewis (Delft Women in Science, Eds.), TrueU (LGBT network, Eds.), Human Resources and Education and Student Affairs (ESA).”

What do the faculty Diversity Officers do?
“They promote diversity and inclusion in their faculties. The Diversity Office supports them with data so that they have relevant information such as the low number of women working in certain departments. They also organise events, trainings and workshops. In turn they supply us with input that we can use to design our central policy.”

What kind of policy will it be?
“Our priority recently has been the Gender Equality Plan that will be published on our website this month. TU Delft, just like the Netherlands as a whole, is behind. Without a policy plan for diversity and inclusion, we will not receive research subsidies from Brussels anymore.”

‘The quota will not solve problems by itself’

TU Delft is also lagging behind in terms of the number of female professors. The proportion in the rest of the country is 25%, while TU Delft has set this as a ‘soft quota’ for 2025. Is this not too low?
“It is a realistic target. It is better to have a target that is achievable and this is already ambitious. We have a pipeline problem – not enough women flow on from assistant professor to associate professor. If we could remove the obstacles here, we could draw on a larger pool when appointing professors.”

These obstacles have been around for a long time and have also been visible and talked about for a long time. Would a harder quota not demonstrate that TU Delft is serious about this?
“The quota will not solve problems by itself. TU Delft needs to try even harder to recruit women. We need a change in culture. And we really need to look at the pipeline, not only at TU Delft, but right at its start. I would like to discuss what happens at primary and secondary schools with the Government. I saw that children in Portugal are exposed to technology at a very young age. We need to do this here too as industry is crying out for technical people. We need everyone and this includes people with a migrant background and from disadvantaged neighbourhoods such as South Rotterdam, for example. Hardly any of our students come from there.”

Last year you said that you want to use more data, but TU Delft does not register the heritage of anyone’s forefathers. Are you now looking at the neighbourhoods with high populations of people with a migrant background?
“We are working with heat maps. Certain neighbourhoods have mostly minority groups and few of our students come from them. We see secondary schools where absolutely no VWO (pre-university education) pupils with a physics or engineering profile choose TU Delft. If we have this kind of information at our fingertips we can respect people’s privacy while recruiting more effectively and set targets for the number of students from these postal codes. One idea would be to send ambassadors to the schools. They could be role models that can debunk stereotypes and emphasise the impact of their professional area on society.”

‘Subjective identity says more than where your grandmother came from’

Diversity is not only about background, but also about aspects such as sexual identity. Last year you were intending to use questionnaires to assess how people identify themselves. What is the status of this?
“We are planning to send out the questionnaire to staff in December and to students in March. Its most important question will be which community the people identify with. To my mind, the subjective identity – what people feel – is more important than facts such as where their grandmother came from. We also want to know the degree to which people feel discriminated against. We have never asked this before. We asked staff in the employee monitor whether they feel discriminated against, but we did not ask further questions. If it appears that people feel discriminated against on the grounds of ethnicity, we could run a sensitivity training for example.”

Is the subject of diversity and inclusion a current issue on campus?
“I sense a lot of interest and awareness. Of course it is a big challenge, but we are highly motivated to work on it and to remove obstacles wherever we find them. In Computer Sciences, less women than men get through the admissions exam. Why is this? Does the exam favour men and what can we do about it? And how can we attract women internationally? Would it help if we also help their partners find work in the Netherlands?”

You also encourage diversity and inclusion in scientific research. How do you do this?
“This gendered innovation, which I am working on together with others, is still new. No other university in the Netherlands is working on it. The underlying idea is to enrich your knowledge and strengthen solutions and outcomes by involving many different people in scientific research. The question is how do you do this and what does it mean for the end result? We still need to work much of this out. We are behind in terms of the number of female professors, but with this idea TU Delft could take the lead.”

  • CV
    Professor of smart products and environments David Keyson has worked at TU Delft for more than twenty years. Since 1 September 2020, he has been chief diversity officer for two days a week. Keyson has a Jewish-American background, as he describes it himself, studied in Israel and England and obtained his PhD at TU Eindhoven. He has worked for Xerox in the United States and for Philips in Eindhoven. David Keyson is married and has four children.
Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

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