WUR’s inspirational women: Eva Siebelink

“I want everyone, wherever they are, to be able to be their full self. WUR is taking steps in that direction, which is encouraging,” says Eva Siebelink, Projectleader Diversity & Gender at Corporate Staff. She is also the person who initiated the Inspirational Women interview series. What are her own experiences and what gives her the courage to keep going? Eva: “Everyone has an opinion on this subject. I'm obviously doing something that challenges people, and that's a good thing.”

Why are you interested in the subject of gender?

“I’ve always been preoccupied with the themes of wholeness, safety and inclusiveness. Outside my work, I’m politically active in GroenLinks, I’m a member of the feminist network and I have my own business, in which I advise companies on how to be completely yourself in your work. You spend so many hours at work, you shouldn’t be leaving some of your talents at home and adopting a professional persona. How can everyone be completely themselves if the opportunities aren’t the same for all and, on top of that, there’s the pay gap? I want to make a difference, make the world a better place."

Can you briefly describe your career?

 “I was trained in health care and worked in disability care and childcare, but after an accident at the age of 19, I seriously questioned whether I had chosen the right path. Alongside my work in health care, I started studying Human Resources. It turned out that this mix of working with organisations and people really appealed to me. After stints in HR education and recruitment, I started working at Wageningen in 2012. WUR suits me very well because it is committed to things that matter, worldwide. As an HR consultant at PSG, I had contacts with Business Unit managers and chair holders, mostly men. I did a Gender and Diversity project, which I found hugely fascinating. At the end of 2018, I said I would like to take up this topic for WUR as a whole, a suggestion that was enthusiastically received. I am currently working two days a week on Gender and Diversity within WUR and two days a week on a major EU project called Gender Smart, which exchanges information within the EU about the current state of gender and diversity in research institutions. A great job with lots of variety. I love it. A nine-to-five office job is not for me.”

What are your experiences of gender inequality and can you give some examples?

 “I am a young woman of 33. I have three children and I’m active in various areas in addition to my job. You can’t imagine how often I’ve been asked ‘How do you do it all?’ So you’d like to know too? I watch almost no TV, I don’t sleep much and my husband and I share the care responsibilities at home. I have boundless energy, which is also fuelled by my dealings with people. I set myself a daily goal in the form of a word, such as family time, focus, in-depth or doing, and I try to achieve that. The Japanese have a word for it, ikigai, which means something like “what you get out of bed for today?”. What also helps is that I manage my own diary. For me, my private life and work are all mixed up together. That means that I also work at home, and vice versa. I don't think mamma Eva is any different from employee Eva.
Examples of gender inequality? Nobody asks a man ‘How do you do it all?’ When I ask my emancipated husband about leading figures in politics, music, writers, academia, he names men. The top 20 most sought-after talk show guests are all white men. So there is still work to be done. The Netherlands is far behind in this respect.”

How do you work on diversity and gender at WUR?

“My vision is that diversity can only be achieved by focusing on inclusiveness. Everyone should feel welcome, safe and seen. For that reason, we don’t have firm quotas at WUR. That would mean aiming for numbers rather than a culture change. I want to achieve both.
“At WUR, we are pursuing four pathways for diversity and gender: Anchoring at the Top, Culture Interventions, Empowerment and HR interventions.
‘A practical example is acknowledging that we all discriminate and have prejudices. You can discover this by taking a bias test, which looks at unconscious biases. These tests can be an eye-opener. There are hundreds of kinds of biases, opinions formed in a split second. If you are aware of this, it will already affect your subsequent behaviour. In addition to all this, I focus on diversity at a national level, on behalf of WUR. I do so by being a member of the National Network of Diversity Officers, and by liaising with LNVH [Dutch Network of Women Professors], VSNU [Association of Universities in the Netherlands], etc.’

Can you explain why you think this is such an important issue for a university?

“Numbers don’t lie. Our student population is 50% male and 50% female. We find these same percentages for PhD candidates. Then, above salary scale 12, an imbalance starts to appear. Our staff definitely do not reflect the make-up of our student population or of society. There is a glass ceiling, whereas we should be the very place where everyone is welcome (and feels welcome) and where all talent is able to flourish.”

Do you feel that gender inequality is more of an issue in certain positions or groups than in others?

 “It’s an issue everywhere. There are several reasons for this. One is that chair holder is often a position for life. Because of the imbalance in all the previous steps, there are far fewer women than men in the pipeline. If you look at the business community, there's a much faster progression. Our professors are mainly men. Female role models are important for all positions and certainly in academia. Those female role models are missing. Why? Because they are judged differently. They're not part of the old boys’ networks. Or, in old-fashioned terms, men are seen as better leaders. You see this everywhere – nationally, in academia, in the media.
“We really need to aim for inclusiveness. It also brings us better results. It improves the quality of our work, and it expands the pond that we ‘fish’ from. A team made up of roughly the same types of people will look at a problem in the same way. If you have more diversity, it takes longer, but you arrive at better solutions. We really need to work on this. In my view, the fact that this subject is mentioned in the Strategic Plan and isn’t simply vested in temporary projects makes quite a statement.”

What do you think are the conditions for an inclusive work environment?

“That you can be yourself. That you feel welcome. That you have a sense of belonging. That you are judged on your talent and not your gender, religion, sexual preference, colour, disability, etc. We’re all human and that’s what makes us the same.”

What will the culture at WUR look like in, say, ten years’ time? What's your ideal?

“I’m hoping for an open culture where there is no need to play politics. I feel very positive about this and I believe in it. In fact, it can’t be any other way, with so many people leaving our organisation and fewer and fewer people in the labour market. We will have to broaden our horizons and attract more women, and more staff from abroad. If we don't, we’ll let too much talent slip away.”

For more information about Diversity & Gender within WUR, please contact Eva Siebelink (eva.siebelink@wur.nl), project leader Diversity & Gender.