Institutions for higher education have a responsibility to contribute to equality, diversity and inclusion within society. For example through research: Recognizing a heart attack (men often have different symptoms than women); the technical development of prostheses (people with a physical disability need individualized support); or the interaction between different population groups (the role of minority groups in society now and in the past).
However, academia also needs to engage in critical self-reflection. In recent years there has been increasing attention for equality, diversity and inclusion within the walls of universities, university medical centres (UMCs) and other institutions for higher education.
For example, it is increasingly common for institutions to appoint a ‘Diversity & Inclusion Officer’ to pay attention to diversity at policy level; confidential counsellors are appointed to discuss the excesses of social unsafety; and there is more financial support for the inclusion of minority groups. On September 1, 2020, Ingrid van Engelshoven (Minister of Education, Culture and Science) presented the National Action Plan for Diversity and Inclusion, which has also been endorsed by PNN. Despite antipathy from the House of Representatives against the action plan, Dutch academia, including PNN, will continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion.
However, there is still a long way to go. The most recent Women Professors Monitor of the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) shows that only 24.2% of Dutch professors are women. On the basis of the data, it is expected that it will take until 2041 before there is a proportional gender distribution among professors. 43.6% of PhD students is female, but the percentages decrease sharply with each subsequent step on the career ladder.
Social safety also remains an important point of attention. The PNN PhD Survey shows that almost 19% of PhD candidates have experienced some form of undesirable behaviour. This often concerns discrimination (for example on the basis of gender, country of origin or ethnicity), but also sexually transgressive behaviour. Research by the LNVH shows that undesirable behaviour is often structural and takes various forms, including scientific sabotage, sexual harassment, physical and verbal threats, denigration, exclusion and the failure to facilitate or the problematization of ‘special needs’ such as pregnancy, illness or a disability. Recent cases at the University of Amsterdam, about which parliamentary questions have also been asked, unfortunately show that undesirable behaviour and victims of undesirable behaviour are often not taken seriously.
PhD candidates are the future generation academics. A culture of inequality, discrimination and undesirable behaviour will lead to voluntary or involuntary departure from academia, resulting in the loss of young talent.
PNN stands for diversity and inclusion within academia in the broadest sense of the word. Regardless of physical ability, culture, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender or age: everyone should be given the same opportunities to profile themselves within the academic context. Inclusion is a precondition for diversity, and diversity will take science to a higher level.