University ordered to stop running women-only job ads

Experiment to diversify academic workforce falls foul of human-rights watchdog

Eindhoven University of Technology has been told to stop posting women-only job ads as part of a push to diversify its academic workforce.

The Dutch tech college has been trying to boost the numbers of women in its faculties, and as such has been running ads in which it makes it plain only women are eligible to apply – with the job opened up to men after six months only if no suitable candidates are found.

But the plan fell foul of the Dutch Human Rights Council after anti-discrimination outfit Radar received over 50 complaints over the ads, and lodged a formal complaint. The council felt that the uni had not adequately considered everyone's interests in deciding a policy that stretched across every faculty.

“Preference policy is an exception to the principle of equal treatment,” the council noted this month. “Therefore, it should only be conducted under strict legal conditions. An important principle of preference policy is that the position is open to men and women and that preference can only be given to a woman if there is equal suitability.”

It also noted that “preference policy must not lead to absolute precedence for women. [It] must be in proportion to the goal of more female scientists.” And it flagged that the issue of gender inequality was not the same in every faculty but the policy had been applied across the board.

“The disadvantage of women is not the same within all faculties. Moreover, in recent years, it has been possible to attract more female scientists for some types of scientific positions,” it noted.

How to do it the right way

While many legal outcomes simply state a decision and the reasoning behind it, the council went an extra mile and outlined how universities could “reduce the backlog of female scientists” while taking “less drastic measures.”

They include:

  • Giving selection committees unconscious-bias training
  • Rethinking selection procedures to make sure they don’t end up making it easier for men to apply than women, such as gender-neutral job requirements
  • More and better internal career development and coaching programs for women
  • Putting in place resources and opportunities specifically for women, such as reserving training and research money for female scientists, as a way to make jobs more attractive to women.

The university itself was unapologetic, stating it “remains committed to improving its gender balance,” and promising to study the report for “clear clues, which the university will use to reassess its approach to improve the gender balance in its faculty.”

Its president Robert-Jan Smits noted that its now-banned women-only job ads had allowed it to “hire 48 talented new female faculty since the start of the program, from all over the world. Our overall aim is unaltered: we want to reach thirty percent female faculty within five years. Because at that percentage a minority stops being a minority and has the position and influence it deserves.” ®

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