09:16, May 07 331 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-07 09:16:03
Netherlands science university accused of bias over drive to hire female staff

One of Europe’s leading engineering universities is being investigated over claims of unfair sexual discrimination after it increased its cohort of female academics by 25% through opening its vacancies exclusively to women.

Eindhoven University of Technology has been asked by the Dutch Institute for Human Rights to justify a policy under which only women may apply for posts in the faculty in the first six months that they are advertised.

The university’s rector, Frank Baaijens, said a second meeting with the human rights organisation would take place next Friday following an anonymous complaint, with a ruling expected in June or July.

Baaijens added that about a third of staff in the faculty itself were opposed to the initiative but that he believed there was a vital need to improve the representation among his staff.

The Netherlands has one of the lowest percentages of female professors within the EU and Eindhoven university of technology has long had the lowest percentage of women of any university in the country.

Since the hiring policy was implemented last July, the university has hired 35 female scientists: 29 assistant professors, two associate professors and four full professors. Each new female employee is also allocated an additional €100,000 (£90,000) to be spent on their mentoring and their research.

“We will have to see if we have to adjust the programme,” Baaijens said. “But I think all in all people are positive and we are making the change that we are looking for”.

Baaijens said that other recruitment policies, including an appointments committee having to nominate at least one suitable male and female candidate, had failed.

He said: “We feel that we can become a better university if we have a better representation of scientists in the university.

“We have had all sorts of measures over 10 to 15 years but they don’t seem to have been particularly successful because the growth rate was very small. We had a growth rate of about 1% a year in our faculty so it would take a long time to get something appropriate.”

Baaijens said he was aware of only two cases where posts had gone to men due to a lack of suitable female candidates.

The university plans to run the policy for five years with the aim that at least 30% of tenured academic staff are female by the end of the programme.

The university says the Irène Curie Fellowship is permitted under law due to the actual shortfall of female academics compared to the available and the failure of all other routes tried.

Baaijens said: “There is a significant indication that there is an implicit gender bias in science so that may have inhibited the number of females we have been able to recruit.

“And if you are facing a male-dominated environment it might not be that attractive for females to apply for a position so you have to do something to get change.