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Me of all people

Is a national action plan to facilitate inclusion and diversity in academia really necessary? I was hardly surprised by the criticisms expressed immediately after the launch of the plan. Not everyone is convinced about the urgency of tackling inequality in science. However, for decades, junior researchers and students have been calling for change.

The criticism of diversity policy is often rooted in how people experience academia themselves. For example, I am a highly educated, white, cisgender man. I experienced few obstacles in gaining my PhD. Yet, at the same time, I was a first-generation student who came from a region with high unemployment figures. There are sufficient indications that on the basis of those characteristics people do come up against obstacles in the academic world.

Proportional representation?

Therefore, diversity policy is not based on individual experiences but on broad findings. For example, we intervene to allow the proportion of female professors to increase. There is little doubt about the need for this – the figures are clear enough.

Do all groups need to be proportionally represented in academia? Not necessarily. But if, for example, people from a non-Western migration background are scarcely visible, whereas they do clearly belong to the student population and have scientific ambitions, then we should at least determine what the causes of this discrepancy are. And if that gives reason to intervene, then doing so is no more than just.

Jointly giving shape to inclusion

At NWO, we therefore do a lot in this area, but there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, in our committees, we take into account regional spread, scientific diversity and gender. However, because the diversity of academia is limited, these efforts are limited too. And that I, of all people, am writing this introduction definitely says something about the progress that our organisation can still make. Yet, our possibilities are restricted: with targeted funding instruments we can offer specific groups greater access to academia, but as Ali Aljasem states in his contribution: (see also this article) that is not enough. Furthermore, just encouraging diversity is performative. Ultimately, we must jointly give shape to an inclusive academia in which diversity and openness can flourish. And we still have a lot of work to do in that regard.

Arnold Lubbers,
Project leader Incentive programme for Inclusion in Science

Arnold Lubbers