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Beyond the label: normalising diversity, equity and inclusion An update about (in)visible steps, noticeable effects, and concrete actions

When principles of DE&I are normalised as being one of UT’s core values, they become part of our everyday conversations, interactions, and ways of working, rather than an exception, a mere label or an afterthought. Normalising DE&I is crucial for a more equitable, socially safe and just learning, working, and living environment for all at our university and on our campus. Are you interested to learn how UT is working steadily to integrate DE&I into our day-to-day practice? Then keep reading.

A socially safe environment - where we experience diversity, equality, and inclusion as fundamental values - makes us stronger, more resilient, and more adaptable. Such an environment allows us to disagree with and challenge each other, and enables us to continue to have – at times sharp yet constructive – conversations in a respectful and factful manner. Our research and education, and the effects of our work become more impactful. Our efforts are better aligned with what people - both inside and outside UT - need, simply because we take everyone into account, whether somebody belongs to "the group" that is considered the norm in the Netherlands or not.

Working on DE&I and social safety is a shared responsibility 

UT’s approach, aimed at integrating DE&I principles and measures (see our current DE&I Action Plan and the attached update) into existing policies and/or practices, seeks to be intentional and thoughtful. By integrating DE&I principles, we aim to improve and enhance our (organisational) culture, interactions, and knowledge. Investing in strengthening our collective responsibility, our collaborations, and the involvement of everyone is key when implementing more inclusive practices. Having the space to make mistakes and to learn from them is equally important. We are aware that, collectively, we do not always succeed in providing the open and safe environment we are motivated to establish. Unfortunately, we also know all too well that all of us sometimes make remarks or choices that are harmful and can contribute to an unsafe situation, whether consciously or unconsciously. And that is precisely why it is so important to view the pragmatic integration and normalisation of DE&I as a shared responsibility and task. We take these steps together, even if the results may not be immediately tangible or clearly evident. Sometimes these steps may be painful or seem excessive (to you). Let us zoom into our progress.

Enhancing recruitment policies and communication

We – as UT - started assessing our current policies to identify gaps and areas where DE&I principles and measures need to be integrated or implemented, with the aim to increase representation, attract and retain diverse, multi-talented students and staff. Ultimately, we do this to strengthen our sense of being valued and joint experience of belonging. UT will continue initiating specific recruitment programmes to attract and advance women academics, as long as women at our university remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We further strive to tackle any root causes that hinder equal opportunities by addressing implicit biases we might have, actively addressing gender stereotypes, assessing (un)equal career opportunities and focusing on a healthy work-life balance for all our staff members.  

Attracting and retaining personnel with diverse backgrounds, different skills, and perspectives is one of our main focal points. We aim to progress this by, for instance, entering into collaborations with specialised recruitment agencies and formulating job vacancies that are fair, clear, and inclusive. We are also refining our careers website and have given an update to our employer value proposition. This is how we aim to attract a more diverse pool of individuals who, when they join us, hopefully, feel a sense of belonging more swiftly and consistently. In all that we do, we are cautious not to engage in diversity-washing or superficial actions that merely give the appearance of diversity, equity or inclusion.

Work in progress and critical factors for success

Of course, all this is work in progress, and we need to keep fostering a culture of respect and understanding. We must continue to cultivate a socially safe environment that does not tolerate discrimination, unequal treatment, or inappropriate behaviour. Whilst providing trainings, raising awareness through a campaign that highlights potentially unsafe social interactions, and providing tools for inclusive conversations (and other forms of communication) are definitely helpful; the critical factors for success are and will remain to be shared responsibility, commitment, and accountability.

Beneficial for all

The DE&I Team is available to support, encourage, and inspire us all, and to collaborate on initiatives that benefit everyone, not “just” marginalised or underrepresented groups. We all benefit from an easily accessible and user-friendly website, and from an approachable support system that provides clear and realistic expectations of when and how a supervisor, confidential adviser, study adviser, or ombuds officer can offer assistance. Live transcription is a helpful technological feature for many of us, making it easier to follow along with what is happening during an event. Also having a community of supportive, skilled and open-minded supervisors, lecturers, colleagues, and students who value and respect varied perspectives and encourage personal and professional growth is beneficial for us all. That is why we are collectively working hard on this.

To sum up, the incorporation of DE&I principles into our policies, research projects, educational programmes, events, interactions, and conversations is advantageous to us all. We need to keep working together to ensure that DE&I is not considered as an afterthought, an exception or a mere label added to something, but instead is weaved into the very fabric of our university, for the benefit of everyone.

Get in touch and share your ideas, concerns and (best) practices with us!

Would you like to know more about UT’s ambitions to normalise DE&I and figure out how you can help achieve our goals, then please get in touch with UT’s DE&I Team, follow @utwentedei on Instagram and visit the DE&I Team University of Twente page on LinkedIn.

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