Second conference of the FFNT: Academic leadership

On Thursday November 9th 2006 the second conference of the Female Faculty Network Twente took place at the University of Twente. The theme of the conference was Academic leadership. The main program of that day consisted of two lectures in the morning and a workshop in the afternoon. One of the morning lectures was given bij Winnie Sorgdrager, an article in the ‘UT nieuws’ of November 16th reviews her lecture (in Dutch).

In the ‘UT nieuws’ of November 16th also an article in English about the conference was placed.

‘Je bent een bitch of een bambi’

Winnie Sorgdrager, lid van de raad van toezicht van de UT, was één van de sprekers tijdens de tweede FFNT-conferentie. Ze sprak over haar periode als minister van justitie in het eerste Paarse kabinet en rekende hard af met de Haagse mores. `Ik heb geen spijt van die periode', zei ze, `maar als ik het allemaal van tevoren had geweten, dan had ik bedankt en gezegd: zoek maar iemand anders.'

Vuig en vunzig, dat waren de woorden die D66-lijsttrekker Alexander Pechtold gebruikte om politiek Den Haag te omschrijven. Zijn D66-geloofsgenoot Winnie Sorgdrager is in haar oordeel niet veel milder. Gekonkel, geroddel, ambtenaren die aan je stoelpoten zagen, nee, het is geen feest om minister te zijn, blijkt uit Sorgdragers woorden. `Ik dacht dat argumenten in de politiek belangrijk waren; dat ik op basis van argumenten dingen gedaan kon krijgen. Mensen zijn immers reasonable. Dat bleek niet het geval. Incidenten worden met beide handen aangegrepen om je positie te ondermijnen. Dat zie je nog steeds.' […] `Mijn voorganger had een voorstel ingediend over het dubbel paspoort, maar omdat zijn termijn erop zat, kon hij dat niet meer door de Tweede Kamer loodsen. Toen ik het uiteindelijk inbracht, stemde hij tegen! Hij stemde gewoon tegen zijn eigen voorstel, alleen omdat hij van een andere politieke partij was. Dat is iets dat ik niet kan en wil snappen.'

Man/vrouw-clichés spelen in de politiek een sterke rol, zei Sorgdrager. `Naïviteit is een heel slechte eigenschap voor een politicus en een vrouw wordt nu eenmaal eerder zo gelabeld dan een man. Je bent een bitch of een bambi. Als mannen moe zijn, dan prijzen mensen zijn vermogen toch door te gaan. Lijkt een vrouw moe, dan is de baan haar teveel. Als een vrouw twijfel toont, ontbreekt het haar aan besluitvaardigheid. Doet een man dat, dan is hij eerlijk.'

De belangrijkste tip voor vrouwen die een hoge functie in de academische wereld ambiëren? `Als je van jezelf weet dat je niet gelukkig zult zijn in een area of struggle, of als je aardig gevonden wilt worden, doe het niet. Heb je ambitie, hou je van competitie en ben je je bewust van de spelletjes die gespeeld worden? Ga ervoor.'

Joost Blijham

conference FFNT 2006

Vooral vrouwen woonden de tweede FFNT-conferentie bij. Op de eerste rij Winnie Sorgdrager en Anne Flierman.

Reference: UT nieuws donderdag 16 november 2006, jaargang 41, nr. 33

`We can't afford to leave out half of our talent'

On Thursday, November 9, approximately 50 participants attended the Female Faculty Network Twente (FFNT) second annual conference on academic leadership.

The FFNT was founded a little over a year ago to address the fact that women lag behind in academic careers. Says FFNT member Mieke Boon (Associate Professor in Philosophy of Science and Technology), `Modern women don't want to feel like victims; they want to solve the problems. We at the FFNT want to empower them to do so.'

Last year the FFNT hosted its first conference entitled `What does it mean to be a professional in academia?' Over the course of the year, the organization offered several workshops to contribute to professionalism among women. As it turned out, said Boon in opening this year's conference, `High skills and standards are not enough. Success is gained in part from assuming roles and playing games. Many women academics feel that they do not understand university politics.' University leaders, however, are well versed in the `rules of the game.'

Hence the non-academic speakers, beginning with Executive Board chairman Anne Flierman. `When I arrived at the UT, I was astonished by the fact that there were so few women in senior faculty positions,' declared Flierman. Since then, he has made it a priority to address this issue. Flierman: `One of the performance indicators the Executive Board has established, is increasing the number of women in high positions at the UT. Budget-wise, this should be possible. Many vacancies are projected over the next few years. This will be a great opportunity to attract new staff members. And, this is not including the 29 new professors in the 3TU next year.'

According to Flierman, adding women to the ranks is vital to maintaining and improving the status of the UT. `We need women to serve as role models and to attract female students.' Women are also invaluable contributors to the way teams work. In short, says the chairman, `We can't afford to leave out half of our talent.'

The solution to the problem is not simple. First, while women are glaringly absent from full and associate professorships, how to recruit? Next, solutions may require unorthodox steps based on political rationale, which defy traditional academic reasoning. Finally, some women do not want to be part of the world of senior faculty members, which is often characterized by aggressive, back-stabbing behavior.

Flierman concluded with a promise of discrete problem-solving: `If you encounter a situation which doesn't feel right, come see me or any board member and we will try to address issues in general terms, when the opportunity arises.'

Following Flierman was former Minister of Justice Winnie Sorgdrager, who spoke about what it takes to succeed in a leadership position, be it in politics or academics.

As the first female public prosecutor in Almelo, Sorgdrager experienced sexist attitudes: she was mistaken for a secretary, asked to make coffee, assumed to be the wife of `someone.' She learned not to get close; she found that authority is gained from expertise, but also from distance.

As Attorney General, Sorgdrager was appointed to a position which many other colleagues sought. Jealous rivals accused her of winning the position because of her gender.

`There is no place for naïveté in politics,' said Sorgdrager. As Minister of Justice under Prime Minister Wim Kok, she thought `if I had a good proposal, I could present it thoroughly and sincerely to convince the MPs and get it passed in Parliament. Ha!' Most proposals are negotiated outside of actual sessions. `More important than knowing how to play the game is being aware of what is going on and determining how to deal with it.'

To lead, according to Sorgdrager, one must form strategic alliances, seek compromise; have personality and charisma, be totally involved while keeping a distance, and have a stable home life.

During the Q&A that followed, several women in the audience recognized the scenarios Sorgdrager described. They acknowledged that success comes from `playing the game,' but one clarified, `I try to play it according to my own conditions.'

Anna Tudos, a Bulgarian participant working in the faculty of Science and Technology, confessed that she finds the Netherlands modern, but not emancipated. Once, at a gathering with male colleagues, she brought up the differences in the way that men and women communicate. The men were totally baffled, `We see no difference.' Therein lies a significant part of the challenge faced by women. Tudos averred, `I think that male professionals should be required to attend a conference like this.'

Currently there are 154 members in the FFNT, up from 50 last year at this time. Roughly half of the female scientific professionals at the UT are members of the FFNT. The network invites any female faculty members - from full professors to PhD students - to join.

Kristin Zimmerman

Winnie Sorgdrager

Winnie Sorgdrager during the lecture

Reference: UT nieuws donderdag 16 november 2006, jaargang 41, nr. 33