Diversity getting the attention it deserves

Students, administrators and staff members attended the Leiden symposium on ‘Excellence through diversity’ on Thursday 7 November. Lectures, speed-dating and workshops exemplified the essential contribution of diversity and inclusivity to science. ‘We are ready to meet the challenge of assessing individuals objectively so that we don’t let talent go to waste.’

Change the culture and the organisation

Vice-Rector Simone Buitendijk opened the symposium with a bold statement: ‘I have to admit that I discriminate. It isn’t rational, because research has long ago shown that men and women have equal abilities and that skin colour plays no role. It is human to have preferences, but we are now ready to meet the challenge of assessing individuals objectively, and refraining from thinking in stereotypes. This means that the change has to come from the organisation and the culture, and not from the individual, or his or her personality.’

Changing the education system

In his lecture, Tomas Brage from Lund University explained how the issue of gender is approached at his Physics Institute: for example through workshops, mentors and a diversity coach.

The organisation also plays an important role. This became apparent during the presentation by Maurice Crul, Professor of Diversity and Education at VU University Amsterdam. His research on second-generation Turkish youth in seven European countries reveals a number of interesting findings. ‘In Sweden, as compared to Germany, many more second-generation Turkish young people go on to complete higher education, and many more second-generation Turkish women join the labour market.’ What are the factors that play a positive or a negative role? The way in which the education system has been shown to have a lot of influence on social mobility. Crul advocates a progressive coalition across ethnic groups in order to make institutions, such as universities, more aware of diversity. ‘This is essential,’ he says, ‘ because super-diversity will soon be the new norm in cities.’

Diversity Officer Isabel Hoving

Leiden University is ahead of the game in this respect thanks to the appointment of a Diversity Officer with effect from 1 January 2014: During the symposium, the new Officer, Isabel Hoving, offered a preview of what she has in store for the university. She briefly explained how since November 2012, a university-wide Diversity workgroup has been developing plans that can now finally be implemented. ‘Removing obstacles, creating an open academic environment in which everyone feels at home.’ She intends to work in close collaboration with others, both within and outside the university, sharing best practices.

Prize winners of the Van Bergen Fund

During dinner, the Van Bergen Awards were presented: prizes for the best ideas to promote interaction between Dutch and international students in Leiden. Three plans were rewarded with flowers for the initiators and a contribution from the Van Bergen Fund to realise the plans.


In the evening programme, participants could choose from four different workshops. A good opportunity to learn from each other and exchange ideas on the many aspects of diversity and how all levels of the university can contribute to creating a better climate for all.

(11 November 2013)

Video report of the symposium


See also

Last Modified: 22-11-2013