Gender Equality

In Delft, men need not apply. (Yes, it’s legal.)

Young women — and young men, too — should listen when Sheryl Sandberg encourages them to lean in. Some people dislike her advice, but I think she’s just tellin’ it like it is. Not like it has to be, or like I would want it to be, mind you. But, yes, how it is.

Her goal is to affect the behavior of individual women so that they can succeed as employees in contemporary companies. Others have a complementary goal, namely trying to change the system that the next generation will go into.

Fix the women

Self-promotion is one component of career advancement that men and women approach differently. ‘Leaning in’ is a fix the women approach to reducing this behavior gap between the sexes. But there are ways to level the field by changing the system, too.

To increase the number of women on their faculty, Delft decided to hire the 10 best women researchers they could find in a wide-open search.

That was the thinking at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, when they saw their efforts to recruit more women faculty members flounder. Their attempts at mild interventions — such as a requirement to hire a woman whenever there was a qualified female applicant — didn’t work well enough. Earth scientist Elisabeth Kosters describes what can happen when a committee tries to handle a soft requirement like they had in Delft.

Fix the system

To increase the number of women on their faculty, Delft decided to hire the 10 best women researchers they could find in a wide-open search. Applicants could be at any stage of their careers and in any field of research covered by the institution. In addition to an academic position, these new employees would get favorable conditions to push their research projects forward after the move.

Crucially, the program was open only to women. Men were not eligible. The rector of the university, Karel Luyben, describes the program in a short video. Needless to say, it was challenged legally, but ultimately, the university was able to move ahead with their plans, and they are currently working to hire 10 more women this year.

The Delft program, which deserves discussion in many contexts, offers an amusing example of gender-based differences for self-promotion; it shows that men sometimes lean in so far they fall on their faces.

The 60% rule — when men apply for jobs

There are many anecdotes about men applying for jobs when they only meet a few of the requirements. Some reports actually quantify this.

Internal research at HP showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements.

And this is the funny thing about the Delft experience. The university leadership identified a need — more women faculty. They developed a plan — only hire women. And it worked: they succeeded at hiring 10 excellent new colleagues.

But along the way, apparently adopting the 60% rule and flagrantly flouting the absolute gender requirement, 30 men applied, too.

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more



  • Neil says:

    Underqualified be damned. Jobs post ridiculious requirements to discourage excess applicants. Then don’t enforce them if they are interested in enough in the candidate. I have heard of plenty guys who ignored a requirement (say “x” number of years experience in the industry) and got an interview anyway. If some women don’t realise this, how is it the fault of men who are also applying? There is a lot of patronising crap written about men out here on the internet. Perhaps what your article should be about is how women can learn from us to be better workers… oh wait, that would never get published would it?

    • jb says:

      This just proves what I already knew…. Women have no balls.

      • Neil says:

        Well, ain’t got nothing against women getting life coaching (or men for that matter, we’re not all hard-charging ball-busting alpha men) to teach them more confidence/bargaining skills. For that matter we could ban salary variations and make a starting pay packets the same, use a computer to scan online CVs and approach people for a shortlist, or whatever. These are all good ideas to boost female employmemt. Just don’t blame it on us, it’s not our fault women underestimate themselves (God knows where this meme about the shy and retiring female comes from, it certainly neve been the case with any bloody woman I’ve dated).

      • katie says:

        …or maybe it just proves that women aren’t dicks.

  • Firellius says:

    Feminism: Because catering exclusively to women on non-sex-restricted things is totally not sexist!

    • Curt Rice says:

      Maybe I didn’t emphasize this enough in the article, but the university’s previous attempts to hire more women with ‘softer’ strategies had failed. If some groups of workers (e.g. professors) in a “non-sex-restricted” industry is overwhelmingly one sex or the other, then something is amiss. As far as I can see, that would either mean that women are not up to the task, that they don’t want it, or that there is something in the way. In Delft, they concluded that there is something in the way. I.e. they concluded that there is structural sexism. So, this measure is a response to that, i.e. it’s a corrective for sexism. Given what we know about implicit bias and our inability to make objective judgements about quality in hiring situations, what’s really sexist is doing nothing.

      • Sam says:

        It could be that more men apply for certain jobs but why are females forced to do these jobs??
        For example, there are little men teaching in kindergarten simply because there are more female that are interested in this job. Why force more female to do a scientific education/job if more men are interested in this?

        In the past female may be discriminated, but I can assure you that this is not the case anymore in the Netherlands. Forcing more female for a certain job is sexism.

        There are other parts in the world that need attention for discrimination between men and women. Beleive me, Western Europe is not one of those parts.

        • Walter Maitai says:

          this is s typical Dutch response…we are not sexist, we are not rascist. as a nation perhaps not as bad as many others, but individually many people are both. the response “Forcing more female for a certain job is sexism.” shows how little the writer understands about this, no-one is forcing women into the jobs mentioned. balance is being redressed. i get so fed up of “we are not rascists but turks and maroccans are lazy” or “sexism does not exist in the Netherlands, if there are no women in working in the sciences it is because they want to have children”. take a long hard look at your attitudes, zwarte piet bijvoorbeeld.

        • daos says:

          fortunately for me, everyone i know and a lot of people i don’t, i don’t believe you. western europe suffers hugely from sexism – systematic and personal – and issues related to sexism. just because this problem is arguably more acute elsewhere in the world doesn’t make it nonexistent in the west. you appear to be suffering from wishful thinking or wilful blindness. or both.

  • Tom Rose says:

    Prejudice is prejudice. There is no good justification for denying men the opportunity to apply for jobs that they believe they can do, or for treating them unfairly at interview or in testing.

    What is the point of a man working his socks off to become knowledgable and skilful if he will be passed over for a less able candidate who is a woman or a member of some ethnic minority because of some a priori ideas about political correctness or attempts at social engineering?

    A policy that favours women over men does not correct for existing sexism. It merely substitutes a different and equally abhorrent sexism. All that is needed is for all candidates to be judged objectively, without prejudice. If a woman wants the job she has to show that she can do it at least as well as the best man.

    • Dr I Sankey says:

      Absolutely. I applied for a job at my local swimming pool to be an attendant in the girls changing room and I was rejected soley because I am a male. I’m fuming… I am over qualified (I am a board certified gynecologist but have decided to change careers because of all the litigation), motivated and believe I can be great at helping those young girls get changed.

      Sexism is disgusting and never justified.

  • Jennifer joiner says:

    Men have enjoyed and still enjoy very appealing systemic affirmative action for their kind in the labour force. The result is still an incredible imbalance in their favour, thanks to their unfair advantage of bias in their favour simply due to gender (and colour, for white men.)

    Hiring enough women to overcome this unjust and continuing bias in favour of men, the step of opening posts only to qualified women – no men need apply – is the only recourse. Well done!

    • Tom Rose says:

      You suggestion is every bit as bad as being prejudiced in favour of men over women. What we want is fair treatment, based on ability, merit, fitness for the job. We do not want to replace one form of unjustifiable prejudice with another.

      • Curt Rice says:

        At one level, I think you’re right, Tom, and I think we’re all on board with that agenda. The question is how do we get there. I think it’s a complex matter with many factors to be addressed. One of them, though, is creating situations in which women believe they have a fair chance. When a particular workplace or category of job is overwhelmingly populated by men, then it’s clear that a fair approach has not been achieved, and interventions are necessary to correct the course. Of the thousands of positions available in technical fields in academia each year, earmarking 10 of them can hardly be seen as a deep injustice, in my opinion. On the contrary, it serves an important goal of making it clear that there are in fact highly qualified women who, if judged fairly, would have been in such jobs already.

        • Sascha Orlow says:

          Are you implying that women only believe they have a fair chance only if there are no men allowed to apply? Gives a new meaning to competition doesn’t it?
          And no it doesn’t make clear that if judged fairly then all these women would be in such positions as leaving out competition can hardly be called judged fairly. I think judged preferentially are the words you were looking for.
          Working in a research field shouldn’t have gender but experience and qualification as requirement if you want to progress as a research facility. Having gender added as requirement makes it political and can lower the research quality as a portion of probably highly qualified applicants is left out completely.
          If fewer women than men are applying for such positions it’s because of their own individual choice and we all have to accept that. There are other fields where fewer men are applying than women, that has to be accepted as well. Because of that choices it can’t be 50:50 everywhere (or forced 100:0 like in this case)

          • Curt Rice says:

            I wasn’t implying that women believe they have a fair chance only in the absence of competition. What I was trying to say is that they don’t feel they have a fair chance when they succeed at much lower rates than men in some particular context. In academia, for example, women have lower success rates in the most prestigious European grants. That of course feels unfair, understandably.
            Competition has not been the norm in many domains, which is the problem that much of my writing addresses. This is a fairly basic point, but fortunately the argumentation is not difficult. Would you agree, for example, that in a hypothetical situation in which men and women are equally well qualified, and when the only thing that matters are those qualifications, that the pool of people hired should have the same % of men and women as the applicant pool? That would be the result of a fair competition.
            I see that we agree that gender and sex should be a qualification. Quotas start to undo that historical situation and contributes to de-politicizing it. Without quotas, we are likely to leave out highly qualified applicants, which is politically unacceptable.

      • Nina V says:

        A common dilemma:
        1. We do not want certain results.
        2. We do not want to do what is needed to change the results.

        This is something you’ll see in social, economic, liberties, political awareness, education, judicial system and pretty much all layers of life.

        We know what not doing something will do: It will continue letting those in power influence a certain field with the views and practices that might hinder, alienate, or otherwise end up being counterproductive (for the whole) and specially for those not sharing similar traits (like gender).

        Like Rice points out, this creates institutionalised discrimination, often through homosocial recruitment, but it can be through simple things as language, economic differences, status, expectations and other things.

        To even out the attendance helps those things; it makes expectations more equal. Not expecting something means that many more qualified won’t try, it also means that many will not welcome those in very small minority (simply because they are “different”/different and does not “belong” there and so on).

  • Maybe someone needs to look for some common sense at the UK National Health Service where it seems that too many females are qualifying as doctors, starting work and then deciding to start families, leaving a staffing shortage or for male doctors to fill the gaps.
    Research would appear to be a long term process which requires long term commitment. Are the selected females going to give this, or to avoid this problem must all non-child bearing females be recruited for the posts?

    • Curt Rice says:

      I’m not sure I really follow your logic here, Richard. Is your idea that women who might have children should not be getting an education and entering the workforce? Or, have I misunderstood you? Maybe you could elaborate and help me out here.

      • Bramhall says:

        Is your idea that women who might have children should not be getting an education and entering the workforce
        I don’t think so, but perhaps not being able to come to work because of commitments of having or having to look after children might be a factor, or not being able to communicate or work with or even be in proximity to any males in the workforce, because your religion says you must cover yourself up and never speak to any men, might make it rather difficult to do your job.

    • daos says:

      ‘UK National Health Service where it seems that too many females are qualifying as doctors, starting work and then deciding to start families, leaving a staffing shortage’

      it would be useful to see some evidence for this before responding. is this fact or just hearsay?

    • Mel says:

      You equate the choice to have a family with a choice to leave the profession forever – goes to show that there is so little support for working mothers that we generally accept that it is not possible or desirable. Most of these women are presumably having these children with MEN, right? Takes 2 to tango and all that. So.. where’s the vilification of men who choose to have kids. Oh no wait, I forgot, having kids only effects the woman’s career.

  • Amitabh says:

    Well in Harems of powerful men, men did not need to apply.
    My experience is that these kind of pro women policies are used by higher managers to recruit women who are willing to oblige them.
    Real women of substance do not need man or any policies to promote them. They have guts and they get what they want.

    • Curt Rice says:

      The perspective you express here, however ineloquently, conveys a belief in meritocracy. I think that the quest for evidence and knowledge reveals that your belief is wrong. “Real women of substance” often are looked over for “fake men of insubstance,” as several recent postings on this blog provide evidence for. Swing by for a look when you get a chance.

  • Stephen Miles says:

    This sort of story sickens me. I have four degrees including a PhD and am struggling to find a job in academia. I live in Britain where this sort of raw discrimination against men is (in theory at least) illegal. God help us if this is allowed here. Any form of so-called ‘Positive Discrimination’ discriminates against somebody. It is a blunt instrument used by feminists who are aggressively pushing through their own warped agendas on equality. It isn’t equality – it’s inequality and it’s discrimination. In Britain in the 1950s they used to put up notices in windows to advertise jobs which said ‘Blacks need not apply’. At the moment I feel like one of those blacks, treated like dirt just because of the colour of my skin but in my case because I have the wrong gender. We have come a long way from 1950s London so why reintroduce this form of gender apartheid? Why go back to the Stone Age? Also if those women are hired on what is effectively a discriminatory all-female selection list then they are not the best people for the job, only the best women for the job. We will never know whether they were the best candidate (they might have been on a level playing field). They got in because they were women and this really diminishes their performance from the start. Shame on you! The only fair system is one based on merit and I will fight for this until my last breath.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Sorry to hear you’re having such a rough go of it finding a job in academia. It’s hard to get in, and it’s a challenging journey once you are in. I wish you luck with your efforts.
      Where I disagree with you, if I’ve understood you correctly, regards the idea that without interventions, the playing field is level. It is not. To take one example, there are several studies now showing that women have to have much stronger CVs than men to be considered equal to men. To take another one, the very perception of motherhood — independent of how it actually affects one’s performance — leads women to be held to higher standards, i.e. they can mess up less if they are a mother than if they’re not a mother. Being a father, on the other hand, leads to lowering the bar, i.e. fathers can miss things at work and get rewarded while women get punished. To take a third, women are punished for negotiating while men are not. In fact, women are published for opening their mouths and men are not. I’ve written about most of these things here on the blog, and these are the kinds of things that lead me to believe that the playing field is far from level. Add to that the benefits of having a diverse workforce, and I find it not only legitimate but important to look at the entire team one is putting together. If the team is too homogeneous, then it’s legitimate to implement interventions that lead to diversity.

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