04 February 2021

Please give me a Role Model-Nell!

With International Women's Day in sight next month, we will once again focus on gender inequalities in our society. But how long do we have to pay attention until it makes a difference ?!

A frequently recurring topic is that of women in science: “Not one ‘’Token female’’ on the highest podium”, “Women in science being disadvantaged”, “Women are invisible in science”. Next week it will be exactly 104 years ago that the first female professor in the Netherlands was appointed. A hundred years later, gender inequality is still the norm in science.

I also think it's a shame that only 1 in 4 professors are female. Not only because of ethical arguments that can be mentioned. Not because of the fact that gender diversity in science can lead to more productivity and new scientific discoveries. Nor because of the fact that men and women perform equally well during their scientific careers and therefore there is no difference in performance.

No. These are all valid arguments of course, but I often miss another essential argument.

The focus must also be on increasing the potential to stimulate talented women by means of role models

The argument that is not sufficiently written about is that from a female student perspective: the argument for the role model. The scientific top is currently far from a good reflection of the student population, not only in terms of gender, but also in combination with ethnicity, for example; intersectionality.

As a female student I miss role models. Inspiring women who make me, consciously or unconsciously, believe that a career in science is indeed accessible. Accessible, despite all the negative news about a career as a woman in science. Because according to the news outlets, a bright future is not waiting for you if you choose a career in science. For example, you would suffer from the competitive work atmosphere and you would always have to deal with unconscious prejudices from colleagues. Both from male and female colleagues.

I often find myself assuming that articles are written by male scientists. “The author makes» his «point, by (…)”… Now it also appears that the Corona crisis has an effect on the number of scientific publications by women. How can we ever overcome gender inequality if the image of a scientist among the studying young people also consists of a white man of around 50 years old?

That is why I think role models are essential for achieving gender equality in science. There is now so much potential among the younger generation of university student. Previous studies have shown that students are inspired by role models of their own sex, but why is this sound not being heeded yet?

The focus should shift to that. Not just increasing the number of women in science in the short term, and not just changing the performance culture. No, the focus must also be on increasing the potential to stimulate talented women by means of role models. Not an token female, but a Role Model-Nell, that's what we need!

Pelin Zenigoglu

student diversity officer



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