Embrace generations honestly

November 29, 2021

I just received the “inclusion checklist” from the university where I work. It includes many items which I completely agree with, and have stood firmly behind during my time as head-of-department. One of the items, however, struck me as a boldfaced lie. It is “Embrace the generations that want to grow a career, working 0.8 fte. Working four days can be compatible with a strong career orientation.

The report on Dutch salaries which is published every two years by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS) indicates that one of the biggest factors that explains the variance in hourly salaries is working full-time or part-time. That means that someone who works full-time is considered to be more valuable to a company than someone who works part-time, even if you make the calculations per hour. Why would that be?

There are probably many reasons for this phenomenon. I can offer at least four.

First, if someone works from Monday till Thursday, you cannot count on them from Friday till Sunday. In contrast, if someone works full-time, in practice you can count on them the whole week, including the weekend. Someone who works part-time is not going to work during the weekend, otherwise they would just work full-time and claim a full-time salary, while someone who works full-time tends to extend their working hours into the weekend. I know, that is not supposed to happen, but it does happen in practice.

Second, someone who works 80 percent of the time, builds up 80 percent (or less) of the job experience of someone who works 100 percent of the time. As a university teacher and researcher, that entails on average 80 percent of the papers, 80 percent of the courses, 80 percent of the grants, and 80 percent of the citations. This means at least a slow-down of one’s career.

Third, there are certain activities during a work week, such as group meetings and trainings, which contribute less to actual work done, but take a fixed amount of time for everyone. Time spent on these activities will in practice vary between 4 and 8 hours per week. Relatively speaking, they take a considerably larger chunk out of the work week of someone who works part-time than of someone who works full-time.

Fourth, for most management roles it is practically impossible to not be available every day that work is done, including weekends. You may wish to take a day off, but your phone will ring, and urgent emails will flood into your inbox. There is no escaping working full-time if you want to take on such a role.

You may not like this. You may wish that working part-time does not influence your career. Of course spending time at home is more fun than spending time at work, and it is a pity that work does not reward you for spending more time at home than your colleagues do. But just wishing that working part-time does not impact your career does not make it so.

Sure, if you want to work part-time, if I have anything to say about it, I will let you do it. I mean, I am all about freedom of choice, and if I can facilitate the choice you wish to make, then I will do so. But freedom of choice also means that you bear the consequences of your choice. And if career opportunities arise and I have to compare two people who I can offer an opportunity, where one has 80 percent of the quality of the other, I know who gets the offer.

The only way to get around this, is by saying: “Person A has only 80 percent of the merits of person B, but since person A only works 80%, that should be counted as the same. Or rather, since we are all about ’embracing the generations,’ person A gets preferential treatment exactly because they work part-time.” Which basically entails that you are saying to person B: “Indeed, everyone can see that you are more qualified than your competitor, but we do not promote people on their merits here.” That attitude only discourages people from being ambitious.

Diversity policy

March 23, 2021

A few years ago, when I wrote my first posts in the diversity theme, I said that I feared that the (negative) impact of this theme on the organization where I work would increase over time. This, indeed, has happened — not only where I work, but virtually everywhere in the Netherlands. I have had several rather demotivating conversations with colleagues to temper their ambitions in having a career, not because they weren’t doing strong work, but simply because they had the wrong gender and skin color to be easily eligible for promotion, at least in the present climate. Today I had a discussion in which I succinctly stated what I believe a diversity policy in an organization should be:

A fair diversity policy is about taking away obstacles rather than creating them.

Making it hard or impossible for men to get a promotion because the organization thinks or is forced to think that there should be a higher percentage of women at higher job levels, is creating an obstacle for a particular group of people to get a promotion. Contrariwise, offering support for women to arrange child care so that they have more time to focus on their career, is taking away an obstacle. I fully support the second, but argue vehemently against the first.

Putting arbitrary obstacles in someone’s path to frustrate their career possibilities (e.g., the much-maligned “quota”) is unethical and will only drive them away. It is a surefire way for an organization to lose their most-promising people who can easily find employment elsewhere, where their skills and ambitions are appreciated. In contrast, helping people to remove obstacles so that they can perform better and make their ambitions reality will bind them to an organization and will improve outcomes for the organization as a whole.

The ethical way forward seem clear.

Grimm tale

March 22, 2021

I found a synopsis of the Disney movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) on IMDB, and decided to give it to a sensitivity reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) to get their comments on this classic tale. The original synopsis is in regular font, while the sensitivity reader’s comments are in red.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

A beautiful but orphaned princess, Snow White, lives with her stepmother, the wicked Queen, who previously relegated her to servitude.

Already this first sentence is highly problematic.
First, the “beautiful princess” is named “Snow White.” Why is it that if someone is considered “beautiful” they always have to be White? The writer should at least consider giving the princess an ethnic origin.
Second, it is pretty clear from this sentence that the writer assumes that the only virtue of the princess is her physical beauty. This is sexist, as no woman should be judged by her physical beauty. Even if the writer really needs to mention her physical beauty, he should not forgo listing that she is also a strong independent woman.
Third, the writer makes the assumption that step parents are all “wicked.” Does the writer realize how many sacrifices step parents have to make? And how much they love their adopted children?
Fourth, the word “wicked” tends to be associated with women exclusively, and is therefore sexist in this context.
Fifth, the word “servitude” is just a euphemism for slavery. Whitewashing the practice of slavery with words like “servitude” is simply not acceptable.

The Queen is jealous because she wants to be known as “the fairest in the land” when Snow White’s beauty surpasses her own.

Again, the writer assumes that the only thing that women are interested in is physical beauty! What shameful stereotyping.

The Queen’s huntsman is ordered to take Snow White into the forest and kill her, but he cannot bring himself to do so because of her innocence and beauty, and instead begs Snow White to run away into the forest and never return to the castle.

Yes, we know by now how much the writer values physical beauty in women. This sentence in particular tries to indoctrinate young girls with the notion that you can get away with anything if only you are beautiful enough. This is a problematic message. I propose that the writer describes the princess as “mundane” and lets her win an argument with the huntsman, or, better yet, give him a swift kick in the nuts before she runs away from this psycho.

The forest animals befriend Snow White and take her to a cottage, where seven dwarfs live.

I wish to point out that height-challenged people should not be called “dwarfs.” If a reference to their height must be made, call them “little people.”

The dwarfs grow to love their unexpected visitor, who cleans their house and cooks their meals.

Jesus Christ, this writer is really living in the Middle Ages, isn’t he? Not only does he make the “little people” fall in love with our “princess” because she is so beautiful, but he is also claiming that a woman’s place is in the kitchen! Women can do any job that men do! Relegating them to household chores is not of these times.

But one day while the dwarfs are away at their diamond mine, the Queen arrives at the cottage disguised as an old peddler woman and persuades Snow White to take a bite of a poisoned apple, promising her it will make all her dreams come true.

The biblical references in this sentence are all too obvious: again it is a woman who causes the downfall of society by making someone eat from an apple. Moreover, this sentence is ageist as it supposes that old people are scary.

Snow White wishes for a reunion with the Prince, takes a bite, falls into a deep sleep, and the peddler woman declares she’s now the fairest in the land.

The writer is sexist in his assumption that any woman is obsessed with the desire to find a man. Moreover, he again states that women are preoccupied with physical beauty.

The dwarfs, warned by the forest animals, rush home to chase the witch away and she falls to her death, but they are too late to save Snow White.

Women do not need to be “saved,” they can take care of themselves.

Thinking Snow White is dead, the dwarfs place her in a glass and gold coffin in the woods and mourn for her.

Putting a woman on display to admire her physical beauty is absolutely disgusting — it is clear that the writer prefers to have women keep their mouth shut and just parade around for him; the association with beauty contests is all too clear.

A Prince, who had fallen in love with Snow White earlier because of her lovely singing voice, happens by and awakens her from the deep sleep with love’s first kiss.

There are many things wrong with this concluding sentence.
First, there is the issue that the “prince” falls in love with the princess because of her “singing voice.” He can’t fall in love with her brain or her personality, right? It must be something fleeting and superficial, like “her singing voice.” This is incredibly sexist.
Second, this “prince” just kissed a woman without asking for her consent first. Even if he had asked for consent, the princess was in no shape to give it. This is clearly rape.
Third, the whole story revolves around a cis-white male (yes, I know that the prince is never listed as being white, but with this writer we know what he is thinking, right?) in a relation with a cis-white female. I am missing a strong representation of the LGBTQ community in this tale. My suggestion is to make the prince a woman, or better yet, non-binary.

Sensitivity reader’s conclusion: This is a highly problematic tale which cannot be fixed with a few simple word-replacements. It needs a rewrite. At least the princess should be described as an actual woman and not this cardboard cutout of a cis-white male’s fantasy. However, I would go further and remove the whole “wicked stepmother” side story, and give the prince a bigger role, rather than making him a deus-ex-machina in the last sentence. Let the prince be the one to ban the princess because she spurns him, then disguise himself to feed her a date-rape drug. Then when he returns to have his “wicked ways” with her unconscious body, let her wake up just in time to break his balls! I have heard this writer is also responsible for a tale by the name of “Sleeping Beauty” — he is not really trying to hide his perverse preoccupations, isn’t he? Frankly, I think that the publisher should simply remove this bigoted writer from their roster and never publish anything from him ever again.

Found in bottom drawer during White House visit

August 28, 2020

Chess gets woke

June 14, 2020

Today it was announced by Andrei Dorkonov, president of the International Chess Alliance (AIDE), that the organization will be doing its part in the ongoing conversation in support of people of color. Recognizing that the game of Chess has been inherently racist since its origins, its rules will be changed. As Dorkonov explained: “The game of chess exhibits the unpleasant principles of white supremacy. In the game, black and white do not start on equal footing: instead, white gets a massive boost to its chances to win by always being allowed to make the first move. This translates to clear disparate outcomes for the colors, to the detriment of black.” In order to compensate for centuries of oppression, for the next five years at least it will be the black player who gets to move first. The new rules hold for championship games, but Dorkonov expressed the hope that club players will incorporate the new rules too.

“This is only the first step,” Dorkonov added. “Chess has not only been an inherently racist game, it is sexist too. The King has always been the center piece of the game, with the Queen playing second fiddle. The roles of the Queen and King in the game will be reversed. This change will be introduced in the very near future.” Dorkonov agreed that this change by itself was insufficient to root out sexism from the game. “We realize that having only a queen and a king in the game denies the existence of other genders,” he said. “In 2021 we will therefore be introducing a new, non-binary piece to Chess.”

Activists have urged the AIDE to also rename the Bishop to “Imam.” Dorkonov explained that that is not an easy change to make, as there have been requests for changing the name to “Rabbi” and “Shaman” as well. However, the AIDE has relented to change the name of the Bishop to the more general term “Religious Figure.” Moreover, the moves of the Religious Figure piece will be determined by the players themselves based on their own convictions. As Dorkonov said: “We have learned that moving diagonally is taboo in certain religions, so the old rules were bigoted against particular faiths. We cannot condone that. Chess is all about inclusivity.”

Dorkonov admitted that the proposed changes have seen a lot of resistance from Chess players. “The complaints mainly come from the older generations of players,” he explained. “But discussions on Twitter have shown that the younger, more progressive crowd embraces the changes. The new rules provide the game of Chess with a refreshing and desperately needed modernization. They bring the game into the 21st century.”


Picard is no more

April 9, 2020

Eternal alien artificial lifeforms exist far beyond known space. They know that any organic species will, in time and when sufficiently evolved, create artificial lifeforms. They also know that conflict between the organic and artificial species will inevitably lead to extinction of one or the other. Thus, these eternal alien artificial lifeforms wait for a signal from our galaxy that once again, artificial life has been created. When they receive this signal, they will come, and exterminate all intelligent organic life, so that the cycle of evolution can begin once again. In our galaxy in the near future, the dangers that artificial lifeforms form for organic beings have been recognized, and intelligent artificial lifeforms have been outlawed. The few remaining artificial lifeforms which escaped the ban exist away from organic lifeforms, and want to activate the signal to bring the eternal aliens back.

Any video game player will recognize in the previous paragraph the outline of the plot of the Mass Effect series. Those who are more inclined to watch TV series will recognize the plot of Star Trek: Picard. Yup, Star Trek: Picard rips off the plot of Mass Effect in great detail.

This is not the biggest sin of Star Trek: Picard. The plot of Mass Effect is quite good, and you can base a good TV series around it. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Picard is not good. Not good at all. To list a few (just a few!) of the boneheaded, cliché-ridden, cringe-inducing plot elements from the very last episode of this series alone:

  • The Romulans go after a tiny settlement of twenty androids with a fleet of no less than 218 battleships. Because then we can send in the Federation with several hundreds of battleships of their own to get a big flashy battle in space.
  • Picard claims to have a great and deeply emotional friendship with Data, even though until Data’s death we have never ever seen him being friends with Data.
  • A female protagonist who betrayed the rest of the crew by violently killing the person who Picard spent five episodes on to find, even after confessing her crime merrily joins up with the rest of the crew, everybody conveniently forgetting about what she did.
  • The main male villain who seduced the main female hero, suddenly turns against his own side because “he has fallen in love with her.”
  • …It was all because of an ancient prophecy…
  • Characters swear like sailors and call each other “dude.”
  • The crew is gifted a small gadget which you can let do anything by just wishing it (seriously!), even projecting hundreds of starships into space, which look real to even the sensors of hundreds of enemy battleships. It’s a magic wand, people!
  • Picard dies and everybody cries over his dead body for half an hour, but then he gets resurrected by being placed into an android body which looks exactly like his and is exactly as frail and will even die like his “because that is what he is used to.”
  • While dead, Picard converses with Data in the afterlife — but actually it is a remnant of the real Data, even though it is never brought up how a dead Picard can converse with a real Data. “Their memories are stored in the same computer.” Yeah, no shit, that explains nothing. The only reason that it happened is that it was so emotional when Harry Potter did it.
  • A retired Riker decides to stop baking pizzas and leave his retirement home for a few moments to command a fleet of several hundreds of starships. Evidently nobody was better suited to do that.
  • An android which can detect whether people lie is lied to without detecting it, with no other explanation given than “wow, I am really good at lying.”
  • An android kills another android to let one of the captured villains escape, because… well, I cannot think of any reason why she would do that because it is in no way related to her plans, except that it is in the story because it gives the other androids a reason to turn against her.
  • A main villain is thrown into a pit and dies far away from and completely unrelated to the rest of the story, because the writers realized that they had not finished her plotline yet. And they had to give Seven-of-nine something to do.
  • In the final moments of the episode Seven-of-nine is suddenly in a lesbian relationship with another protagonist without them having ever interacted before or even having anything in common with each other. I can think of no other reason that this was thrown in there than the writers thinking “Wait a moment, we can’t show how woke we are if we don’t have any gay romances in our series.”
  • The whole plot point of artificial lifeforms being outlawed is solved in the last minute by someone remarking that it is a good thing that artificial lifeforms are now no longer outlawed. So, the Federation quickly and without a second thought lifts the ban on artificial lifeforms, while knowing that each of the artificial lifeforms has the ability to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy? Are they completely out of their minds?

And the rest of the series is almost as bad. But the worst sin of Star Trek: Picard is this: it ruins Picard even more than The Next Generation movies did. In the TV series Picard was a private, thoughtful, rational, erudite man with a sharp mind and an uncanny ability to inspire and command. The movies ruined him by portraying him as an action hero who is out for blood, who lets his emotions determine his course of action, and who uses violence instead of reason. In the Star Trek: Picard series, the final nail is driven into the coffin by portraying him as a frail old man, humiliated and bossed over by everyone around him, driven by his emotional ties to people rather than his intellectual ties to ideals and ideas. He is less than a shadow of the man he once was.

You can argue that captain Picard in his older days has mellowed and changed his outlook on life. That is an acceptable premise, but since we see almost nothing of the twenty years which are between the end of The Next Generation TV series and the time of the new series, we have no idea how it is possible that he changed so much that nothing of the younger Picard remains in the present-day Picard. And a series which carries the name of a famous character should not change the eponymous character into something completely different than what he is famous for.

Star Trek: Picard looks great, has fine music, and is well-acted, but sadly has stupid plotlines and has forgotten about its intellectual roots and the characterization of its main characters. Star Trek: Picard is neither Star Trek nor is it Picard.

English translation of AI experts’ futurology

January 22, 2020

Very regularly, you hear self-proclaimed AI expert make statements like “within 5 years, we will have…” followed by an indication of a technology which requires semi-intelligent processing (like self-driving cars, computer-authored novels, or brain-computer uploading). This is how one should translate such statements:

If AI experts say:

  • “within 5 years”: they mean “we already have this technology, it is just not widespread yet.”
  • “within 10 years”: they mean “we do not have this technology yet, but we know how to solve the problems that still need solving.”
  • “within 25 years”: they mean “we need to overcome numerous problems to get this technology and we do not know if they are solvable at all, but we are convinced that theoretically these problems should be solvable by the very smart young people that are currently entering the field.”
  • “within 50 years”: they mean “maybe this technology will be developed and maybe not, and even if it will be, it may take 50 years, or 500, or 5000, and humanity is likely to have destroyed itself before that time, but making these promises will get me a lot of media attention so I make them anyway, and 50 years is long enough for me to have passed away before anyone can tell me that I am wrong.”

The moral of the story is: most self-proclaimed AI experts love to make promises about technology which will be developed, but the less we know about how to solve the problems associated with said technology, the further in the future they will place the technology. You should realize that if a problem has not been solved yet, in principle it is impossible to say when it will be solved — because you can only say that when the problem has been solved already.

A 14% gap

November 24, 2019

Every two years, Intermediair Magazine and Nyenrode Business University (note: despite the term “university” Nyenrode is not a scientific institution, but a business school) perform a study of Dutch salaries, which they call the National Salary Survey (NSO; Nationaal Salaris Onderzoek). Their 2019 report shows (among other things) a 6% discrepancy between the salaries of men and women up to 35 years of age, to the detriment of women. Naturally, journalists, in particular those with feminist sympathies, grab this “fact” to once more discuss the “wage gap” and how bad women have it in the western world.

I was rather surprised by the report’s findings, as the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS; Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek) has reported since 2014 at least (I have not looked further into the past) that the salaries of women up to 36 years of age are 8% higher on average than those of men. In De Volkskrant, two articles in the same issue bring up both the 6% less and 8% more figures, without noting the discrepancy. I tried to ignore the discussions on the wage gap this time around, as I am getting rather tired of them, but since the 6% figure is now coming up in more articles I feel obliged to say something (despite the fact that few people read this, but sometimes I need to rant a bit).

The first question is: which of these figures is correct? The answer to that is clear: the 8% more for women figure of CBS is correct, as CBS writes its reports based on objective studies for the government — a government, I might say, which has rather feminist leanings as far as social justice is concerned. Note that, according to CBS, this figure is explained for the most part by the higher level of education that women tend to have.

The second question is: where does the difference between the results of CBS and the NSO originate? That is also clear: CBS has access to salary data of all Dutch citizens and bases its study on millions of data points. The NSO bases its results on data which are derived from a website, where they asked people to self-report on their salaries. They came up with close to 44,000 data points, which sounds like a lot, but is nothing compared to the millions of data points of CBS. Moreover, self-reports are notoriously unreliable, and salaries are something which men typically like to boast about and women tend to be humble about. So we may conclude that the NSO’s findings are unreliable and should be thrown into the garbage.

The third question is: why the hell does the NSO exist at all, when CBS produces a report on Dutch salaries every two years, based on objective data of every working person in the country? Producing the NSO is just a waste of time and money. Moreover, I cannot imagine that the leaders of the NSO research do not know about the CBS figures, and they should therefore have realized that their data must be skewed far too much to draw any conclusions from. Had they been responsible scientists, with the knowledge that their results are worthless, they would have declined to produce the report. So the only answer that I can come up with for this question is that the research leaders of the NSO are just interested in the attention that their report gets, and have no qualms about closing their eyes to the truth.

Note that CBS has examined the variance between salaries of all Dutch citizens using factor analyses, and has concluded that gender is in no way an explanation for observed salary differences. Therefore, any article or report which tries to pose salary differences between men and women as a gendered issue are fundamentally wrong. You may expect journalists and activists to erroneously state something along the lines of “but the fact that women earn less than men means that gender discrimination is at work, right?” but a scientist who bases their studies on statistics should understand their statistics better. Thus the NSO is no more than a pseudo-scientific manifesto and does not deserve the attention that it gets.

Dangerous games

September 20, 2019

Recently, Monte Cook Games published a freely available document called Consent in Gaming, written by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain. This document is presented as containing strategies to tackle potentially difficult elements in games (role-playing games in particular), in such a way that everybody at the table has a good time. This document is hotly debated on the Internet, and I can spot about equal numbers of people who applaud the document’s ideas and people who find the whole thing abhorrent. I am firmly in the second category.

The authors’ approach encompasses that at the start of the game, players provide the game master (GM) with a standardized checklist on which they have indicated all the topics that they have problems with. It is then the job of the GM to ensure that these topics do not come up in the game. Moreover, everybody at the table is bound by a social contract to not introduce such topics spontaneously. The checklist included in the document contains such categories as “Horror” (e.g., blood, demons, rats, spiders), “Relationships” (different approaches to romance and sex), and “Mental and Physical Health” (e.g., claustrophobia, gaslighting, paralysis, police aggression, starvation). All in all a total of 40 topics, with plenty of room for players to add more.

The document is aimed in particular at players who have a lot of sensitive issues. This is clear from the document’s language, which talks about the player with issues as “you” (“you decide what’s safe for you”), while it talks about others who are involved (the GM and players who have no issues) in the third person. It takes the stance that a game that brings up an issue that “you” are sensitive about, is doing something that is “not okay.” It states that you have to “consent” to being subjected to game elements that make you feel uncomfortable, and that if you do not give consent, then those who bring up these elements are at fault. The checklist, by the way, is not a way to give consent — it is simply a list of things that you do not consent to right now, but it does not preclude you taking away consent on anything else at any moment. The document even introduces methods to do that, such as a card that you can hold up to force everybody to immediately stop the game and move to a different topic. The document states explicitly that you have the freedom to do that at any point, on any topic, without explanation or discussion, and that from thereon that topic is taboo and it is the group’s responsibility to uphold your demands.

The whole document is drenched in players with sensitivities off-loading the responsibility for their feelings to other people, and being assured that it is their right to do so, and the duty of others to take on these responsibilities. If by chance someone introduces a topic that a player feels uncomfortable with (whether they announced that beforehand or not), the document even states that the offending person should publicly apologize to the player who takes offense. In no way is the player who demands that their personal whims are catered to by everybody else asked to apologize for their obnoxious behavior. Absolutely not; the fact that they feel uncomfortable absolves them of any responsibility for their behavior when they ruin the game for the other players.

By the way, the document completely ignores the fact that a GM who gets handed a list of demands might feel unsafe because of that. I do not say that frivolously. I GM quite a lot of games, and I have been in discussions with players about potentially sensitive topics in games. I felt quite uncomfortable with the idea that I might be hurting someone inadvertently by introducing certain topics. But hey, I am an adult and I can deal with that.

I positively hate the attitude that you have a god-given right to feel safe and comfortable, and that it is other people’s responsibility to make you feel safe and comfortable. The world is not a safe and comfortable place, and the quicker you learn to deal with that, the easier your life will be. Moreover, you are safe at a game table. The monsters are not real. The situations are not real. That is why it is called a game. The fact that you run the risk that your feelings get hurt does not make the game unsafe; you run the risk that your feelings get hurt everywhere you go where there are other people! Grow a spine! Be an adult and learn to deal with your issues rather than wallow in them. And if you cannot, see a psychologist or psychiatrist, because you are clearly in need of one.

I always tell my players up front what they are in for — what the style of the game is, and what kind of things they can look forward to. I am always open to discuss these things. But in the end, when I run the game I expect players to work with me just as I am working with them. If they have a problem with something, they can bring it up and I will try to adapt. Just as I will tell them when something bothers me about what they are doing, and I expect them to try to adapt. That is how mature people deal with each other. A group of reasonable adults will try to accommodate each other without much friction. If instead you give one person the power to subject others to their will, the relationship between them is effectively ruined.

If you are the petulant child who comes to my gaming table with a list of demands, I will not allow you in my game. I don’t care about what is actually on your list; I will send you away because I know that you evidently feel that you have the right to demand of me to adhere to your whims in a game that I am running, and thus you are not a person who I want to play with. If you take the right to make demands of me, I take the right to refuse you access to the table. I am going to have a fun game with reasonable adults of good will. You, instead, can go play with a bunch of other whiners with lists of demands, creating a game in which everything that ever could make anyone feel uncomfortable is excluded. I sincerely hope you have fun with your game about bunnies and ice cream.

How not to promote women in science

June 19, 2019

The Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) has announced that in the next eighteen months, all hires of scientific staff are to be women exclusively. This concerns about 150 scientific jobs. Only when a vacancy has been open for six months and no female candidate has been found, men can be considered for the job. With this, the TU/e hopes to improve the percentage of women on the scientific staff, which is currently at a low, low 16 percent.

Why is the percentage of women on the scientific staff so low for the TU/e? That is very simple: the university specializes in technical sciences, like mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, etc. The percentages of women who enter these sciences are low in the whole of the western world. Why is that? It is not because women cannot do these sciences. It is also not because they are not interested in them. It is because women, on average, tend to prefer other sciences. In the western world, women have a lot of choice in what they will do with their lives, whether or not they will work, and if they work, how long, how hard, and in what business. This freedom of choice has lead to most women choosing not to work in technical sciences. In medicine, law, psychology, sociology, educational science, and the humanities, women dominate. In physics and computer sciences, men dominate. If a university specializes in those sciences which women, on average, do not prefer to work in, it is no surprise that there will be a low percentage of women on the scientific staff.

Why do women, on average, prefer to focus on topics outside the exact sciences? Is it the female nature? Has it something to do with culture, perhaps? Is it education or parenting? Is it a combination? Many explanations can be proposed, but the TU/e is not interested in explanations or solving this “problem” at the root: the TU/e is only interested in fighting the consequences. I can certainly imagine that the TU/e feels that something needs to be done about the low percentages of women, considering that having so few women working there may make women feel unwelcome. However, this particular measure is an affront, as it will automatically lead to the TU/e saddling up other universities with their problems. I will explain:

The TU/e forces their staff to let vacancies go unfilled unless they hire women. But where are these women going to come from? Overall, there are simply very few women working in the exact sciences, because very few women choose to work in them. So how is the TU/e going to fill the vacancies? By enticing women who work at other universities to come work for them. There is no other source for female candidates. The TU/e, with their measure, has not magically created a fresh pool of women who specialize in exact sciences.

The TU/e offers great facilities to women who join up, like an extra 100,000 euros for research (only women get that, men do not). So they will steal women away from other universities, thereby maybe improving the situation at the TU/e in this respect, but hurting the situation at other universities at the same time. The overall situation of women in the exact sciences does not change one bit. Moreover, the measure creates problems (1) for departments at the TU/e who will see vacancies go unfilled for a long time and who will have to go for the “lesser” candidate because they are not allowed to hire the ideal candidate, (2) for other universities which see their personnel stolen by the TU/e, (3) for the male PhD students and postdocs at the TU/e who were hoping to continue their career there and now have to seek a job elsewhere, and (4) for women who may feel forced to change jobs with all the consequences for their personal lives. It is very sad that the TU/e evidently believes that they are doing a good thing.

If the TU/e really wants to get a higher percentage of women on their staff, what they should do is start new educational programs or change existing programs so that they are more appealing to women. If you change what you do to cater more to the interests of women, they will come. If you refuse to change what you do but just tell your staff to start stealing from other universities, you may end up giving the impression that you are improving the situation of women in science, but in actuality you are just creating more problems than there already are.