Janneke Plantenga first Diversity Dean

Janneke Plantenga
Janneke Plantenga. Photo: Ivar Pel

Professor Janneke Plantenga has been appointed the first Diversity Dean at Utrecht University. "Diversity needs to become the standard, and we need to get everyone on board for this."

To mark the occasion of Diversity Day on 6 October 2020, Janneke Plantenga and programme manager Brigitte Prieshof explain why diversity and inclusiveness are of such vital importance to the university. At the same time, they present the new Equality, Diversity & Inclusion multi-year plan.

Diversity needs to become the standard, and we need to get everyone on board for this.

Equal opportunities

“It is our task as a public institution to ensure diversity among our students and employees,” says Janneke Plantenga. “Because we want to offer equal opportunities to all, but also because as a university we simply cannot afford not to make use of all the human capital society has to offer.”

It is no coincidence that she was the person chosen to be the university’s first Diversity Dean. Since her own student days, she has campaigned for diversity and equality. “I studied Economics in 1975, as one of the few female students,” she recounts. “Before long I was engaged in issues such as inequality between men and women, the labour market, childcare, part-time work and the flexibility of labour. Since then my attention as a researcher has been focused on social equality.”

“This focus is also deeply rooted in my family history. You should never underestimate the emancipatory effect of education. My father finished primary school just before the war, and had to go out to work aged thirteen. For the rest of his life he continued to take courses and study alongside his work. He finally became deputy head of a technical school. It was clear to me from an early age that education was the key to self-development. Everyone should have that opportunity.”

It is important that everyone in the university feels at home and valued and can make a contribution.

Focused action

The Equality, Diversity & Inclusion programme has ambitious goals for the coming four years, says programme manager Brigitte Prieshof. “It is important that we widen our focus. In the last few years, we have worked hard on issues such as gender diversity and building access for students with a functional disability. This is important, but there are more dimensions to diversity, for example students and employees with a migration background. To achieve this, we need everyone: both students and employees and their representative bodies.”

“We have taken some important steps in the last four years. We organised a range of training courses, financed over twenty initiatives from the Incentive Fund and set up a Diversity Award. We are also working to achieve a more diverse intake and selection of students. This is a good start. It is important that everyone in the university feels at home and valued and can make a contribution. Besides a diverse intake of students and employees, we also want to maintain this diversity, so we will be paying attention to intake and progression and also outflow. ”

The wide focus is intended to ensure that in four years’ time the university has truly become more diverse. Janneke Plantenga: “In the coming years we want to ensure more diversity and equal opportunities for everyone, in both education and research. And we also want the university to have an impact on society in this area. Diversity should become more the norm. In this respect, the University Council speaks of a cultural change. And that is what is needed, but it won’t happen by itself. It needs focused policy and conscious action.”

“It is fine if the discussion gets heated at times, we don’t always have to agree with each other. You can also see this approach in the new national action plan for greater diversity and inclusion. We need to have more guts and dare to do more. We also want to be a learning organisation. We certainly don’t have all the answers, so we have set up a steering committee for the programme, with a wide representation from all levels of the university. We invite all students and employees to contribute to the programme.”