How can you be Chair if you cannot … (go to after-work events because I have care duties)

“How can you be Chair the Faculty Works Council if you cannot go to after-work drinks?” A (male) colleague from another faculty asked me this a few weeks ago. It totally blew me. I did not know what to say in reply.

I am an elected Chair of the Faculty Works Council, one of which goals it is to represent the interests of the faculty work force. I got the highest number of votes at the elections. But by means of this single question, I feel I’m put away as incompetent because I do not go to all the after-work drinks across the whole faculty. Why do I not go? Well, because I have a family and a son with particular needs, which means I go home after work.

The Faculty of Science consists of over a thousand employees. Is going to after-works drinks really the best way to find out what is on people’s minds? Conversely, are the people that go to these after-work drinks representative of the whole work force? I strongly doubt that. One of the points on the agenda of the first council meeting that I chaired was how we keep in touch with the work force at the faculty. Going to after-works drinks was not mentioned, but many good, other suggestions were, which all emphasized that efforts should focus on reaching all the different groups within the work force, like PhD students, lecturers, technicians and admin personnel. When chatting with one of the Council members, he said: “well, someone else can go to these after-work drinks in your place. Easily solved!”.

Women are still underrepresented in the management levels of many research institutes and universities. The Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam is no exception. The council that I chair, for example, comprises two women and thirteen men. Yet, diversity and gender balance are vital factors for successful science, teaching and university management as, apart from anything else, diverse teams perform better. However, at moments like this one, when such a question is posed, it is difficult to keep up the stamina for the diversity cause.

Finally, what does make a good Chair? A good Chair is someone who speaks last, who listens, who is able to find a way to build consensus while still holding true to the values of the vision and goals of, in my case, the Faculty Works Council. A good Chair is like a great orchestra conductor: she hears all the parts of the symphony being played and finds a way to bring harmony from the various viewpoints. Sounds to me that women are more adept at this than men. A little creativity can then easily solve any calendar conflicts.


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