‘Women are not the issue’

Practical science

‘Women are just as capable as men and yet men still occupy far more senior positions than they do. That means qualified women are denied positions in favour of less capable men!’ Dianne Bevelander doesn’t sugarcoat it.


NAME: Dianne Bevelander 
STUDY: MBA, University of Capetown, PhD University of Lulea
CAREER: Professor of Management Education at RSM. She served for many years as the Associate Dean for MBA Programs and as a Statutory Director of RSM BV. She is the Executive Director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organizations (ECWO).


‘Some years ago, while undertaking diversity research at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), I asked students whom they were inclined to trust professionally. Surprisingly, most students -female and male- selected men. Why, I wondered? Further investigation gave me a rather obvious insight: our education dynamic is structured this way. Business school professors are largely male. Case studies, particularly in leadership, overwhelmingly feature males as lead protagonists. And guest speakers include an even higher proportion of old white men.’ 
‘Little wonder that students display an unconscious bias towards men. My eyes were opened.’ Dianne recalls a story by Foster-Wallace of two young fish being totally puzzled when asked: how’s the water? ‘What is water, they ask. Their complete lack of awareness of an environment so necessary to their survival symbolizes how we are often blind to the obvious and don’t see its impact on our thought and behaviour.’

Empowering women
To address the consequence of this unconscious bias, Dianne organised RSM’s first women-only MBA elective: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during a course in leadership and trust development, and a metaphor for business. This created considerable noise, heightened the diversity debate within the School, and led to dean Steef van de Velde asking her: ‘Why don’t you start a centre especially for women?’ The ECWO conducts research into diversity and organizes leadership courses. ‘Our alumni shine and feel invigorated. They believe they can create networks together, and can and should support one another. These women have seen the water, and they are changed!’

Future plans
ECWO has recently welcomed Joana Vassilopoulou, faculty member at Brunel Business School, to join the team. Joanne will be supporting Dianne and slowly taking over some of her responsibilities as she takes a step back due to health reasons. Dianne would like to see one woman from each faculty on ECWO’s advisory board and have more female faculty members teach at ECWO. ‘This summer we will hold a discussion forum with female Erasmus academics and top alumni businesswomen. It will benefit everyone.’

Changing culture
There’s still a long way to go, both in business and academia. ‘It remains an understatement to say there are too few women on executive boards and at the highest level of academia. The continued argument that we can’t find them must be cast aside. I commend the University for diversity oriented policy changes it is making and I’d like to thank our Chief Diversity Officer, Hanneke Takkenberg. A safe environment is an inclusive environment that allows one to push oneself to the limit of one’s capability—an environment that every excellent university strives to create for all its talent!’

TEXT: Loes Singeling 
PHOTO: Aysha Gasanova

Dianne Bevelander