Flying start for Athena’s Angels website

On the new website Athena’s Angels, four female Leiden professors address the unequal treatment of women in academia. ‘Since we launched the website, our mailboxes have exploded,’ says Judi Mesman, Professor of Child and Family Studies and one of the initiators.

A PhD student is always a ‘he’

The logo of Athena's Angels

The logo of Athena's Angels

Athena’s Angels consists of Ineke Sluiter (Classical Languages and Cultures), Eveline Crone (Developmental Psychology), Judi Mesman (Child and Family Studies) and Naomi Ellemers (Social and Organisational Psychology): four female professors who want to stand up for the interests of women in academia. They kept running into more and more instances of discrimination in daily practice, from implicit unequal treatment to open discrimination of women in the academic world. For example, what are we to think of the Leiden PhD Regulation 2014 in which a PhD student is systematically referred to as ‘he’? Or a female university lecturer who is only granted a maximum of 1 month of maternity leave by her head of department? These and many more examples and figures can be found on their website, athenasangels.nl. The site aims to address the topic with some humour, and to offer help and advice.


‘It’s too late for me’

Within a few days of its launch, the website already had 20,000 visitors. ‘The reactions to the website have been overwhelming and positive,’ says Judi Mesman. ‘And they come from both women and men. A striking reaction came from a number of women who wrote: it’s too late for me, but I am so glad that you are doing this.’

Men also ask for advice

Judi Mesman: Most Dutch people tend to think that there is no unequal treatment of women here, but that is not true.’

Judi Mesman: Most Dutch people tend to think that there is no unequal treatment of women here, but that is not true.’

Are the Angels not afraid that their website will make the dialogue more difficult – for instance because men will object to the website or be afraid of being mislabelled if they dare to bring up the subject? Mesman: ‘Why should they be afraid? And anyway, it is not just about men, women also have prejudices. We are all human. And men are also asking us for advice. For example if they notice that there are is too little upward mobility of women within their research department, but they don’t know how to remedy the situation. We have tried to keep the tone on the website light and to address the topic with a bit of humour.’ According to Mesman the primary goal of the site is to reach people and to make sure the problem is recognised. ‘Most Dutch people tend to think that there is no unequal treatment of women here, but that is not true.’


Not just a Leiden phenomenon

Finally: the Angels came to address the unequal treatment of women at a time when all four of them worked at Leiden University – Should we be worried? Mesman laughs: ‘Unequal treatment is not a particularly Leiden phenomenon. It happens in all Dutch Universities. The fact that we launched this initiative has to do with our mutual chemistry.’

(4 June 2015)

See also

Website Athena's Angels

Wanted: examples of gender discrimination

Athena's Angels in the NRC Handelsblad

Diversity Dossier 

Magazine Excellence Through Diversity

Last Modified: 04-06-2015