Discussion: Leaving Dutch academia because of the overall climate for women
In response to ESB’s invitation for a round table on gender issues in economics on October 8th, we received an email from an assistant professor who is leaving the Netherlands because of the overall climate for women. With permission of the author, we reproduce her email here without her name to stimulate the discussion.
“I am assistant professor at a Dutch university. I have resigned and will be leaving to [another country]. The overall climate for women in the Netherlands is one of the reasons, if not the main one, for me to leave.
I am from a country where women, while still underrepresented in top jobs, work full time, and commonly occupy high-skilled jobs, including in academia, and in economics. So that gives me a few elements of comparison.
Career and offspring impossible to combine
The main obstacle in the Netherlands to more women in economics is the lack of day-care and after-care (i.e. after 5pm) for children. More generally, the overall culture of part-time work cannot apply to academia, and certainly not to economics, where competition is fierce and international. No one can hope in that field to become full professor by working less than 45 to 50 hours a week, with a few weeks off per year only. How to conjugate this with a family life? Given the price of the day care, its limitations (not 5 days a week, till 5pm, etc), the price of an au-pair or a full-time nanny with respect to an assistant or associate professor salary, this is simply impossible.
When confronted to this argument, Dutch usually reply that the father can work part-time and take care of the children. I think that we should not be afraid to be politically incorrect and to realise that women with that level of intellectual development, qualifications and ambitions seek similar-minded partners, to keep each other sharp and support their ambitions. This type of men would certainly not blossom in house-keeping. They have themselves high-qualified jobs, for example as a full professor, and would certainly not like to work part-time.
On a more general note, the widely spread old-fashioned belief that women who work full-time are bad mothers because they don't spend enough time with their kids does not help. Social pressure, I think, is an important driver of gender issues. What is most surprising to me is that those arguments seem to come from the women themselves.
On a side note, Dutch people also often argue that two salaries are not necessary for a household, so there is no need to have two qualified jobs in a couple. Without even mentioning future incomes at pension time, this argument does not hold once we acknowledge that work is not just about money. At the level of a full professor especially, it is about financial independence, personal achievements, intellectual development, social life, and even providing an example to your children of ambition, hard work and dedication.
Looking at my home country, one solutions seems straight-forward: the provision of day-care, 5 days a week, from the morning till late afternoon, starting from few-week old babies. This could be provided by universities themselves.
How to change mentalities and the overall social pressure and part-time work culture is a much trickier challenge especially that is seems to come from the women themselves. The politically incorrect question is more whether Dutch women truly want to reach those high-level positions and financial independence, given the amount of responsibilities, work and necessary stress that come with it, at the same time as having a family. I would not bet that the answer is a yes.