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‘NWO is a better organisation if it is diverse’

Angelique Schilder and Léon Ouwerkerk about inclusion and diversity

Whoever took the lift at NWO Utrecht or The Hague could not have avoided it: the recruitment posters for the events “CONNECT@ Inclusion & Diversity” on 21 March and the “Pride Network Meeting” on 2 April. The editors of Inside NWO-I talked to HRM manager Angelique Schilder and HRM adviser Léon Ouwerkerk. Together they told us about an inclusive science culture with an eye for diversity that NWO seeks to realise. Schilder and Ouwerkerk work at NWO Institute CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) and are very closely involved in the organisation of the activities of the NWO-wide project group “Inclusion & Diversity”.

Diversity is a vague term. The dictionary defines it as “variety and variation”. On the work floor of NWO, it concerns diversity in terms of cultural, ethnic or religious background, as equally gender, sexual orientation, health and age. It also entails the term inclusion. In concrete terms, inclusion means there is room for groups disadvantaged by society, that they are included. More than sixty colleagues discussed these terms during CONNECT@ Inclusion & Diversity with moderator Pravini Baboeram from ECHO (Expertise Centre for Diversity Policy). ‘Diversity is about a mix of people. Inclusion is about how that mix works in practice’, says HRM manager Angelique Schilder. In April 2018, she took on the role of “Coordinator diversity personnel” for the entire of NWO. ‘I am convinced that if different – diverse – people work together, this leads to more creativity and innovation, as a result of which better results are achieved. Furthermore, I find it important that every employee can be himself or herself and does not experience any barriers in his or her working environment. We need to be aware of how we can genuinely relate to each other in a respectful and understanding manner. NWO will be a better organisation if it is diverse’, says Schilder.

Implementation plan diversity
At the end of August 2018, the NWO executive board approved an implementation plan diversity policy for its granting and personnel policies. NWO subsequently established the workgroup “Inclusion & Diversity” that, led by Schilder, focuses on personnel policy. NWO organises various activities and initiatives aimed at four groups of employees: women, people with a migration background, people with a work disability and people from the LGBTI target group (lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders and intersexuals).

Women within science
Within the NWO Institutes, many initiatives already exist to employ more women and facilitate their promotion. From now on, the focus will also include the recruitment and selection process. In addition, NWO will remain open to international collaboration.

People with a migration  background
NWO's offices in Utrecht and The Hague have too few employees with a migration background, and this group is scarcely represented at the higher salary scales. The proposal is that NWO tackles this from 2019 onwards in its labour market communication, recruitment and selection, and in the assessment and training of employees.

People with a work disability
NWO wants to create more positions for people with a distance to the labour market. Each organisation unit will acquire an ambassador. NWO will also establish a network organisation to provide the structure and harmonisation needed to facilitate the influx of this group. For example, CWI collaborates with the work and training company Pantar that does the cleaning at CWI and offers these people good opportunities.

People from the LGBTI target group
On 1 January 2019, NWO became a member of Workplace Pride (WPP), a non-profit organisation committed to improving the lives of people from the LGBTI target group at workplaces throughout the world. HRM adviser Léon Ouwerkerk subsequently took the initiative to set up an LGBTI network within NWO. ‘Bringing together NWO colleagues from this target group was our first priority. We want to make it clear that NWO is also there for this target group and that they are welcome.’ Ouwerkerk organised the first Pride Network meeting on 2 April that was attended by thirty colleagues. He heard from one participant that her heart jumped when she saw the first announcement posters. ‘I was happy to see that we had speakers who wanted to serve as role models and were willing to be open about their sexual orientation. And it was also special that some of the colleagues who attended “came out“ in the work setting for the first time’, says Ouwerkerk full of pride. Under his leadership, NWO will now further expand the network via informal meetups and other network meetings. ‘Initially many people are hesitant; such a network really needs to grow. It is often the small things that make a difference, such as hanging the rainbow flag at the entrance of an institute. An organisation needs to do more than just talk about it,’ says Ouwerkerk, ‘you need to do something too’.

Independent of the various target groups that NWO is trying to reach and the initiatives that will be taken, implicit behaviour exists throughout the entire NWO organisation: the bias, or in other words prejudice, that people have. In practice, most people soon develop a bias. Think about the bias that influences the writing of a job advertisement text and the use of jargon. Schilder says that NWO is going to tackle this by organising an awareness and writing course for HRM advisers to facilitate the use of gender-neutral words and images. This will also be included in NWO’s training plan. ‘During a job interview, you also have a subconscious bias and that makes it more likely, for example, that you will appoint somebody who is most similar to yourself.’ Implicit associations, stereotyping and subconscious exclusion play a role in this. ‘It is a mindset that needs to be changed, a system that needs to be dismantled. An example is filling in a job application form. Currently,  the “box” gender only allows you to fill in male or female. But what about “gender neutral” or a box that you are free to fill in yourself? These things must begin to change within NWO’, says Schilder.

Schilder and Ouwerkerk are pleased and proud that CWI supports diversity at the management level and that this is also the case at the highest level within NWO, the executive board. ‘I was very pleased that executive board member Jaap Schouten attended the Pride meeting as a keynote speaker. We very much hope that diversity and inclusion will eventually be implemented even further in the collective labour agreement. Then there will also be attention for parenting by employees from rainbow families, in other words, families with two mothers and/or two fathers, for example’, says Ouwerkerk. Schilder adds: ‘We are not here to highlight the problems but to provide a positive sounding board for NWO and NWO-I employees. It is fantastic that we can devote attention to inclusion and diversity. We notice that from within the organisation there is a lot of curiosity about all the things we will do in this area. People really appreciate that we are going to do something about this!’

More about inclusion and diversity
Would you like to know more about inclusion and diversity? Then visit Joost:
Colleagues who cannot access Joost and all other colleagues can approach Angelique Schilder ( for more information and any questions they may have about inclusion and diversity. For questions about Workplace Pride or the Pride Network, please mail Léon Ouwerkerk,

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Text and photo: Melissa Vianen

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, May 2019

Confidental Infomation