Women run up against judgement culture at ASML

Picture credit: Pixabay

On Thursday, Studio040 published its first article in which female employees at ASML say they are discriminated against in the workplace. But women at the high-tech company also feel undervalued in other ways, Studio040’s research shows. For instance, women are less likely to be promoted and find it difficult to speak out about things that are not going well.

Far more women than men seek help from union members if they have problems with managers or ASML itself. Of those who seek help from a union member at the Veldhoven-based chip machine manufacturer, between 70 and 80 per cent are women, the FNV says. That is a high number for a company where 80 per cent of employees are men.

Converted, this makes a woman more than 10 times more likely to seek help for problems with the Veldhoven employer than a man. Annually, dozens of people in the company turn to the union for help.


According to Daniël*, a union member who works at ASML, that number can be traced back to wider personnel policies ASML has in place. “At ASML, at the end of the year, a group leader must always identify a weakest link in the group. An ‘underperformer’ is how it is called. The idea is that this way the best people remain, but if you perform well as a group as a whole, someone has to be picked out as the weakest link.”

After two or three bad assessments, employees are steered towards the exit, Daniel says. “In a following appraisal interview, it often turns out that it is not right, while such a first signal comes out of the blue from the pespective of the employee. When employees challenge such a decision, it is reviewed by Human Resources (HR), in my experience, managers are actually always proved right.”


Managers are made supreme with the appraisal system, while employees have to dance to their tune, says Daniel. “The policy is counterproductive I think. Someone who performs well, but does not get on well with the team leader, draws the short straw. And those are often people who are a bit more critical. But critical people are often also the people who perform best. Without critical voices, you cannot improve as a company.”

Cock of the walk

“Moreover, a team sees: ‘This is a good worker, yet who gets unfair treatment’,” says Daniel. “And because of those guidelines, I also understand why women are more often the ones who draw the short straw. Because managers are often machos. Types who take pleasure in being on top of the rock. In doing so, they may have in the back of their minds that women are not technical enough and don’t belong in a company like ASML.”

“Recently, there has been another group of four, five women, incidentally also of non-Dutch origin, who got into trouble.” The signals coming from the union are also confirmed by ASML’s works council.

That the Veldhoven-based company’s appraisal system ensures that dissenting opinions are nipped in the bud is also confirmed by Mathilde; she was employed by the company for a long time, but has since closed the door behind her.

Judged by opinion

“I have never experienced direct discrimination in the workplace,” says Mathilde. “But perhaps I am not so vulnerable as some others: I am Dutch, I always have my say and I was a veteran. Those are things that do count in how you are approached. I can understand where the complaints are coming from.”

The appreciation Mathilde felt on the shop floor, did not mirror how she was viewed by the management. “There was a time when plans were made to increase the workload in the department. I went against that, because the workload was already high. I was eventually vindicated, but my next review was much worse than usual.”


“I always achieved good and excellent ratings, but now I suddenly got a bad one. The reason was ‘that I could not communicate my ideas well’. By the way, I was training people,” Mathilde says with incomprehension. “With that, the real reason was clear to me. When I protested against that assessment, I was put under heavy pressure to accept a compromise.”

The pressure Mathilde felt with her assessment was not the first time she felt pressurised in the company, she says. “Conversations with senior managers I generally experienced as threatening and intimidating. You have to accept that all sorts of things are thrown at you. On more than one occasion, I walked away crying after such a conversation.”

Lowest pay scale

But the biggest shock for Mathilde was yet to come. “Because I spoke openly about my salary, I found out that that the colleagues I trained were often better paid than I was,” Mathilde says, “but I did not realise that I was the only one on the lowest pay scale in my group. In all my years at ASML, I have only been promoted once. And that was actually because of a transfer.”

And Mathilde says she is not the only woman left behind on the pay scale. “I always talked very openly about my salary with colleagues. There are a lot of people who came to the university with PhDs. From what I heard, female PhD students were routinely classified one or two pay scales lower than men. Women enter in pay group 7 or 8 and men enter in pay group 8 or 9.”

ASML itself does not provide any information in its annual report about differences between the classification of men and women in wage groups the company. However, it does reveal that there is a 2 per cent pay gap in the basic salaries of men and women in the company in Veldhoven. Although women in senior management close that gap with bonuses paid out, the same is not true for women in lower management or those on the shop floor.


“I also see female managers sitting one or two pay scales lower than their male colleagues,” says Mathilde. “Among female managers, there were several who were at least one pay group lower than direct colleagues of theirs. Sometimes this also has remarkable effects. For instance, I had a female manager who, out of dissatisfaction, gave a man working under her a bad review. This was a very friendly and very competent colleague. To my mind it was a kind of revenge, because if you heard the reasoning why, as far as I was concerned, it hit the mark completely,” she reports, “and I have seen this more than once in my years at ASML. ”

Mathilde adds that she is happy to be leaving Veldhoven. “In the beginning, working at ASML was a real party. I worked with very intelligent people and there was solidarity among employees. Of course you also had less pleasant people walking around, but they didn’t have high positions back then. That is different now. I was so fed up with how things went in the company in recent years. A real shame, because it was a wonderful company, with a wonderful product.”

Speak Up

Although the signals suggest otherwise, ASML does have policies in place to combat harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The so-called Speak Up Policy is meant to encourage employees who have problems with something to speak up.

The annual report reports that 414 Speak Up messages were made worldwide. 165 of those messages were related to human rights and 106 of them were related to harassment and discrimination.

How many of those messages came from women is not recorded, says ASML. In the process, reports can be declared unfounded by the company. On what grounds this happens is not clear, while that seems to be the fate of more than half of the Speak Out reports, namely 218 messages.

On paper, therefore, it seems like a nice idea. In practice, it does not seem to work effectively because complaints about a supervisor can be punished by the same supervisor with poor ratings.

You feel small

“Raising the issue of discrimination is not that easy,” says ASML employee Kaawa, who previously shared her experiences at length. “Especially not when you see it happening all around you. And it’s not the same in every department, but in departments where 80 to 90 per cent men work, it’s just very difficult. I would much rather the people who witness it happening said something about it. It’s easier for them, because if you’re the target of sexism yourself, you already feel just small. Then you are not likely to open your mouth.”

Moreover, little happens to complaints the moment someone does speak out, she says. “I did say something about it once, from someone who was leading the meeting in our team. But then that is a man himself, who then does nothing with such a comment.”

Nothing happens

Also according to ASML employee Gauhar, who also told her story to Studio040 on Thursday, ASML’s current Speak Out policy is not working sufficiently. “No, the policy is not working. You are encouraged to speak out, but how is it taken up? In my experience, nothing happens when you speak out.”

Moreover, discrimination is a complicated thing, says Gauhar. “It is often about subtle things. Also, it is often difficult to prove. Just prove that you are not taken seriously by colleagues, or by some of them. That is difficult. And then there are so-called support groups, but they have limited influence.”


ASML does organise inclusiveness meetings to raise awareness of the issue among employees. But that is of little use, Gauhar observes. “The people who should attend such a meeting are precisely the ones who don’t go to them.”

Due to the course of events, Kaawa fears that her generation of women will structurally not make it as far within the company. “ASML really does try hard to be an inclusive organisation, but there are a lot of unconscious prejudices that people have. You feel that when your opinion is ignored in a consultation. But for many men, that doesn’t play a role at all.”

Kaawa also reveals that the inclusiveness meetings miss their impact. “Which men volunteer to join a workshop on diversity and inclusiveness? Usually not the men with whom the problem lies.”

Closed doors

Trade union FNV has also been calling for a permanent union point of contact within the company to address such abuses for some time. “We can now only get in through executives,” says director of FNV Metaal, Peter Reniers. “At VDL, Philips and DAF, we can just go in, but ASML does not want that.”

Maintaining authority

Critical union members also remain vulnerable this way, Reniers observes. “With the assessment system ASML uses, it can affect your position to speak out against certain things. It ensures that authority is maintained. For example, union members can get a negative assessment if they do too much union work during their working hours.”

That women are disadvantaged in the appraisal system does not surprise Reiniers either. “Women are more likely to work part-time, and then your rating just goes down. That this makes it more difficult to make a career within the company should not be surprising.”

ASML announced earlier that it was “shocked” by the sounds of female discrimination.

*Speakers in the article did not want to be named, their names are therefore fictitious. Their real names are known to the editors. Peter Reniers of trade union FNV is mentioned by name, however.

The first article on this topic you can find here.

Source: Studio040.nl

Translated by: Anitha Sevugan


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