International Women’s Day - To all employers: provide flexibility and change your mindset
Today, 8th of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. A day to pay attention to gender equality within the management layers of organizations. The most recent Great Place To Work survey results show that of the 40 Best Workplaces 2020 in the Netherlands 43% of the management positions are filled by a women. This percentage is 33% at the 84 Certified organizations. We spoke to Ingrid van Tienen, Vice Director of Best Workplace ORMIT, about her experiences and advice for other employers ánd women.
Ingrid has been working for over 20 years at ORMIT and in recent years also as member of the board. ORMIT develops young professionals in traineeships with a focus on the development of (personal) leadership and provides talent and leadership programs for organizations. Ingrid has also followed a leadership program at ORMIT. In particular, she has a passion for human and organizational development.
We asked Ingrid to answer the following five questions:
During your career, what obstacles did you encounter – and how did you overcome them?
I did not encounter a lot of obstacles in my own career. From my first job onwards, I always have been offered promotion by amanager, often before I even thought about it myself. For this reason, I always have felt very stimulated and challenged. The only obstacles could have been my own thoughts: the bar that I experienced – can I do this?
Is “female leadership” a thing? If yes, how would you define its characteristics?
From my point of view something like female leadership does not exist. I do see that qualities that are often linked to women, like empathy and creating a connection, are important for good leadership. I also see those qualities in male leaders too. The behavior and leadership that are shown by people are more based on their personality, the culture they grew up in, the way that they are raised and the education that they received, then by their gender. A person is so much more than just a man or woman. In my opinion, it does not add a lot of value to label certain types of leadership.
At the same time, I see that there are not enough women who have a top position within organizations. Only when we reach ‘fifty fifty’ there is an equal distribution. In my working environment I see that it is mostly the culture in which women work that makes it harder to gain that management position. This is caused by the mindset of prejudgment that having a family and a top position cannot be combined. This makes that those women do not feel encouraged to find a good balance and solutions in this situation. For this reason, a lot of women will drop out and not choose for that top position. This is often a churning point for women: because of their organization or own obstructing thoughts they stop with seeking a higher position when they start having a family.
As a female leader, do you strive for gender equality in your company? How?
Within ORMIT we strive towards diversity in a broader way. This contains not only gender, but also cultural background or sexual orientation. We do this from the belief that in this way we gain the most potential out of people and create an environment in which that potential can blossom at the same time. This is not only crucial for people themselves, but also for the organization. Especially in times when we need all that potential the most.
What would be your advice to employers to create more gender equality?
There are three important themes for me: offer flexibility, change the mindset and make ambitions negotiable. From my point of view and from my experience, it is possible to combine a family and a busy job. It is important for employers to realize that it much more a topic of flexibility rather than the actual workhours. I have always worked fulltime and often more than that. This was possible because I could arrange my own hours. If needed I could be at school in the afternoon and could do some work in the evening. In a lot of organizations there still exists a mindset that if you do not work fulltime and aren’t working from 9 to 5, you cannot make a career. That of course is nonsense.
The most important thing is that organizations create an environment in which people can talk about their wishes and ambitions and that they can share them freely. Sometimes women do have wishes and ambitions but have - probably more often than men - the tendency to think that they are not capable to do it (yet) or that they are not ready for it. My own experience shows that most of the time, starting the conversion, is a way to create a solution for both you as well as the company.
What would be your advice to women who want to succeed?
Keep sharing your wishes and you might be surprised, when you discover the possibilities. Start the conversation, you do not have anything to lose. I wanted to have a family and I started the conversation. How can I combine my family with a nice job in which I am challenged and what kind of measures do I have to take? Before people are comfortable to start this conversation, it is important to work on your own self-awareness and develop your personal leadership. In this way you shorten the step to speak up your ambitions and actually go for it.
Great Place To Work wrote a whitepaper in November about female leadership and role models, in corporation with BrandedU. Discover in this whitepaper personal stories and five types of leadership. We will publish a new whitepaper in relation to mentoring end of May with new stories from female leaders in the Netherlands.