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International Women’s Day 2022

This International Women’s Day 2022, we asked our Advisory Board 3 main questions about their experience as women in business and leadership.

This interview involves Rixt Herklots (Managing Director, Una Collective), Desiree Fraser (VP Global Account Executive, Capgemini) and Kirsten Nijmeijer (Chief People Officer, NEP The Netherlands).

What form of bias have you experienced and how’d you overcome them?

Rixt Herklots: Yes, although not always directly put into words, the fact that I’m a woman and a relatively young one (in terms of business) has made for some interesting interactions. From a government official calling me “little lady” while I was the one in charge of the event he was a guest at, to people expecting me to do the coffee run for the meeting.

Desiree Fraser: Yes, absolutely from different perspectives as begin a young colored women in a still very male dominated industry (good that this is finally changing for the better, we have still a long way to go). Stay true to yourself and believe in yourself. No one should make you feel smaller. I remained to follow my own course and did not get distracted. 

Kirsten Nijmeijer: Especially at the beginning of my career when I was working with policemen on interrogation skills, as a behavioral expert. At that time I was a young woman, so how I could I know? How much fun and how rewarding that after they had experienced – after a few days in the course – my expertise and the realization that they actually could learn something from me. And that was always the moment “I became one of them”. 

In your opinion, what stereotypes do people still need to break free from?

Rixt Herklots: A lot. Biases are mainly unconscious. Meaning that we’re not aware that we have them. I believe most of the Ukrainian people won’t call themselves racists, but what you see happening at the borders most definitely is. We need to break the bias that:

1. Dutch women prefer to work part time (even though this is true for some, maybe even most).

2. People over the age of 45 don’t have added value to the workforce.

3. The Dutch are a “gezellig” and welcoming country

4. People who look like us are the best person for the job

5. Men are better leaders

6. We don’t see color

7. And many, many more

Desiree Fraser: We all have continuously bias. That is part of being a human being and how we are wired and how history is deeply rooted in our society. I hope people will look at other people without any judgement, but just be really curious and interested to get to know the other. Remain curious and learn from others and their perspectives, to embrace diversity and challenge our own thinking.

Kirsten Nijmeijer: I think people – in general- have all kinds of stereotypes, sometimes even without knowing. For me personally, I think people tend to think that I am “soft”; being a woman, being feminine, being empathetic, and working in HR. They tend to not always truly listen because other traits (more masculine) are still being valued more in this world.

What is the most important piece of advice do you have for empowering other women?

Rixt Herklots: Women: stick together. Unite. If we no longer spend our time discussing whether or not you yourself experienced bias in climbing to the top, but we acknowledge the fact that a lot of us do. If we don’t let our personal likes or dislikes decide whether or not we help each other. If we put the common goal: a world of equal opportunity for all (white, black, asian, latin, men, women, trans, non-conforming, LGTBQIA+, able, disable, etc.) at the forefront and we unite, let them hear us roar.

Desiree Fraser: Let your voice be heard and remain compassionate! Not only for yourself, but also for others. If you feel alone or support, please seek advice and guidance, you will be amazed how many people are willing to help out! And keep on shining, no matter what! “And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” – Nelson Mandela

Kirsten Nijmeijer: Be yourself, always. Not to make yourself smaller, or behave in another way than your preferred one, “because of the culture”. And make sure you are not all alone; find yourself an ambassador or buddy. Whether another woman, or man who appreciates your style. And keep making clear that “different” is something to cherish (inclusion, vs diversity).