Emma Donlan, an inspirational leader from Manchester, always dreamed of changing the world. With a passionate activist mindset and a deep interest in Latin America she pursued a degree in Latin American studies, and for the past 23 years she has been based in La Paz, Bolivia: working as a human rights and social inclusion advisor for international NGOs and the British government.

Currently, she holds the position of Country Director for the Plan International, an NGO that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, leading a large team impacting the lives of over 39,000 sponsored children across more than 600 communities. 

Emma Donlan is a true transformational leader, striving to make Plan International in Bolivia more agile, effective, and impactful in the development sector. Her ultimate responsibility lies in ensuring that the needs and proposals of girls and children are always at the forefront of all their efforts, working tirelessly to create positive change and opportunities for a brighter and more equitable future.

Emma exemplifies her core values through the 10 Feminist Leadership principles.  

These principles serve as guidelines, shaping her decision-making and approach to leadership.

However, Emma’s path hasn’t been without its challenges.

When Emma arrived in Bolivia, she encountered leadership styles, deeply rooted in a very patriarchal society that was characterised by traditional hierarchical structures, and a largely ‘machista’ culture. A ‘machista’ culture is a social system that promotes traditional gender roles and male dominance while subordinating and restricting women’s rights and opportunities. For example, when Emma first arrived in South America, she started in a leadership role in an international NGO at only 27 years old. Her expertise was constantly called into question, and many people mistook her for an intern when they came into her office. She was often the only woman in interagency meetings, and she was almost always the youngest person there. The predominantly ‘testosterone-charged’ atmosphere in these spaces felt rather intimidating, as most decisions were made on whoever had the loudest voice.

This situation enabled Emma to develop her own leadership strategies and to build on her strengths in ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, taking risks, and building alliances to design, propose and deliver innovative projects that presented opportunities for making a greater impact.

Emma had to take a few risky decisions in difficult situations:

For example, she’s had to ensure that the voices of young indigenous people were considered in spaces where decisions were being made that affected them. This meant that she had to challenge adult-centric attitudes that do not value young people’s participation, or even dismiss it entirely. Barriers like these were difficult to overcome, taboos had to be broken, but Emma managed to secure the support of several diverse groups, especially other marginalised groups that had also been underrepresented in these decision-making spaces in the past. 

Although Emma has been settled in Latin America for over two decades, she continues to have a ‘backpacker’ mentality.

Her leadership style is characterised by her acute curiosity to understand the diverse experiences and perspectives of the people around her in order to co-construct sustainable solutions that build on, and are rooted in their needs and proposals. People often perceive her as a fresh-faced foreigner, a stereotype she tactfully leverages at times to bridge cultural gaps and build connections. Being a foreigner in Bolivia allows Emma to easily move between social classes and ethnic groups as she doesn’t belong to any specific group herself. Whether she finds herself in ministerial meetings or working in remote indigenous communities in the Amazon, she is greeted warmly and welcomed to share in specific experiences, needs and proposals.  

“This mobility is a privilege that truly humbles me and which I try to use to build bridges, broker relationships and overcome tensions or misunderstandings between diverse groups.” 

Plan International in Bolivia focuses on three pillars: 

  1. Early childhood: Creating nurturing environments for vulnerable children, particularly girls, challenging gender roles and promoting effective parenting. 
  1. Sexual and reproductive health rights: Empowering young people with knowledge to access to health services, and contraception to address unwanted teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, and protect adolescent and young women’s rights. 
  1. Economic empowerment: Equipping girls and young women in rural areas with business development tools, fostering self-esteem and independence for their own development. 

Additionally, Plan International promotes feminist leadership by educating adolescent boys and girls about equitable relationships and challenging social norms that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Emma passionately advocates for this cause, empowering adolescents and young men to understand consent and encouraging girls’ assertiveness in decision-making. 

As an NGO, Plan International seeks to amplify girls’ voices and the challenge the discrimination harassment they often face in Latin America due to their age and gender. Emma, a dedicated Country Director, prioritises empowering and advocating for the well-being of girls and children in the communities they serve, ensuring the organisation’s values are upheld.

Emma wants to give other women in (aspiring) leadership positions who have struggled to get where they are now a few of her key learnings: 

  1. Ask for help. Something Emma wishes she had learned a long time ago, is that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to admit that you cannot do it by yourself sometimes. Being a leader is about being vulnerable. Courageous leadership involves acknowledging one’s vulnerabilities and seeking guidance from others. 
  2. Acknowledge your privileges and seek ways to share those advantages to empower others. “The best thing a leader can do is to simply listen, step back, and let other people shine.”  
  3. Celebrate diversity. In a society where hierarchical structures still prevail, the need to create a diverse team that represents genders, ages, ethnicities, and other marginalised voices is of the utmost importance. 
  4. Infuse joy and optimism into your work. Given the challenging and emotionally taxing nature of Plan International’s mission, Emma understands like no other the importance of maintaining a positive outlook. 

Emma’s leadership journey is one of continuous growth and learning. Her approach resonates with joy, optimism, and unwavering belief in the transformative power of women and girls. Through her leadership, she uplifts and inspires individuals and communities, leaving an indelible mark on their lives. Coming from the Western world with a very forward mindset moving to Latin America where vertical forms of leadership are the norm, there is one thing that inspires Emma the most: Even in completely different cultures than what we are used to, new kinds of leadership are not only possible to realise, but also necessary for the changing world we live in. No matter where you are, you NEED to have authenticity, and you NEED to have the heart and passion to create this new kind of leadership.

The human connection, the soft skills that we used to think are subordinate, are actually the key to new, effective leadership.

Emma believes leading is about inspiring others.

“If we don’t feel that we’ve made changes in the organisations we work in and in other people’s lives, then what’s the point?” 

Emma has never let go of the activist mindset that her 14-year-old-self created, dreaming of changing the world. That idealistic girl is still a part of her, and each time she needs to make a tough decision she just asks herself, “what would 14-year-old Emma do?”. The answer often drives her to be bolder, more intrepid in her course of action, and continue on her life path to make changes that will contribute to a more inclusive and just world, where girls and women are valued, can exercise their rights and reach their full potential. 

“Why did I do that?”

Do you ever find yourself thinking this? For example when you say yes to your manager asking to take on that extra project while you’re barely make your own deadlines? Or when you had the chance to share your opinion in a meeting but decided to stay silent anyways, even when you did have something to say? We all find ourselves doing these things , going along with decisions we don’t really support, or saying “yes” to things we don’t really want to say yes to. And the only person who suffers from these unwanted behaviours, is us. 

Changing your behaviour is a tough process. Once certain habits (good or bad) are rooted in your system, it is very difficult to stay away from that pattern. Behaviours are automatic responses in your brain, almost like reflexes. Like driving a car…when you first learn how to drive a car, you need to consciously think about each action you take. Which pedals to press, checking your mirrors, shifting gears, etc. Once you’ve been driving your car for years on end, you don’t even think about these actions anymore: you just do them.  

Behaviours are created just like this. In response to repeated behaviours, neural pathways are formed in your brains. The more frequently you repeat a certain action, the stronger the neural pathway will become, making it easier for your brain to send the same signal down that pathway in the future. 

As this all sounds a little too science-y, it might be easier to see your brain as a dense forest, intertwined with many different pathways. At first these paths are overgrown and difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of time and effort to make it to the other end, and you might even get lost along the way.

But the more frequently you travel down a certain path, the clearer it becomes. With enough repetition, you’ll know the path like the back of your hand, and it will become easy to follow. 

When we repeatedly engage in certain actions or thoughts, the neural pathways in our brain strengthen and become more efficient, making it easier to engage in those behaviours in the future. Eventually, these pathways become so well-established that the action or thought becomes automatic, like a well-worn trail in that dense forest. 

Just like it is much easier to follow a familiar path in the forest than it is to follow an unfamiliar new one, it is easier for our brains to engage in familiar behaviours than it is to form new ones. 

For example, when you’re nervous for a big meeting and you have a smoking habit, it is much easier to have a quick cigarette beforehand to calm the nerves, rather than trying out a 30-minute meditation session you have never tried before. This is why it is so challenging to change certain behaviours: it Is like trying to cut a new path through an overgrown forest. 

But we KNOW this, right?  

We KNOW that changing our behaviour is hard. We promise ourselves to do things differently each time. “This time I will actually say “no” when my colleague asks me to take on a few of his tasks.” But each time we find ourselves in the exact same spot as last time: working hours overtime, thinking to ourselves “If only I had just said “no”…”.  

Why is it so hard for us to break these unwanted behaviours, even when we really really want to? 

Traditionally, when trying to create behavioural change, we focus on intelligence (IQ) and emotion (EQ), and work on these as two separate things. This approach can definitely help you achieve results, but if you really want to make a difference, it won’t be enough.  

That is where somatic practices come into play. 

Somatic practices look at things a little differently. The word ‘somatic’ comes from the ancient Greek ‘Soma’ (σώμα), which means body. Somatic theory assumes that you don’t consist of separate parts, but rather that your body, brain and soul are one. And somatic coaching takes your body and its intelligence (BI) as starting point for creating sustainable change in behavioural patterns. 

For example: remember the last time you had to give a big presentation? You might have known the material by heart (IQ), and you may be passionate enough about the topic to connect with your audience (EQ), but you will still struggle if you’re nervous (BI): your voice will still quaver, your hands will tremble, and you won’t be able to engage your audience as much because of that. 

Your body is much more intelligent than you might think. When looking at the human nervous system, you can see that these neuron connections (the forest pathways we were talking about before), are not only present in the brain, but they are spread out over your whole body. I mean, how often have you had that weird feeling that someone is looking at you? Or the sensation that someone is behind you? 


When you’re under a lot of pressure, like right when you’re about to speak up in an important meeting or before an important presentation, your body is aware of this. You don’t decide to get stressed out, you just are. In these situations you can be fully aware that you’re stressed out and need to calm yourself down. You think to yourself, ‘I know what I want to say’, but it doesn’t seem to help. You’re still trembling, sweating, your voice is all shaky. Your brain knows that you need to calm down, but your body doesn’t.  

This is why traditional practices – where the mind, emotion, and body are seen as separate elements – don’t work as well as we expect them to when trying to change your behaviour. Somatic coaching, however, still lets the coachee engage in aspects of traditional coaching, but combines it with physical exercises that really make you feel what the different behaviour would be like. This way of learning emphasises the role of the body and the senses in the learning process, instead of solely focusing on intellectual knowledge and information processing.

This approach is called ‘embodied learning’, which recognises that the body plays a crucial role in the way we perceive, process and remember information. 

I think I have made my point very clear that somatic practices and embodied learning are highly beneficial for everyone. It can help you gain the confidence and assertiveness to really tell your boss ‘No’ when you’re asked to take on extra responsibilities when your own work is already piling up. It can improve your communication skills and reduce your anxiety to take up space in important meetings, to help you to finally get your points across.

Want to know more? 

Are you interested in how somatic coaching can be a helpful tool for women in leadership who struggle with limiting beliefs on the work floor? Stay tuned for our next blog post! Or check out our social media: follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook!

Doors Open facilitates several trainings for dealing with these challenges through somatic coaching. And specifically for women who deal with gender-based difficulties at work, we have created the Embodied Leadership Growth Programme in collaboration with Boudewijn Bertsch. In this 7-day programme we make use of a somatic approach and embodied learning to tackle these difficulties, and to provide women with innovative and effective solutions.

Want to know more? Contact us! 

When you think tech, most people probably still unconsciously think of a more male-oriented industry. However, Ilse Kous has now been working for the hospitality tech company Mews for 6 years! For her, that was indeed the case – sometimes she found herself having to adapt and adjust in order to be heard in a male-dominated environment, considering at one point she was the only woman in the team…but how did she do that and what helped her? Keep reading in order to find out and learn from her experiences!

“I was number 18 in the team; I was also the first woman to join.”

An interesting starting point for Ilse’s career was being a woman in a male-dominated environment. This really sparked awareness for her, as she would look around and it would really stand out that she was the only woman amongst a large group of men. How did she experience this? Ilse mentioned that being the only woman amongst this group of 17 men could sometimes feel odd. This awareness also took a lot of brain power to reflect on. It was not the fact that she felt uncomfortable or disrespected in any way, rather it led her to reflect on questions such as: “How do people feel and think about having a woman here? Do they think I am being too emotional?”. This stemmed from the simple fact that stereotypes in society around women are still present.

Have you ever felt this way or been in a similar situation? Common stereotypes which women in society face are that they are much more emotional, or that they cannot attain higher ranked positions due to being the main caregiver in the family.

“Question whether you actually feel insecure because you just don’t have the competencies, or whether the insecurities are driven by your surroundings.”

For Ilse, being aware is essential. It allows people to evaluate whether they need to speak up about the inequalities at the workplace. So, when reflecting on whether inequalities are present, remove yourself from the system and the situation and think about “am I actually incompetent?”. If your answer is “no”, then you can conclude that insecurity most likely stems from the environment and people you are surrounded by. The awareness derived from this can spark confidence to speak up with regards to the inequalities present.

Furthermore, Ilse mentioned how important it is to work for a company whose values match your own. This is especially true if you realize any feelings of insecurity are coming from your environment. Finding out what your values are comes with time and experience as Ilse mentions. She has worked for various companies with different cultures, and this has helped her realise that not every company’s values will align with her own. At one point she worked for a company which made her realize the values set there did not match her own. They did not mix personal and work life at all, and flexible work arrangements were almost impossible. This was a reason to leave the company.

So, what are the values which are important to you and how can you look for a company which matches those values? Ilse suggests looking at the company’s development plans, succession planning, as well as the diversity and equity policies which they have in place. This is already a great start towards finding a company which matches your values. Ilse states that choosing an employer which matches her values has proven to be an essential part of who she is, and allowed her to blossom and flourish, because she is respected for who she is.

“When I walk into a room, I don’t’ see myself as the weaker person.” 

One time Ilse had gone to France for business and walked into the boardroom of a big French hospitality company which was filled with only men. She had walked in with her male colleague who did not speak French. Initially, they already assumed that she was his assistant, even though she clarified that she was his manager and spoke French fluently. However, they still refused to speak with her. Instead, they took the effort to translate from French to English in order to speak with her colleague. It is crazy to see things like this still happening, don’t you think? It is situations like this that open our eyes to the fact that the struggle and fight for equality is still very present.

A tip and other defining moment with regards to this situation is having a mentor or sponsor. This is crucial to be able to talk about the different situations which you are faced with and in turn get pushed in the right direction to overcome your struggles. This was the case for Ilse. Do you currently have a mentor or sponsor guiding you?

To conclude, Ilse did not view these experiences as negative but rather as eye-openers. So, what can you take away from this post and Ilse’s experiences?

Experiences in life may not always be encouraging or fun but you can usually always grow from them.

Don’t let difficult situations discourage you. Instead, look at what you can learn from these situations. Awareness is the key here. This will allow you to grow and become better prepared to deal with any similar future situations.

Did you enjoy this blog post? #SheLeads will be back with more inspiration in April! Stay tuned on our social media to know more.

Maureen Hughes was the first female partner in Consulting at EY in The Netherlands back in 1999! Quite impressive, don’t you think? With big achievements also comes experience, growth, and challenges. Keep reading to learn more about Maureen’s impressive leadership journey and benefit from things she learned along the way!

“Always strive if you can, to be financially independent, it empowers you, it gives you choices, it gives you freedom.”

Being financially independent is one lesson which Maureen found to be very important. Upon moving to the Netherlands, she had no job, no network, and she did not speak the language. Nonetheless, she made the bold decision to move to the Netherlands in order to be with the love of her life.

Maureen’s situation upon moving to the Netherlands resulted in her taking the first job which she was offered, even though that meant taking a job which she did not enjoy and did not pay well either. At this point however, her need to be financially independent was more important than anything else.

So, what can be taken from this? Life will throw obstacles your way, and not everything will always go according to plan, but in that there is growth and opportunity. For Maureen, being financially independent allowed more freedom and choices for the future of her career, and that is why sometimes at the beginning you simply take what you can get. Remember, becoming financially independent is not an overnight process.

Maureen continued applying for other jobs with the aim of becoming an international consultant as she didn’t speak Dutch at that point. Again, she adapted and adjusted to the best of her ability, and this is important to note as these are moments which have shaped her journey as a leader. She started her career in consulting working for the company EY, wherein she became the first female partner within 3 years.

Considering her career journey full of major changes and challenges, Maureen stressed how important it is to “choose your life partner with great care.” Because in order to have a great career, you need a “true supporter in your fan club.”

Although this might sound all so dreamy and ideal, it wasn’t at all as perfect as it may seem. At this point in time, Maureen was working full-time internationally with a very young son. This was very difficult emotionally as she could only see him on the weekends. And when her boss informed her that they would be putting her name forward for partner, at first, she said “no way”.

“My amazing career came with a price tag; it didn’t come for free.”

When the topic of her becoming a partner was brought up, Maureen did not want more responsibility, considering the amount of work she was already doing. However, her boss countered this by saying “Maureen, you’re actually already doing the job of a partner, so why don’t you just accept the title and get the money that goes with it?”. However, this was not the only factor at play. Maureen also felt the pressure of being the first woman partner, as this would mean she would become a role model for future female leaders. Quite nerve-racking, right? She was doubtful whether she would be good enough and fearful that she would make mistakes. Eventually, her boss convinced her of the reasons why she should go for it.

What can be taken away from this experience? Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is needed to reach greater heights! Also, don’t underestimate the value that you bring to the table, often you may be bringing a whole lot more than you think and above all believe in yourself!

“For us to be successful as women leaders, we need strong sponsors.”

This is another one of Maureen’s learnings – having a senior mentor who truly believes in you is of great importance, especially when you don’t believe in yourself. Later, she was hired by Deloitte as a direct entry partner. At that time, Deloitte was not yet very diverse, and this meant being the only woman in an all-male senior international team. This also led Maureen to wonder whether they had only appointed her as a global leader to be seen as more diverse, rather than believing it was based on her abilities.

“When I started the role, I thought they were all smarter than I was.”

She was in fact well-qualified for this position, yet still did not believe in herself. Have you ever doubted your capabilities and questioned your “right to play”? After 4 years in this role, she was ready to pass it on. However, her team all insisted that she stay as they found her the most knowledgeable. Do you recognize this in yourself too?

“It was quite confrontational for me, because I realized how much of myself I had lost in the struggle to survive in a male-dominated environment.”

In 2001, Maureen was only one of two female partners in Deloitte Consulting, and both were external hires. In 2011, a whopping 10 years later, there were 0 new female partners. This lack of progress sparked Maureen to set up the Deloitte’s Women’s network in The Netherlands to support and promote women.

This led Maureen to realize that sometimes you need yourself to be the change, for the change to happen. Not only did she give back by helping women within the industry, but she also gave back to herself. She decided she needed to invest in developing herself, her mindset and self-awareness – which she had completely ignored. Therefore, she started to formally educate herself as a coach at the age of 50. Deloitte Partners are required to constantly coach their teams and she felt it was past time to properly learn these skills to improve her internal coaching at Deloitte. However, she also had to confront things in herself, the leader and person she had become, which she did not like.

“I quickly became known as the woman who was continuously on this soap box about inclusiveness and diversity.” 

She preferred to help those that were “different” and this meant anybody who was not a white, Dutch, straight, extrovert man. In other words, this gave her a rather large scope of people to coach. In 2019, she retired early in order to fully focus on her passion for supporting and developing others through coaching and training.

Maureen’s journey can be described as inspiring to say the least, but most importantly it shows the reality of what she went through to get where she is today. So, what can you take away from this? Don’t give up and remember life will take you through paths which might not be what you want at that moment but maybe it is what you need to reach your goals. Being a woman in leadership is not always easy, but with hard work, perseverance, and strong sponsors you can be the change that you want to see. This most definitely proved to be true for Maureen.   

Did you enjoy this blog post? #SheLeads will be back with more inspiration in March! Stay tuned on our social media to know more.

Speaking to us all the way from Australia is Patrice den Hartog, Head of Customer Value Management at Optus. When asked about the defining moments in her career, she noted that in her experience, how you show up every day is more impactful in your career than specific moments can be.

Patrice started her career at Boston Consulting Group directly following her studies. Having the opportunity to work across a range of industries, solving complex problems with some of the brightest people in the world, and having a seat on the board from her very first day Patrice had an accelerated learning curve in an environment that does everything to get the best out of you and provide the very best for its clients. This set her up with a foundational skillset that she still benefits from every day in her work and life.

“I never realized how direct the Dutch culture was.”

Moving to Australia was a pivotal moment for Patrice, as a move that was intended to last a few years turned into building a home and settling down thousands of kilometers away from the Netherlands, where Patrice is originally from. Her international experience and ability to work with different cultures was and continues to be a shaping experience. Patrice reflects that she’d never realized how direct the Dutch were until she arrived in Australia. This experience allowed her to notice the importance of being aware of how you come across to others and thereby the impact you have on them. The cultural context you are in plays a crucial role in the communication you have with others and adapting yourself to your environments requires self-awareness.

A decade into strategy consulting, Patrice decided to move into a more corporate career. While the caliber of the people and problems dealt with in her career in strategy continue to interest her, she decided to make the change to shift from leaving these issues at the advice level to being a part of driving the change and making an impact. She can now bring in elements of her background in strategy to her current business leader role. This unique combination of skills is rare and helps her daily to be a better leader.

“Usually when people get to the point of working at 100-110% intensity they think the right thing to do is taking a step back… Instead of taking a step back we should ask ourselves ‘how can I take a step forward?’”

For Patrice one of the biggest learnings has been finding the balance of becoming a mum and being an executive leader. She recalls that earlier in her career being efficient and working longer hours was an effective way to achieve a lot, but when you move higher up and have a family, this strategy is not as effective anymore and creative, different thinking is required. To exemplify this she shared the changes she made when moving from having two children to three. It was then that she began to value quality time over quantity of time, and thus reconfigured her support system to enjoy being a mum while having a career. She and her family felt fortunate to be able to have Dutch aupairs living with them – until COVID hit. Her children still have very fond memories of their ‘big sisters’ who had a big impact on them.

“Nothing is either good or bad. Just thinking makes it so.”

Upon sharing the various advantages, she has had as a woman in leadership, such as being able to build relationships faster and being less threatening in the alpha male mentality that sometimes surrounded her, she reflected on (some) women’s tendency to overthink and worry. Patrice has been on a personal journey for the last 10 years to reduce energy drainers and worrying about things that often don’t even matter. She shared her technique on how you can do the same: balancing your view. Whenever Patrice thinks of something good, she challenges herself to see the other side and vice versa when thinking of something bad to see the other side of that. By neutralizing thoughts and experiences, worries and heightened emotions subside. Patrice recommends doing this on a regular basis, even daily (if possible) to see a true change in mindset over time.

“Find the reason why you are here today and do not constantly focus on what is next.”

When asked about her values as a leader Patrice said having fun “while it may sound weird” is a key driver for her. She remarks that often people are so focused on the next step, for example taking a job simply because it is a stepping stone to reach their end goal. While Patrice sees the importance of building a career with a goal in mind, she also encourages you to focus on and enjoy the journey.

“I would love for women in leadership to enjoy being women in leadership.”

Patrice ultimately wants women in leadership to enjoy being leaders and to be able to combine this with the various dimensions of life without sacrificing too much in one area. She hopes to share her knowledge through this blog article and reduce worry and overthinking which is a topic she feels many women (and men!) still struggle with.

The #SheLeads series on inspirational Women in Leadership will be back in January 2023! We hope you have enjoyed following along so far and keep your eye out for our next blog posts! 


Ute’s career has taken her through many different positions and roles. Getting a Master’s in History of Arts and Political Science, she stayed away from Business in her studies and in her first jobs. In fact, she started off doing a lot of Journalistic work, writing for Newspapers, creating recordings for radio shows and television. While launching her own startup to design websites for other companies, she liked to doodle, and when these doodles were noticed, she published a book! Up to this point, creative work was a leading factor in Ute’s career journey.

“Love it, change it, leave it”

Then, she took a different turn in her career and joined a big media company… and promptly realized that she did not match with leadership there. Coming to that realization led to her leaving that job and starting on a new path in her career. In fact, Ute lives by a simple mantra – Love it, Change it, Leave it. Easy to say, but sometimes hard to do. Essentially, Ute recommends that if you do not love a situation you are in, then try to change it. If you cannot change the situation, then leave it. This also aligns with the way in which Ute views the way work is organized: people should think more of their work in terms of roles instead of functions. Each individual has strengths to capitalize on in their work, so finding the right role instead of the right function is key.

“Organizations can work in a very different way, and you should not take the rules for the truth.”

Recognizing this and acting upon it can be difficult, but Ute reaped the benefits of this decision when she started in WestLotto. Going into a company that had a strong hierarchy was not something that was easy for Ute, as it was not what she was used to at all. One day, she attended a Design Thinking workshop, and had a WOW moment – this was the way she wanted to work. One of Ute’s main lessons learned is that organizations can work in very different ways than they do, and rules in place are not always to be taken for granted and accepted as if they were set in stone. After doing lots of pioneer work in various capacities within WestLotto, Ute landed in innovation management, which was the culmination of all the work she had done until then, and matched with her interests and passion perfectly!

“It’s more about coaching than leading.”

In fact, Ute is continually working to innovate in her team and company to modernize the way work and teams are structured, applying design thinking, systems thinking, SCRUM, OKR, Purpose-Driven Company and more innovative models to modernize work! Ute views leadership more so as coaching, helping reveal an individual’s strengths – which is one of Ute’s own strengths – and giving them roles in which they can apply and raise their potential, making use of the T and Y-shaped skills model. This means not only making use of the deep knowledge a person possesses, but also their broad knowledge and experience, along with the power of collaboration within teams. Ute’s purpose as a servant leader is to do creative work with individuals to increase their creativity, getting them out of their comfort zone and trying new things. She strongly believes that a clear purpose and guiding star is the first thing that any leader needs to set for themselves, and this is her’s.

“I think women are really in the driver’s seat for changes at the moment.”

Ute believes that this is a great time for women to instigate change, as we change the way we organize work and structure companies, leaning more towards design thinking that emphasizes strengths that women possess, such as great empathy and communication.

So, what does she want to see happen for women in the future? Getting rid of old structures where women sometimes have to work harder than men (or be a better version than men) to receive recognition, and instead using more lean methods, focusing on people’s many skills and abilities. She would also love to see a move towards fun leadership.  In her opinion, we need less expert leadership and much more empathic leadership that fosters self-leadership. As hierarchy-free self-organization is the main topic of the future for organizations in a complex world, an emphasizing this self-leadership will be beneficial.


For our German readers, be sure to find out more about Ute’s vision and combination of Design Thinking for women in the workplace in her book, co-written with Martina Hesse!


Our next #SheLeads blog will feature Patrice den Hartog, a woman in leadership who spoke with us all the way from Australia, she sharing key moments in her career how she found  balance in her career and in her mindset.

First of her family to attend university and now head of the HR Centre of Expertise of NN Investment Partners, this week we sat down with Elsa Endlich-Metsellar, an inspirational leader.

When she was 2 years old, Elsa and her mom packed up and moved to the Netherlands all the way from Portugal. At the time, this was not the easiest of transitions and changing her last name to that of her Dutch stepfather’s so as not to be known as the “foreigner” had its impact on her self-esteem. Nevertheless, this experience is what has given her such drive and passion for the work that she does and sparked her interest in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). 

“I always try to build teams with individuals from different backgrounds because, first of all, you can learn a lot and second, those teams are high performing.”


Elsa’s interest in DEI translates into the work environment Elsa aims to create for her team and within her organisation. The below visual takes you through a few key elements that can help any leader create an inclusive and open environment.

Elsa’s advice on “How a leader can create an inclusive and open environment”:

  1. The leader talks last. Instead of giving your opinion immediately and thereby impacting how the rest of your team reacts, wait and let them share their own ideas first.
  2. Understand the various types of people in your team and ensure everyone has a voice. As Elsa calls them, there are some “eager beavers” that like to shout out the loudest. It is therefore paramount that leaders also give room to quieter, more introverted teammates. In virtual settings, using the chat function for example can be more comfortable for those individuals to share their thoughts.
  3. See challenges and mistakes as learning opportunities and ensure this mentality is shared with your team. As a leader you must avoid the “blame and shame” reaction and rather provide a platform for your team to reflect and learn how to do better next time.
  4. Have a common purpose. To create this, ask questions like: “what do we want to be known for as a team?”, “what qualities do I bring with me as a leader and what qualities do my teammates bring?”. By creating and understanding a common purpose you create a sense of belonging.
  5. Create a culture of accountability. Give one another proactive “feedforward” as opposed to “feedback”. What do you appreciate and what ideas do you have for your teammates?


Elsa is not a fan of describing a woman in leadership as a female leader: “you wouldn’t refer to a man in leadership as male leader”. Nevertheless, she recognises that when it comes to leadership, both are not always treated the same. She once took part in a leadership program, and received positive feedback on how she was dressed rather than on her leadership capabilities. What sounded like a compliment at first made her realise that she has to work harder to receive recognition for her talent and achievements, as do many other women. Nevertheless, Elsa highlights that the differences in treatment that men and women encounter in the workplace are not always so black and white. 

“We only make about 5% of our decisions consciously, so if we want to see more women in leadership positions, then we need to be conscious and change the existing structure within organizations, so that bias doesn’t come into the judgement and decision-making process.”


Now we’ve spoken a lot about women. What about the men? Well, “men have an important role to play in all of this”, whether that be in the professional or personal context. Equality in the workplace can only be attained when all hands are on deck which is when men also value equality in the workplace and value women’s aptitude and leadership abilities. On a personal front, Elsa is a mom of three, and in her marriage, her career and her husband’s are equally important; they work together to balance work and family life, which is often an element that hinders women in their career advancement. 

Ultimately, what does Elsa want to see happen for women in leadership in the coming years? “That women become more aware and confident about what they bring to the table and get the rightful recognition in their organizations.” 


Our next #SheLeads blog will feature Ute Hamelman, a woman in leadership with a passion for innovation. Follow the Female Hub on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin to stay updated!


From a masters in Global policy and public affairs to being a communications consultant to a learning and development manager, an entrepreneur and now a lecturer and DEI consultant, Elena Messiou has experienced a variety of different jobs throughout her career, with a guiding principle driving her forward: having a job that has an impact on people. 

“What I knew for sure was that I wanted to have a job where I would have an impact on other people’s lives.”

Growing up in Cyprus, Elena’s parents instilled in her a value that she still holds close to her heart in everything she does nowadays; to make sure that her actions positively impact others. Going further into what this means for her, we found out that Elena considers the other in the broad sense of the term, whether that is an individual, animals or the environment, she strongly believes that whatever she does must benefit more than herself solely.

“Of course we’re not all the same and we don’t come from the same opportunities. I believe that to be where you are, somebody has helped you, has opened a door for you.”

Elena was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but privilege is something that she acquired throughout her life through her own hard work and dedication, but also through the help of a strong support system and network that opened doors for her that may have remained shut had it not been for their assistance. And so was born another one of Elena’s values and driving principles: to be someone that can create opportunities for others, in fact, she believes that is the role of a leader, to open doors for others, and share their privileges.

Throughout her career, Elena found herself in some male-dominated environments, which she learned a lot from. One of her most inspiring managers was a man who she now considers a good friend. With him, she experienced firsthand the benefits that an individual’s energy and positivity bring to the office and the impact it has on people working with them. She also saw the value of treating each individual as such; on an individual basis, taking the time to understand them and letting them have a voice, and showing up for them when it mattered. These are all traits Elena admires and respects, but she also believes that each person is different, and that individuality and unicity transpires in leadership. As a leader herself, she values giving individuals the freedom to do things in the way they want, supporting  them when needed, and letting them do what they feel is right. 

“I would recommend to new leaders to address diversity with an intersectional approach.”

Along with occupying a variety of positions, Elena has also lived in a variety of different countries. When she arrived in the Netherlands, she realized that her last name did not help her while looking for a position. This is something that she wishes to see change. Indeed, Elena harbored an interest in diversity and inclusion, and through a conversation with a friend, realized that it was something that she could pursue in her work. There it was, another door opening for her! With diversity and inclusion, Elena hopes to see equitable opportunities for individuals from all walks of life and different backgrounds. When looking towards diversity and inclusion for women in the workplace, she hopes that leaders will take an intersectional approach, considering gender along with the other factors that make up the individual, such as their ethnicity, sexual identity, age and so on to ensure that all women are offered equal chances. 


What is Elena’s advice for leaders? To keep on exploring. The more you learn, the more you realize that you don’t know as much as you thought.


Our next #SheLeads blog will feature Elsa Endlich-Metselaar, a woman in leadership with a passion for Diversity in teams. Follow the Female Hub on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin to stay updated!

A career with Philip Morris has taken Tui Perez Bean around the world; from the United States to the Dominican Republic to France to Brazil. Tui currently resides in Switzerland from where she has been Finance Director of Africa and Levant and now is Vice President of Finance & Planning for Eastern Europe. 


We spoke to Tui about her incredibly successful career. She shared that a key element of her success was the unique possibility to hold positions in various parts of the world, getting to know different countries, cultures and people. Through this experience Tui learned to become more resilient and gain a greater appreciation for change. She also felt fortunate to be able to share these learnings with her two sons who accompanied her to the various places in which she worked.


“It is not a one woman show, it is truly a couple’s accomplishment.”


A key moment in Tui’s journey was the first time she was offered to go on assignment. She and her husband were both offered equally interesting job opportunities abroad and had to make a decision many dual career couples make; which assignment do we take and how does this affect the other’s career? Together with her husband they made the difficult decision to pursue her assignment and move abroad. She notes that without her husband’s support, none of what she has and continues to achieve would have been possible. 


“Women that I hired in Nigeria are now becoming Finance Directors in West Africa…Women I hired in Algeria are now working with me in Eastern Europe.”


Another defining moment was when Tui was on assignment in Africa. She not only had the opportunity to work on a variety of interesting projects, enter new markets and work with new people, but to enact real change. A good leader does not only get opportunities but also gives opportunities, therefore a big part of Tui’s agenda was to help give more opportunities to women in a team environment that at the time was male dominated. She continues to follow the careers of the women she hired whilst in this position with a few now being promoted to leadership positions. For Tui this was not about reaching a quota but rather giving opportunities to women who were already there, qualified and eager to take on the position. By opportunity, Tui does not only refer to the job itself but also to the conditions of work that allow women to balance their professional and personal responsibilities. She elaborates that unfortunately, culturally, the role of women in some of the countries she has worked in is still that of the caretaker despite balancing a full-time position. 


“I assumed the answer was no.”


When asked if she faced any particular struggles during her career as a woman in leadership, Tui shared that one of the struggles was the fact that she felt as though she could not voice the stress or difficulties she faced. For example, she never felt as though she could say she needed to leave at five so that she could spend time with her children; she assumed the request would not be understood and therefore did not ask. Working in finance, long hours are expected; Tui recalls that during a very intense and highly stressful budget process, running late into the night, she had a miscarriage. She shares that it never crossed her mind to tell her employer she was pregnant and needed rest but rather pushed through.


Tui notes that nowadays this narrative has shifted and companies are becoming more and more flexible in allowing particularly women to take a break without being penalized. For the first time in her career Tui has asked her manager for a break before starting her next assignment. With a list of bullet points in hand she was ready to support her request and was positively shocked when her manager said yes immediately. 


“Once you set your priorities straight, everything falls into place.”


One of Tui’s biggest learnings has been to ensure she has set priorities right. For her these are God, Family and Living a Life of Service. Her advice to you is to create a list of three  principles and lead your life guided and motivated by these as values. If these priorities cannot be integrated into your job or life the way it currently is, know that you are in the wrong place.


As mentioned, one of Tui’s priorities is to “Live a Life of Service” which is something she has always struggled to integrate into her work and life. While on assignment in Nigeria, Tui saw tremendous need and was determined to help. In collaboration with a colleague, she raised $46,000 to arrange transportation for orphans who had to walk two hours to school in periods of heavy rain. Three years later, this project has inspired 600 similar endeavours which have been heavily supported by the senior leadership and CEO of Tui’s employer. She is thrilled to now have the space and support needed to prioritize this core value and continues to work on projects alongside her job as Vice President of Finance and Planning.


Looking forward, Tui hopes to have eliminated some of the struggles women face and share her learnings thereby easing the path for the next generation of leaders. 



Our next #SheLeads blog will feature Elena Messiou, a woman in leadership with a passion for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Follow the Female Hub on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin to stay updated!