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.