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!