Women in Leadership Conference 2016

Women in Leadership Conference 2016

First academic centre dedicated to advancing women's careers opens during RSM's Women in Leadership Conference in Rotterdam in February 2016.

Women in business should embrace the unique skills they have as leaders rather than emulate male role models, famed author and mountaineer Rebecca Stephens told a packed lecture theatre during RSM's Women in Leadership conference on Friday 5 February 2016.

Advancing women’s careers

The conference, entitled The 8th Summit: Women's Ascent of Organisations, marked the official opening of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO), the first centre of its kind in Europe dedicated to advancing women's careers in organisations. Rebecca Stephens was one of the high-profile speakers to present at the sold-out event, which attracted more than 200 mostly-female executives and entrepreneurs to the Erasmus University Rotterdam campus.

Opening the event, dean of RSM Steef van de Velde said to ECWO's founder and executive director Prof. Dianne Bevelander, “The idea for this centre was entirely yours and it is amazing to see what it has achieved already. Change at the university would be slow it were not for your efforts.”

Unconscious bias

The dean’s sentiments were echoed by chief HR officer ING Bank NV Hein Knaapen. ING is the main sponsor of ECWO. Knaapen shared with participants his experience as a gay man confronting negative stereotypes in the corporate world. “When you are part of a minority there is an unconscious bias, whether you are gay, black or a woman in a senior role,” he said. “If we want to change things, we must keep making an impact.” 

Chair of the ECWO advisory board, Carien van der Laan, added, “Embracing diversity at all levels of management is a must-have in today's world. If there was ever an example of how one person can be a catalyst for change, it is Dianne Bevelander.”

Allocating resources 

Preceding the official opening of the centre was an insightful lecture by Pauline van der Meer Mohr, independent non-executive director and former president of Erasmus University. Van der Meer Mohr gave a reflective account of her personal journey as a female leader and the first female on the management board of Shell.

“Choose employers who support women in leadership roles and choose organisation's whose values align with your own,” she advised audience members. “Leadership is complex. Much of your legacy comes down to how well you allocate resources, and how well you play to your strengths.” 

A discussion ensued as to get more women into boardrooms in the Netherlands. Van der Meer Mohr said she had high hopes for the future. “Everyone is taking the new laws seriously and I'm seeing more and more new faces, so it's not the same pool being recycled across all boards.”

Key to success 

Following the inauguration of ECWO was a keynote address by Jacqueline Tammenoms Bakker, currently non-executive director of CNH Industrial, a member of the supervisory board of TomTom, Unibail-Rodamco and Groupe Wendel, and vice-chair of the
RSM Advisory Board

Talking from the perspective of a businesswoman whose career has included senior management positions at various multinational corporations, she said one important lesson was how to make the shift from executive to manager. “What I learned was that what makes you a success before 40 will not make you a success after 40. As a leader you must make the shift from 'doer' to 'enabler'; you must inspire trust, and be aware of what your people need from you.” 

Persistence was another key to success, she said, and especially relevant for women who face so many obstacles. “As you go up an organisations, the feedback gets less, which means you need to persist and become more self-motivated, rooting your work in clear values.”

‘Help gentlemen’ 

She also advised women leaders to create teams that include qualities they don't have themselves, whether that is charismatic presenting skills or a compelling vision. “Develop self-awareness, set an example by being curious about what other people think, build relationships, look for inspiration.”
Tammenoms Bakker said that, much of the time, people are not aware of their own gender bias. It is up to us to politely educate them. “Help the gentlemen become gentlemen,” she said, to laughter from the audience.

Call to action

Five parallel workshops followed, hosted by specialists in female leadership. Entrepreneur Fiona Ronquest-Ross said she attended the event because she “wanted to learn more about how other women have succeeded in business.” Ronquest-Ross runs her own business Teenbiz, offering training in the principles of entrepreneurship to young people. “What strikes me is how much gender bias is still an issue. I like that we are being called to action: men are not going to fight our battles for us.” 

Another conference attendee, Pamela Pauwels, who is a marketing excellence manager EMEA at Eastman Chemical Company said, “As a female manager I am always curious and seeking inspiration. I've taken away a lot from today.”

Women in Leadership conference workshops 

Marlies Dekkers
An entrepreneur: her story your strengths

Award-winning entrepreneur Marlies Dekkers hosted a workshop that focused on how women can recognise their strengths, eliminate negative thoughts and embrace their creativity. As a fashion designer who has built a lingerie collection into a multinational corporation (MD Group) with 150 employees in the Netherlands and Hong Kong, Dekkers urged women to make their choices not based on gender stereotypes but on personal choices, what she refers to as 'modern-day feminism'.

David Bond
Courageous conversations

“If you are ever afraid of a situation, find the courage to have the conversation that you most fear,” David Bond advised audience members during his workshop session. “That's how you better yourself.” David Bond is an international facilitator, executive coach and retreat leader focused on substantive leadership change. During his workshop, Bond told audience members that becoming a significant voice on a board or in an organisation required learning and practice in how to have courageous conversations.

Karen Stephenson
The DNA of networks

The importance of tapping into the 'virtual connection' of social media for leadership was the focus of a workshop by Professor Karen Stephenson, a Harvard scholar and trained quantum chemist and anthropologist. Professor Stephenson shared with audience members her research in the field, including insights into how to use the power of these networks to access innovation, expand and improve connections, and as a governance tool.  

Rebecca Stephens
The seven summits of success

The first British woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest as well as the seven summits, former journalist Rebecca Stephens spoke about the leadership and teamwork lessons she's learned from the mountains. Drawing comparisons between climbing mountains and scaling the corporate ladder, she noted the difference between reality and perception. The perception of her as a female climber, she said, was that it must be harder than if she were a man and yet, she said, “the reality was quite different. Men are clearly at an advantage in terms of strength, but as a woman I discovered I had better endurance and less altitude sickness. I had other strengths to bring to the table.” In terms of succeeding in business, Stephens urged women to “not change, just do more. Women used to emulate men in 1980s,” she said. “But we don't need to do that. What we want in the workplace is diversity.” 

Jacqueline Brassey
Mind the gap

During her workshop, McKinsey’s expert consultant in the organisation practice Dr Jacqueline Brassey enlightened audience members on the role of confidence in attaining success. “There is so much talent out there that is going to waste because we are not confident that we can do it,” she said. “What's more, we don't talk about it because so often lack of confidence is mistaken for lack of competence.” Brassey gave an empowering speech that touched on her own personal journey, which involved hitting a wall at a certain point in her career from lack of confidence. “Women need to befriend themselves and build their confidence if they are to give the best of themselves,” she said.

The Women in Leadership conference was sold out within three weeks after the start of the ticket sale. The event culminated with an inaugural lecture by Dianne Bevelander, confirming her appointment as professor of management with a focus on women in business at RSM.