Belgian-based Latin American executive Karen de Sousa Pesse has been named the winner of the 2023 Dianne Bevelander Prize for her work in advocating for women’s rights in STEM over the past year.

Now in its second year, the award honours Prof. Dianne Bevelander, the founder of Erasmus Centre for Women and Organsiations (ECWO) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The inaugural award was won in 2022 by Geke Rosier, the founder of RightBrains. It forms part of the Dianne Bevelander Memorial Fund which continues the pioneering work done by Prof. Bevelander.

A Senior Executive at Salesforce, Brazilian born-and-raised de Sousa Pesse is a Nanotechnology and Material Science Engineer who has lived, studied, and worked in several countries across America, Europe and Asia. As a female business leader in Europe, she has a strong personal interest in shining a light on topics such as gender bias in Artificial Intelligence and the importance of gender perspectives in technology.

In announcing the winner - on what would have been Prof Dianne Bevelander’s 64th birthday on June 17th 2023 – jury member, Dr Natalie Cleton, described de Sousa Pesse as a role model “in the true spirit of Dianne Bevelander's efforts to empower women and to highlight and honour those who have made a significant contribution to the professional advancement of women”.

“She is a role model, not only for Latin-American natives, but also for Latin-American women, for women in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and for people who care about equity and equality in the AI disciplines,” added Cleton, who is Prof. Bevelander’s daughter and adjunct faculty of ECWO's Women in Leadership programme. 

“Karen has also made tangible changes to her business environment to better the position of women, as an Executive at a multinational software company providing CRM software and applications. Lastly, on both a national and transnational level, she has a profound impact on key trends affecting women that shape the public sector, supporting governments and institutions in their Digital Transformation.”

“These are exciting times for women and genders perspectives in Western Europe,” said de Sousa Pesse. “We are being heard, we are excelling in leadership careers at growing rates and a lot of behaviours are not being accepted anymore, such as what happened to the winner of the Dianne Bevelander Prize 2022 Geke Rosier, who was requested to find a job more suitable to a mother. However, we cannot take progress for granted and believe that this momentum is going to continue forever. We need to keep advocating for it until it is embedded in the DNA of our society. I am honoured and humbled to receive the Dianne Bevelander Prize of 2023 for my advocacy for women’s rights in STEM and dedicate it to every woman before me, that paved the way so that, on the day of today, I could speak freely.”

De Sousa Pesse was chosen following an open nomination process by a jury comprising Rosier and Dr. Cleton, along with Prof. Hanneke Takkenberg (ECWO Executive Director), Prof. Nicola Kleyn (RSM’s Dean of Executive Education), Marguerite Soeteman-Reijnen, former Chairman Aon Holdings and Christine Balch, Director European Affairs at TNO.

“It was great to see so many exceptional women nominated and I am really pleased that the jury chose someone who is at the forefront of addressing gender bias in artificial intelligence,” concluded Prof. Takkenberg. “It’s a topic that ECWO believes that we must collectively make a noise about, to use Dianne’s language, so that it is not a step backwards in the journey of women. I also really like the fact that Karen’s personal journey echoes that of Dianne – coming to a new country from the other side of the world, with not much and then building a strong career while making a real difference in society.”

As the winner of the Dianne Bevelander Prize, de Sousa Pesse will be awarded a sum of money to be used for a project – of her choosing - that amplifies gender equality. The prize will be handed over during ECWO’s 2023 conference, taking place on Friday November 24th at the Van der Groot Building, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

More information

About Professor Dianne Bevelander

A true pioneer of gender equality in organisations, in 2011, in her role as Associate Dean for MBA Programmes, Prof. Bevelander established the first all women leadership elective as part of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University’s MBA programmes. It 2014 she founded  ECWO as a centre of teaching, research, advisory and advocacy, focusing on redressing the gender imbalance in organisations and empowering women to reach their full potential, create communities and drive change in society. Prof. Bevelander died on August 29th 2021 after a nearly three decade career at RSM.

About ECWO

The Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) is committed to fostering inclusion. Its  founding purpose in 2014 was to empower women and to create a level playing field by building communities for organisational change. Today, ECWO has expanded its perspective to embrace a wider vision of inclusive prosperity in the world. Its new mission is to create a sense of belonging for everyone within organisations through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), anchored in social safety. ECWO strives for settings where everyone feels valued, respected and supported. It conducts research and produces evidence-led educational programmes, events, coaching, advocacy and advisory services. ECWO stays true to its roots, and has evolved to recognise that achieving true inclusion and equity requires encompassing all, regardless of gender or identity.

About the Dianne Bevelander Memorial Fund

Over three decades at RSM, Professor Dianne Bevelander put gender balance, equality and diversity firmly at the top of the agenda – not just in Rotterdam but across the international business and academic community. The Dianne Bevelander Memorial Fund continues the pioneering work of Professor Dianne Bevelander through a fund that supports women and promotes gender equality.


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