What does ‘ubuntu’ mean to you? It’s a South African term meaning humanity, and that you are who you are because of the people around you. The ECWO conference was all about authentic leaders, making connections, and creating a safe space for people to thrive.
Themed ‘(Re)Connecting (Wo)men’, the event provided thought-provoking and inspiring speakers and an opportunity for in-person reconnection for the business community. Attendees included women and men from academia, industry, business, the public sector, and specifically women’s organisations. All of them were keen to hear more about how to connect with the drive towards positive change – particularly with respect towards gender equality – and using gender equality to accelerate sustainable societal change.
The keynote speakers were Denise Abbott (senior vice president of HR for FedEx Europe), Wing Tang (co-founder Women Connected), and Jens van Tricht (founder and director of Emancipator).
“People follow authentic leaders, because they come from a place of honesty. We need to create this safe space,” said Abbott, adding that we must be intentional in creating connections. “When someone agrees with you in a meeting or discussion, then you feel that posse, that sisterhood. It all starts with conversation.”
When speaking about women as leaders, Abbott said: “My job isn’t to teach you about a firm handshake. My job is to have your back. I’ll speak up so you feel connected and safe. That’s where you have followers as a leader.”
Jens van Tricht talked about engaging boys and men in gender justice by breaking gender norms about masculinity. “We’re full of human potential. But we’re not born as humans. We’re born as a boy or girl. This needs to change. Gender is more a scale of human qualities we all have access to,” he said, adding that gender equality plays an important role in many of the other SDGs too. “Men must embrace positive masculinity and be part of the solution by embracing care as a human quality, for themselves, their family, and their environment. Then there will be more diversity, equality and inclusion.”
Afterwards there was a panel discussion about connecting and reconnecting women and men in the workplace with Wing Tang, Jens van Tricht and Thais Souza, head of marketing of PWN (Professional Women's Network), which was moderated by ECWO’s Prof. Hanneke Takkenberg.
The networking lunch gave participants the opportunity to connect and exchange knowledge about gender-balanced leadership. The five afternoon breakout sessions were an exciting variety of workshops and masterclasses, covering storytelling, the launch of the ECWO Book Club, prioritising yourself, menstrual health at work, embodied networking, and role models in empowering female entrepreneurship.
The event continued with a presentation by Kirsten Kardijk about ECWO’s research results into the need for commitment and co-operation among professional and industry-focused women’s organisations and networks in the Netherlands.
The conference also saw the presentation of the first Dianne Bevelander Prize award to Geke Rosier. She founded RightBrains, which is dedicated to growing the number of women in digital-focused roles, bridging the digital gender gap through a dedicated mentorship and career platform.
After closing words by Prof. Henriette Prast, economist and member of the Dutch senate, the participants concluded the conference with networking drinks.