I admire and fully support Zoora’s work - Eugenie Nijhuis
Equal opportunities for men and women is an important topic for me. I guess it is safe to call it a cause I am passionate about.
I’m not sure when my awareness started that women and men are not treated the same way in society, and more specifically in the workforce. This is painfully clear when it comes to access to leadership roles or compensation for example.
Born in the Netherlands, I’m the youngest daughter of a family of three children. I have an older brother and sister. My mother stayed at home when she married my dad in 1961 (at that time an obligation). She has always been very happy with her existence as a caretaker of home and children.
An ambitious child, my ideas about my future differed from what my mother’s life looked like. I wanted to study and have a career, although which kind of career was rather fuzzy in my head: ‘something in business’. Both my parents supported me in my choices and encouraged me to study. My father used to say: ‘Take every opportunity to learn. Because nobody can take away from you what you have learned’ (thank you dad!).
My parents made no distinction between my sister and me on the one hand and my brother on the other hand. As a matter of fact, both my sister and I completed higher education, whereas our brother followed another route. Which was fine with them too.
It seems to me that the awareness about equal opportunities came when I started working for a temping agency in Belgium in the mid-nineties. Typically with a very high percentage of female employees, except….. at the top. The top was populated with men, the higher up in the organization, the more masculine it became. I found that rather odd and not very logical.
Years later, Sheryl Sandberg gave me insights in some of the reasons. Sandberg (Lean In. Women, Work and the Will to Lead, 2013) claims there are 3 things women should do to gain access to leadership:
- Sit at the table (give your opinion, make yourself be heard).
- Don’t leave before you leave (women tend to lower their ambitions as soon as they are merely considering having children).
- Make your partner a real partner (one who will do his fair share of work in the household chores and care).
I do agree with Sandberg’s point of view, although she puts a lot of responsibility on female behavior. I think the problems are more structural and cultural, and deeply rooted in society. At the same time, this is the field that we, as women, can most easily influence.
When I (co-)founded my own company in HR consulting in 2010, I deliberately started working on the empowerment of the female consultants through drawing attention to behavior that was undermining their inner strength and professional credibility. Such as profusely using diminutives for example – very common to observe among women. Or to systematically offer excuses, even when they were not at fault. Or avoiding a ‘calculated’ risk: taking up a role they were not (yet) sure to be able to pull off, etc.
My greatest satisfaction came when one group of female consultants chose to become self-steering - this is without a hierarchical manager - when their manager (also female) left the company. It was astonishing how much each consultant grew over a period of a year, once they had to take on their own responsibility. I would say, we need more companies and businesses that work in a collaborative mode, as opposed to a hierarchy. A mode of working that is probably more natural to women than men.
Because even when times are changing, the behavior that seems to be most compensated (and which gives access to leadership) in the business world is still typically masculine. Rational, cerebral, competitive, action-oriented. The intuitive, sensitive, collaborative and inclusive side of (men and) women is refuted. And it seems to me that those are exactly the characteristics we need today to save the planet and with that, humanity.
In many studies it has been demonstrated that – when in difficult economic circumstances - women tend to share their income/food much more with their children and communities than men do. Which means that women potentially lift the whole community to a higher standard of living.
Zoora is helping women to do exactly that.
The emphasis is put on education: on subjects such as smart agriculture, effects of climate change, gender issues, financial literacy and the use of technology. Through their work, Zoora empowers women, especially the most vulnerable women & unemployed youth.
Thus, providing them and their communities with a livelihood. A first step towards giving women in difficult economic circumstances a leadership position.
I admire and fully support Zoora’s work.
- Eugenie Nijhuis .