“Why live an ordinary life when you can live an extraordinary life!”
Who is Hendrika Willemse-Vreugdenhil?
I am 37, married, have a son of almost 3 and live in Haarlem. I’ve been in IT all my life and always knew I wanted to go into IT. I did an MBO-IT education and then I entered the IT company with my brother and started doing business together.
After 6 years my brother passed away suddenly and after that I decided to continue the company for another 4 years without him. After those 4 years, I took the plunge and successfully sold the company to Detron, where I was the only woman on the management team for 3 years.
After 3 years I wanted a more international career and the last 7 years I worked at American IT companies in commercial positions and I was able to do really great and large transformation projects. Entrepreneurship has always stayed with me and a few months ago I decided to take the plunge again and She in IT was born.
What events/experiences have shaped you as a person, and to what extent has this influenced your professional career?
I think there have been three really big things that have had a huge impact on me and that have also shaped me for a business perspective and made me who I am.
The first is the fact that I was bullied in high school and that motivated me to start karate. This has shaped me as a person in terms of self-confidence, perseverance and discipline that is almost inexplicable. The international tournaments and titles have been an unforgettable experience and this has ensured that I have become resilient, dared to stand up for myself and that I found myself worthwhile again. Karate has been a big part of my life for 20 years and it is truly a way of life.
The second is the loss of my brother, which has hit me hard both personally and professionally. I had to learn “the hard way” to stand my ground and how the business world worked, because in addition to the fact that many people were very understanding, there were also plenty of profiteers. In addition, my private life was a complete mess and we had a very turbulent time afterwards. My brother was a bit older than me and had to leave a family with young children behind.
The third was not so long ago and that is something we experienced with my son (Benjamin). Shortly after giving birth, he became ill and was admitted with meningitis. They have never really been able to find what happened (just bad luck apparently), but luckily after two intense weeks in the hospital we were able to go home. This really touched me to my core and it took me quite some time before I could give this a place. This may have been the biggest reason to put myself first, to start an entrepreneurial activity and to do what I really wanted to do. By the way, Benjamin is doing very well and he got away unscathed, for which we are still very grateful every day!
You are the founder of She in IT, can you tell us more about your work?
She in IT was founded to empower women in IT/Tech to pursue their dreams, stand firm, maximize their skills and careers and get the best out of themselves! In this I do a lot of business and personal coaching and recently I also have an online platform where the She in IT masterclass can be followed. I work a lot with companies to see how they can attract female and young talent, but also maintain and empower them in their career. I also do a lot of things as a speaker which I really enjoy doing.
What were your reasons for starting She in IT?
The fact is that IT is still mainly dominated by men and it can be challenging as a woman to build your career in this. There are plenty of opportunities, but you have to stand firm and dare to seize the opportunities and dare to go for it. Women should be given equal opportunity and equal evaluations and there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. I now want to use my 20 years of experience, track record and all the best practices that I have built up to help young girls and women to gain more self-confidence, to get the most out of themselves and their career.
You have been active in the IT world for 20 years, first as an entrepreneur, then as an employee at large multinationals. What do you think are the biggest barriers women experience in IT?
The culture in teams can be challenging, you have to be able to deal with the “masculine” dynamics and find your place in it. It is often the case that men are more and more likely to qualify for a promotion than women and there is still often a difference in pay and assessment. Finding a balance between your work and private life can be challenging, especially if you work in a demanding organization and have a family. Working flexibly or part-time is difficult at some organizations or in some functions, although this is a lot more accepted due to the Corona crisis. Many women are often too modest and are less likely to go for a position or promotion if they are not 100% qualified.
Have you ever experienced yourself being treated differently because you are a woman? How did you deal with this?
Yes there have certainly been situations where I was treated differently, but I also learned a lot from that. I’ve learned to negotiate for myself and ask for what I’m worth. I was too reserved and thought that what I did would be seen and appreciated. Now I know that things like this often don’t come naturally.Therefore my motto is: If you want a lot, you should not ask for a little!
What would you advise women aspiring to a career in IT?
It is important to ensure that you have and build up substantive knowledge, especially if you aspire a technical position and there are now many organizations that offer this type of education and that can also be followed part-time. There are also plenty of opportunities for other positions and where you can enter without a technical background. Many companies also offer starters all kinds of training and courses that you can use.
Make sure you have a good basic education and add a professional education or training to this, make sure you have a clear and appealing CV, show your enthusiasm and willingness to learn and make sure you have good communication skills. Use your network and don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. Perhaps my most important tip is to just apply and go for it. Don’t let it stop you if you don’t exactly meet all the requirements, if you really want to, you can come a long way.
What could you advise women who are already working in IT regarding expressing ambition, claiming their place, etc..?
Expressing your ambition is super important! Be clear about what you want and where you want to go, make a plan and make things negotiable. Without your own plan, you are always part of someone else’s plan!
Promote yourself with success, do not be too modest about this and work on building your internal and external network.
Learn to value yourself, make sure you can negotiate and don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.
Develop yourself on-going, If your not growing you’re slowly dying…
What could companies/managers do better to attract and/or retain female talent?
This actually starts with the way vacancies are compiled, the choice of language and the structure, etc. The most important thing in my opinion is that men and women are given equal opportunities and are assessed in the same way. That companies ensure that women feel at home in the culture of the team, can find their balance and are supported to perform to the maximum. That they get an equal chance for promotions and dare to go for this with confidence because they are supported by the organization.
What tips/advice can you give other women regarding career and entrepreneurship?
Dare to dream, follow your heart and do something you really love! Determine what you want, make your plan and determine what it takes to get where you want to be. Which steps are needed, which skills and who can help you? Be well informed and if you are going to build your own business, it is also important that you are familiar with the financial aspect. Don’t think in limitations, but go for it if you really want something. Ultimately, with the right attitude and mindset, it can always be made appropriate and working. Make IT Happen!