She in IT helps women in the “mensworld” of IT
Empowering ambitious women to get the best out of themselves in the ‘men’s world’ of IT, that is the goal of She in IT. After a career at Detron, VMware and Nutanix, initiator Hendrika Willemse-Vreugdenhil wanted to do what she likes best: coaching. “Women sometimes have challenges in how to position and present themselves. I want to break through that, especially now that more and more tech companies are recognizing the importance of diversity.”
Unlike many other women, Hendrika Willemse-Vreugdenhil (38) knew from an early age that she wanted to work in IT. “I did an MBO-IT course and then a part-time HBO Commercial Economics study,” she says. “My eighteen-year-older brother worked in IT and I found that very interesting. But in college, I was just one of three girls. I went to work for eXpertise-IT, his company. Together we have turned this into an organization with a turnover of millions. After my brother passed away, I ran eXpertise-IT alone for years, until I sold it to George Banken, who made it part of Kender Thijssen, which later became part of Detron. As part of the deal, I went along and at the age of 27 ended up as the only woman on the management team of a leading IT and telecom company. I managed a team of sixty people, with full P&L responsibility.”
Willemse-Vreugdenhil learned a lot at Detron. Just like at VMware, where she led major international transformation projects for ING and RBS. “But something itched. I wanted to build my own business again, just like at eXpertise-IT. I didn’t quite fit into the system at the corporates. I was a bit stubborn, wanted to do things different and better.” Also, Willemse-Vreugdenhil, who has been a triple world karate champion, wanted to coach. “I trained my own karate team. That’s where I gained a lot of experience with ‘high performance coaching’.”
Not that Willemse-Vreugdenhil wants to send all women with IT ambitions to karate, but her story is inspiring. “I failed my test at primary school; As a result no secondary school wanted me. Then I got bullied at secondary school, that’s why I started karate. Karate has changed my view at life big time. Karate has taught me focus, discipline and perseverance, exactly what you need to make a difference as a woman in a man’s world like IT.”
In both careers, a well-thought-out plan was essential, according to Willemse-Vreugdenhil. “That’s why I pass this on to the women I’ve been coaching since March this year with my new company She in IT. After twenty years in IT and with all the knowledge, skills and experience I know how much fun IT is and how many opportunities there are, also for women. I empower ambitious women to get the most out of themselves. As long as you know how to stand firm, how to use your strengths and above all: how to be yourself. Ask yourself: who am I, what do I want and what am I good and distinctive in? Because that is exactly what you should use to build your career and that’s your unique value. Don’t act like a man, but use your own (feminine) qualities.”
A well-known problem for career women is the difficult work-life balance when they have children. “Culture can be very demanding, especially at American companies. At Nutanix I had sales meetings from 5 to 6, a challenging time when you have a child. Try to bend and change these things. Confidence will help you to do that.”
The infamous ‘limiting thoughts’ are also often a challenge for women. “Women are quicker than men to think that they cannot do something, or that an organization is not waiting for them because they ‘only’ tick seven out of ten job requirements in a vacancy. They should just go for it, get out of your comfort zone, keep developing and investing, both professionally and in your human/soft skills. And don’t take everything personally.
According to the career coach, the participation of women in the IT world is low, partly because many IT companies still think and work traditionally. “Corona has changed things: there is more flexibility around working and organizing your time. But working part-time or working from home, because you have a child and still aspire a management position, it remains difficult. Pregnant women are often asked: ‘are you going to work less now?’ A young father doesn’t get that question. On the other hand, more and more companies are recognizing the importance of diversity if they want to build high performing teams. We are also seeing more and more female role models and women are profiling themselves more.”
Willemse-Vreugdenhil is not in favor of a women’s quota. “I believe that men and women should be treated and reviewed equally. This is where the barriers and biases have to be broken. Equal opportunities for all. You don’t gain confidence from being hired just because you’re a woman. If an organization wants more women, that wish must be lived and supported at all levels of the organization.”
Hendrika Willemse-Vreugdenhil works one-on-one with women, but also does coaching programs and workshops in-company. “There are companies that I work with on a structural basis that want to attract more women with special programs and empower them to get the best and maximum out of themselves. It is very important that organizations look at possible biases and how they break them. Bringing in someone is one thing, but then a female talent has to be in the right place, fit into the team and be able to perform. Ultimately, the people who make or break the success of an organization. For example, women are often different when it comes to communicating with customers and partners, use that to your advantage.”
But of course women should also just raise their hands themselves. “Make people aware of your ambitions. Talk to HR, to your manager. Ask about growth opportunities. Hard work is not enough to be seen. IT is still quite a closed world. But let the ‘old boys network’ be a thing of the past. Let women stand their ground and use their added value.”
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