Celebrating the power, progress, and potential: International Women’s Day

March 8, 2024
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Embarking on a career is not just a professional venture; it’s a transformative journey that shapes not only your career trajectory but also your personal growth. Partnership developers Tracy Wilson, Renée Andela, Joke Vroegop and Katrien Volleman share their insights and experience in their journey.

Tracy, whose passion for international work led her to Ghana, shares her insights into the enriching experience of starting her career overseas.

“I have always dreamed of working internationally, especially in Ghana, my ancestral home. When the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate. I urge anyone capable of working abroad to seize the chance. It expands your horizons, insights, and knowledge while fostering personal growth. Contrasting Dutch and Ghanaian work cultures, I’ve found the main difference to be in structure. The Dutch culture is highly structured with scheduled appointments dictating my calendar, whereas my work in Ghana required me to be flexible and creative and to leave room for surprises.”   

Just like Tracy, Renée also started her career abroad, but has been working in the Netherlands for several years now.

“After my studies and time spent abroad, I ventured into the world of crowdfunding at a startup, where I delved into entrepreneurship, innovation, sustainability, and financing. Now, at NLWorks, I’m spearheading international programs, forging consortia around transition themes in emerging markets. Despite the shift, sustainability, innovation, entrepreneurship, and finance remain at the core of my work.”

Over the course of a career, you must deal with both highs and lows. Joke and Katrien share their highlights.

“One of the first things I think about is being sworn in as an alderman 2 days before giving birth to my youngest son,” Joke tells. “A very honorable job with wonderful and important challenges, such as the decentralization of the WMO (the municipality provides support at home through the Social Support Act (Wmo)), Youth Care and part of long-term care that played in that year. So, no time to lose. And so it was that less than two weeks later I simply joined the board retreat where we worked together on the board agreement for the 4 years ahead. Somewhere else in the hotel, my husband was staying with the newborn and when the baby needed breastfeeding, I got an app.”

As for Katrien, it was not a definite moment, but more a development she went through. “At my previous employer I got the opportunity of becoming the program manager of the Energy Performance of Buildings System.

“Collaborating with experts and stakeholders from diverse organizations, we embarked on the ambitious task of renewing the system for determining energy labels of buildings. It was undeniably challenging, yet the passion and dedication of my colleagues made it an enjoyable experience. If someone had asked me early in my career if I anticipated working in the construction industry, I likely would have said no. However, I engaged in this project with keen interest, ultimately equipping myself with valuable insights for my next career move—transitioning to the role of partnership developer at NLWorks.”

Women do inspire each other. Who are the women you get inspired by?

“I come from a family that is dominated by women, that is where I get most of my inspiration from”, Tracy shares. “From my mom to my sisters, aunties, and cousins who have shown resilience, strength, and leadership. In addition, I have been blessed to work and learn from, amongst many other women such as @Karin Bax, @Josephine Ecklu, @Carmen Breeveld, and @Caecilia Wijgers who in one way or another have empowered me in my journey as a young professional. They have been prime examples that as a (young) female professional (of color), the sky is not the limit but my starting point.” 

Renée finds many women inspiring. “Given my background, I find successful women entrepreneurs very inspiring, such as Manon Janssen (founder of Magioni and now Vitamins.com), Julie Munneke of Tiny Library, and Janneke Niessen and Eva de Mol of CapitalT who are fighting for more diversity with CapitalT and Fundright. At the political level former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern, who had a child during her tenure is an example of how to combine your career with motherhood. And with that, Liesje Schreinemacher, our first female minister who is currently on maternity leave.”

“Merel van Vroonhoven is a very inspiring woman”, tells Joke. “After having a successful career as an administrator and top civil servant, she chose a different career path. She became a teacher. With that she showed courage in giving up her established career and really listening to her inner voice. Another woman I find inspiring is our own director Karin Bax, who unfortunately left recently, to be a very inspiring woman and leader. In her role as director of NLWorks, Karin had a very pleasant mix of business and content with an eye for people. She thought in terms of opportunities and possibilities instead of problems and obstacles and created an environment in which everyone could grow and help build the organization.”

“There is not one specific woman I can point out as my inspiration, because I find many women inspirational”, says Katrien. “We still live and work in a men’s world. So, every woman, sooner or later, deals with certain obstacle in their career. Women who can turn this into a strength and dare to come out for what they stand for I find incredibly inspiring!”

Balance is everything. How do you maintain this as a professional?

“To keep my balance, I would say my DJ hobby is my outlet. Being able to take my audience on a musical journey to Africa through Afrobeats excites me,” tells Tracy. “I am an appreciator of art and being able to delve into the world of music helps me keep a healthy and fun balance that sometimes crossover when I get to share music with my colleagues and program partners.” 

For Renée things are different from the moment she became a mother. “Motherhood, of course, does change some things in working life. It requires a little more planning and coordination with my partner, such as adjustments in our working hours. I live in Amsterdam and work in The Hague, but I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work remotely. The advantage of motherhood is that mornings start early. I am now easily able to prioritize. Where I used to sit at my desk or attend an event until late without any problems, I now want to pick up my daughter on time and have dinner with my family.It does take some getting used to not being around everything anymore, but it just can’t all be done. Besides, it helps me to keep making time for myself and to keep exercising and living healthy, which in turn has a positive impact on my role as a mother and in my job.”

Joke has 4 beautiful children, a partner with a responsible job, and she works remotely. “First of all, I know that I am a very good planner. The logistics around the kids, our household and my work are very well organized. Second, working from home helps me maintain balance. I don’t have travel time to an office, so I can stay close to the kids and help them with their homework, for example. Finally, I can adapt quickly when situations change.”

“Just like any other young professional, I sometimes find it challenging to maintain a healthy balance between my work and personal life. I like to be ‘busy,’ but the line between ‘busy’ and ‘too busy’ is very thin. And as someone with a great sense of responsibility, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. I have learned to recognize my limits and learn to maintain them”, Katrien shares.

As we conclude this International Women’s Day special. What would you like to say to your younger self and women who are striving for success on both personal and business level?

“You do not have to do it all alone. I have always been hyper independent”, Tracy starts, “however as a young adult I have learned that it is okay to ask for help sometimes.”

“Believe in yourself and do not let yourself be too influenced by others. I often worked in a man’s world which could make me feel insecure at times. I often filled in that as a young blond girl I had nothing to say”, Renée continues. “But by staying close to yourself and having faith in yourself, you overcome this.”

“I agree with both”, Joke says. “Stay close to yourself, and your values. If it no longer works, discuss things. Dare to take another path if you no longer feel happy with what you are doing. Once at the beginning of my career, when I quit my first job after 15 months because I was not getting satisfaction from it, I had these wise words with me ‘for someone who dares to quit, there is always work’.

“It is normal to question your career choices, and the next step at times”, says Katrien. “My advice is to regularly take a moment to reflect on the things you are good at, but also things you are less good at. Be open for new opportunities, keep networking and keep developing your skills. And finally, do take a sabbatical whenever this is possible!’