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It’s important that the added value of women in the workplace is recognised

As project manager for TMC’s Manufacturing Support business cell Monica Zeilemaker often works at production plants, locations not necessarily known as examples of diversity. ‘One time a project controller passed by me three times looking for the project manager. He later told me he expected a balding fifty-year-old man, not me.’

During Female Tech Heroes Monica showed her predominantly female audience that women hold prejudices based on gender just as much as men do. Women also unconsciously associate career issues with men and family issues with women. ‘For some women it was plain shocking to realise they also had a gender bias,’ Monica says a day after the event. ‘It was rather confronting news to them.’

Blind auditions

Ever since her study Aerospace Engineering in Delft, where she found herself with 13 other girls amidst 300 boys, Monica Zeilemaker has taken it as her personal mission to elucidate the unconscious patterns in our brain and behaviour about the traditional roles of men and women. ‘Awareness about that is very important, since people don’t realise they’re make these distinctions. It’s only when you are aware of them and accept this as well, that you can consciously start making better choices.’

One example those better choices could lead to is that companies change their job selection procedures. ‘We always say we want the best people for the job. Nobody disagrees with that. But if you have an unconscious bias you may not be selecting for competence at all, but for appearances like gender instead.’

Companies could start by assessing applicants’ CV’s anonymously, Monica says, so the employer can’t see whether the applicant is male or female and the gender bias is circumvented. Orchestra’s already work like that, she says. ‘In the past many orchestra’s consisted almost exclusively of male musicians. At a certain point this wasn’t accepted anymore and blind auditions were introduced. Musicians auditioned behind a curtain, so the orchestra leader couldn’t see them. In no time the number of women musicians increased. The quality of the music also increased, because the more gender diverse orchestra’s started winning competitions.’

Brutally ask for recognition

According to Monica it’s important that the added value of women in the workplace is recognised. ‘A woman’s presence often changes the dynamics. Male colleagues often tell me that when I’m there some of the competitive edge disappears. Men appreciate that as well. They feel they don’t have to battle it out so much.’

'There was a time I tried very hard to adapt, but now I don’t so much anymore. I’ve learned to just be myself.'

There is a growing awareness about the importance of diversity, Monica notices. Yet there is much to gain still, especially in the male dominated tech sector. ‘As a woman you sometimes feel that you’re not really part of the team and do not show the right type of behaviour. There was a time I tried very hard to adapt, but now I don’t so much anymore. I’ve learned to just be myself.’

Monica would like to see more women in tech companies in positions of power. ‘Women are often told: you don’t want it hard enough and you only want to work part-time, so what are you thinking? But I think that’s unwarranted. If you want to change the perspective that women don’t make it into positions of power, you have to understand the unconscious dynamics. Recognition plays a major part in that, because everybody functions in a social context and longs to be seen and appreciated. If women are insufficiently recognised, they tend to lose ambition and pull out. But it works two ways. In a men’s world women also have to learn to brutally ask for recognition of their qualities. Women often find that difficult, I also notice that myself. Women expect or hope that recognition will come their way spontaneously, but in men’s world it usually doesn’t work like that. But I am still convinced that many women would want a top position, if they got sufficient confirmation that they are of value.’

In Monica’s eyes events like Female Tech Heroes are crucial to further the conversation about diversity. ‘It was so good to discover that we’ve all been through the same things. Now we were able to laugh about it. It’s great that these networks of women exist. They give you the feeling you’re not alone.’

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