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Alumni Stories · Leadership

Gender diversity to strengthen balance in business

March 8 is International Women's Day. We spoke to Suzanne Kroeks, an alumna from the Mobilizing People (MP) program, who stresses the importance of gender diversity, as it highlights how men and women can complement each other in the workplace
February 2019

It was while driving back from the Swiss mountains, where Suzanne Kroeks had attended the second part of the MP program, that she and some of her fellow participants discussed the importance of gender diversity.

“We talked about this in the car and agreed that it’s important to emphasize – instead of deny or be afraid of – gender differences and to show examples that highlight the importance of these differences,” recalls Suzanne, who is Head of Labor Affairs within the HR department at Dutch insurance firm ASR.

It is perhaps for this reason that this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter is one that resonates so much with Suzanne. “I prefer that it is about gender balance, rather than a ‘women only’ theme because in my opinion, it’s all about men and women complementing one another.”

As an HR executive, the businesswoman is often faced with the topic of gender diversity. “We receive a lot of questions from the working councils and partners we work with, as it’s a topic people are interested in and many struggle with the how’s, what’s and why’s.”

“This is why I would like it to be a positive topic – not only about the number or percentage [of women in leadership roles], but also address the real importance of gender balance.”

Suzanne attended the MP program in 2018/19 and says it helped her grow as a leader. “I feel that leadership is inside of everyone, whether at home or at work, and I wanted to explore the possibilities I already had within myself. MP enabled me to be a fuller me, using different skills and behaviors that were already mine. I could also interact with others without losing my strength and authenticity.”

The executive had chosen the program because of its ‘learning by doing’ approach, rather than just theory. She says it was the experiencing and experimenting during MP that ensured the learning was sustainable. This was helped by time spent reflecting during the program, which she says led to a good balance between processing and doing.

A positive surprise for her was also the way the program was delivered: “I found it was easy for me to join in, again and again, and to be out of my comfort zone, which you need to be out of in order to experience the program fully.”

Returning from the nine-day course, Suzanne has detected subtle changes in the way she interacted with others. “It’s not that you are a completely different person, but you notice the new knowledge from the start. Being back at home and work, interacting with friends and family, it comes into everyday life. Afterwards, there is something different about the way you feel, act, do thing and listen that’s positive and that people notice.”

Suzanne found that the main change in herself was simply an ability to notice others more. “I now invest more time in noticing others, listening without prejudice or assumption. By listening and noticing, I can then provide better input than if I were just talking.”

MP is split into three parts. The first and last happen on IMD’s campus, while the second stint takes place in the mountains. “It was definitely good to be in a different location but also good to finish on campus.”

“By coming back from the mountains to the city, you are able to unwind a bit around the same people you experienced the mountains with. This makes it easier to eventually go home, as you are able to give yourself some time and space to get back into the routine of work and family life.”

Find out more about Mobilizing People

Find out more about IMD’s commitment to women in business.