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International Women's Day: 'Prejudice against women still exists.’


Jip Stijns is a project manager at digital creative agency Havana Harbor and has just become a mother. Our CANDID colleague Valeri Djodikromo has grown into the position of communications director at Mediabureau STROOM in seven years. In the week of International Women's Day, they talk to each other about this year's theme: breaking the bias.

Jip: 'You are ten years further down the line than me, are you still as ambitious as when you started out?'

Valeri: "No, I'm not. In the past, I just wanted to get ahead and develop my career. My goal was to at least get to management level. That's where I am now, and I feel that's enough. What I want now is for the team to become collectively enriched, and for the people who are just starting to get trained up. My motivation now is to let people grow, to empower them. That feeling has become stronger since I've become a mother - I have a five year-old daughter.'

Jip: 'I just became a mother, and I really get where you're coming from. Just before the birth of my child I had a burnout because I did everything totally full-on in terms of my work. Since then, I've been more selective in what I take on, which has led to me managing to find a better balance. I now work more from an internal than an external drive. If there are opportunities to progress, or if a new challenge arises, I'd be open to it. I don't make plans anymore, because they make me feel as if I'm always having to race.'

Valeri: "I went down the exact same path as you. I was also 27 when I had a burnout. There's a big difference between the way I used worked and how I work right now. Life doesn't always go the way you want it to; I've experienced that in recent years. Whatever comes my way now will determine where I'll be in a few years. I hope that I'll still enjoy doing this work by that time, and will still be living my life with the same inner drive as I am now, both privately and professionally.'

Jip: 'As a woman, have you ever suffered from prejudice in the workplace?'

Valeri: 'I'm a woman, I'm not all that tall, plus I have a non-western background: this combination hasn't always worked in my favour. In the thirteen years I've been in the profession, I've often experienced similar situations, which, with previous employers, has sometimes hindered my development. Colleagues doubted whether I would be taken seriously if I sat alone with a client, because I looked kind of 'young'. That gave me a degree of insecurity, but fortunately not for long. Now though, I've been in the business for so long that most people know me and I'm fine if it's just me hosting an important talk. Is this something you've experienced too?'

Jip: 'Absolutely. I notice that subconsciously, prejudice against women still exists. There are still sexist comments being made on a regular basis that might not be intended that way. And when I was a bit younger, I wasn't always taken seriously, just like you. With my blonde hair, I sometimes got called 'missy', also during meetings and among clients - not necessarily in a derogatory way, but I think that such a word doesn't represent a professional attitude. I got the feeling that others wondered whether 'that young blonde girl' knew what she was talking about. I had a male colleague of exactly the same age, and with exactly the same work experience. In the end, I increasingly had him join my talks because I noticed I was then taken more seriously, so it worked. A second talk without that colleague would then progress in a very different manner. Apparently, men are still viewed as heavyweights a lot more often.'

Valeri: 'I think so too.But when I look back now, I can say that it has actually given me more motivation to continue.'

Jip: 'I used to get angry about it, but because I've built up experience in the playing field, I now adjust to it and deal with it differently. In addition, I have more knowledge and experience, and I am taken more seriously. All this doesn't alter the fact that something needs to change about that culture though.'

Valeri: 'It starts with the personnel policy. We therefore first look at the person, at his or her motivation, whether that is a valuable addition to the team, and whether that person fits in with the company culture. We don't necessarily look at specific media experience, as we'll then teach them all about the business ourselves. That way you also give young people and women a fair chance, which renders a fair balance of qualities. At STROOM we have consciously opted for that path, and that suits us pretty well.'

Jip: 'It makes me happy to see how someone like Valeri operates in terms of her staffing policy. We have a woman at the helm too, who is also a powerhouse, but at the same time in tune with others. She too looks for people who will enhance the team, regardless of gender or origin. That is inspiring, and creates a culture in which everyone can grow and get a fair chance to do so. '

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