After training to become an art director, Wendy Broersen went on to work for some of the biggest advertising agencies of the world – Lowe and BBDO. The Dutch woman, however, had her sights set on becoming her own boss. Today, she is not just a serial entrepreneur but an internationally acclaimed speaker on female entrepreneurship and diversity & inclusion..
As the program manager, creator as well as one of the lecturers of the certified D&I master program at the University of Amsterdam, she has been an outspoken proponent of gender diversity at the workplace. For the last two years, she is helping large companies across Europe, and throughout the world, to attract, retain and develop a diverse workforce through the Superwomen Academy.
Women Icons Network caught up with her for this conversation on how she perceives the global emphasis on workplace gender equality and her views on the pace and methods being rolled out.
Women and the Workplace
Wendy believes the biggest challenge that women face in the workplace is lack of opportunities, especially in middle management and the ranks above that. Even when women do reach these higher rungs of the corporate ladder, she says, they do not get the same salaries as their male counterparts in the same position. Often, the organisational culture is so designed that it does not offer the same benefits to men and women, she feels.
“The best step an organisation can take is to have a good hard look at their internal processes and make sure they are inclusive. When processes like assessment of applicants, succession procedures, etc favour men and women evenly, more diversity and inclusion is guaranteed,” she opines.
Support of Male Allies
There are two kinds of men at workplaces, according to Wendy. The first are those who don’t realise women are different from them in terms of social and cultural hindrances they face at work and the second who like diversity but do not know how to act as a true male ally, she adds. While the former end up not recognizing the female talents in their teams / organisations, the latter can’t help much either, she explains.
“Men need to get involved. It is the quickest and most sustainable way to get things moving,” she says about ensuring a more gender balanced workforce. Even today, most powerful positions are still taken by men which necessitates their participation to bring about any change in or challenge the present norms, she feels.
What Women Can Do
Even as she asserts the importance of male allyship for bringing gender diversity in the workplace, Wendy stresses that women often don’t support each other enough. “We need to take that role model position, educate ourselves in how men are different from women and use that knowledge to our advantage,” she advises her fellow women in the business world.
She believes that women themselves must take steps to become more visible and broaden their networks with powerful men. This advice comes from her own experiences. She feels that advertising is one of the most unfriendly industries for women – both as an industry and its output. While working as an art director, she recalls challenging existing stereotypes as often as she could.
Gender Balanced Workplace
For true inclusion, Wendy thinks, having good male role models, inclusive leadership, inclusive assessment and promotion processes are of prime importance. These goals need to be included in the bigger organisational goals, and appropriate actions need to be taken to achieve them.
She feels a lot of technology and IT companies work towards getting more women in the workforce and are very successful at it. The best part, according to her, is this progress in the tech industry is planned for a long term. She says, she would love to see other sectors do the same. “Short term solutions that usually develop due to pressure from the public, investors, governments, business-to-business and other sources is all talk, very little action,” she shares.
Effects of Pandemic
Ruing the fact that the ongoing pandemic has affected women more negatively than men, Wendy points out the silver lining of this absolutely dark cloud is making businesses realise that flexibility is possible on most aspects of jobs.
Working in close quarters from homes also made families take a closer look at how caretaking tasks are unevenly shared between men and women, she mentions. It also became much more apparent that while women are more in it for ‘we / us’ and men never forget the ‘I’, even in personal relationships. “Women need to step up in that aspect, to make sure men notice them and take them more seriously. We need to ensure we work towards that job, run that project or get that promotion we have been vying for, even if that means delegating more of the caregiving tasks to our partners,” she says.
About men, she says that there are a lot of them out there that are all for gender equality, perhaps even most of them. However, she feels that they do not realize that they have to play an active role to achieve that. Both at home and at work, she adds. Wendy thinks that men need the help of women to teach them what they can do and how.