Advancing gender balance
According to a recent study published by the Grant Thornton International Business Report, the proportion of women in senior roles worldwide has stagnated at 24%. At Oikocredit, the division of staff by gender has been equal for many years, with the management team achieving a full gender balance in 2013. In acknowledgement of this achievement, we spoke with two of our management team members, Irene van Oostwaard, finance director and Ylse van der Schoot, investor relations director.
What does your leadership role at Oikocredit entail and what do you like about being part of the management team?
Irene: “As finance director I’m responsible for the finance department, which oversees, among others things, internal and external reporting, monitoring the financial results, accounting and payments. What I enjoy most about being a member of the management is being involved in the future strategy of our growing organization and Oikocredit’s size gives me the opportunity to still be ‘hands on’.”
Ylse: “As investor relations director, I’m responsible for the inflow of investments in Oikocredit, as well as the relations with investors and members worldwide, global marketing and communications. I enjoy the dynamics of my current position; together with my management team colleagues, I’m part of defining the strategy and responsible for leadership issues, and I also get to work with a great worldwide team as well as volunteers and investors.”
The management team at Oikocredit has an equal gender balance. How does this compare with other social/financial organizations you’ve worked with?
Irene: “I previously worked with one of the big four accounting firms where gender balance was also high on the agenda. I know it is something that is not easily achieved even though the entire organization fully supports the concept and working towards it. So I am proud to be part of this team, especially in a finance role which is typically a male-dominated position.”
Ylse: “Oikocredit does well on a management and board level in comparison with my previous employers. I was the first female management team member in 2009, so Oikocredit has taken many steps towards gender balance in a considerably short period.”
Are there any challenges faced by women in your field?
Irene: “I think that the ‘glass ceiling’ still exists in finance-related positions. Women often set different priorities, both in their work and their private lives which is not always fully understood or appreciated in the finance world.”
Ylse: “When I started working internationally, in war zones, I realised how lucky I was growing up in a country with equal opportunities. Certain sectors are indeed still male-dominated, particularly at management level, which is a shame as I believe women can and do bring a different and valuable perspective at management level.”
What advice would you give to younger women aspiring to work in your field?
Irene: “Don’t be shy, state your ambitions. Be yourself, find your own path and do things your own way. In the end that is the only way we can all benefit from an equal gender balance.”
Ylse: “I agree; develop yourself and stay true to yourself. The more you as a person are in balance, the more successful you can be. Fulfil your dreams, be open to stepping outside the norm, know your strengths and see where they can add value!”