LEAD Network Netherlands Chapter Event – 8th april 2019, Rotterdam

How Can We All Be Role Models?

Hosted by Unilever

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” This famous quote from Marian Wright Edelman, American activist for children’s rights, was the common thread of the conversations during the Inspiring Spring Event of the Netherlands Chapter of the LEAD Network. The second big-format conference of the Dutch Chapter hosted by Unilever in its Rotterdam office on April 8, 2019 took on the topic of “How can we ALL be role models?”. The event was sold-out within a week, and due to popular demand the number of tickets was increased twice to welcome 170 participants. 

Hanneke Faber, President Unilever Europe and President, Foods & Refreshment at Unilever, opened the conference. Hanneke, who serves on the Advisory Board of the LEAD Network, shared the diversity and inclusion achievements (including reaching 48% women in senior management positions with a target of 50% by 2020) and opportunities at Unilever. This open and transparent approach set the tone for the whole evening. Hanneke also brought up the challenges of equality and representation in Dutch society using the example of the role models and leaders in the political sphere that was recently featured on the pages of the Dutch newspaper “Het Parool” in an article by a political scientist, Liza Mügge, a week earlier. Yet another piece of evidence on how important and timely conversation about role modeling is.

Next speaker, Fatma Tek, Global Portfolio and Operations Manager at Unilever Food Solutions and LEAD Network Ambassador at Unilever, began her speech by taking a look back at her life to her first role model and sharing the story of his influence on her life. Fatma, who was the Master of Ceremonies of the first part of the event, welcomed all guests, presented LEAD Network’s mission and talked about how Unilever brings it to life. Fatma introduced the Diversity & Inclusion Team of volunteers at Unilever – who were all in the room – and their achievements over the last year. 

Chair of the Netherlands Chapter of the LEAD Network, Julia Jelińska, took the stage to talk about the work being done by the Dutch Chapter. She introduced the Members of the Dutch Board and Sharon Jeske, Executive Director of LEAD Network, and then brought the guest’s attention to the mission and strategy of the Dutch Chapter. Julia shared the achievements of the last 1,5 years of the Dutch Chapter since its inception, looking both at qualitative and quantitative aspects. The main activities of the Dutch Chapter included organizing the Inaugural Conference for 150 Members hosted by Ahold Delhaize in June 2018 and a Partner Company Roundtable on Mentoring hosted by Danone in October 2018, participation in the global International Women’s Day campaigns in 2018 and 2019 as well as in the Global Mentoring Walks in Amsterdam in both years. Since the launch of the Chapter in The Netherlands, the membership more than doubled (growing from 317 at the end of 2017 to 735 Members at the end of March 2019), while significantly increasing the participation of men from 15% in June 2018 to 17% at the end of March 2019. Julia also presented the plans of the Chapter for the near future and polled the room on the expectations of the event. Julia’s presentation featured inspiring quotes from some of her role models.

The keynote speaker, Ingrid Veling, Founder of Ignite Coaching & Consultancy, Co-Founder of Talent Capital and Co-Founder & Chair of Polaris Network, began her address by highlighting some qualities of contemporary leaders and role models, including Oprah, Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau. She also told everyone about her own first role model at the beginning of her professional career of over 20 years in talent management. The characteristics of people who are perceived as role models included their courage to speak up, opening their networks to others, often taking a personal risk to stand up for what they believe in, having a vision and being able to inspire and empower others. She also pointed out that being a role model is actually in the eye of the beholder. Ingrid mentioned some of the statistics on the lack of gender equality in representation at management and supervisory board levels in Europe and in different sectors. She also warned the audience about the dangers of not having role models and how that can hinder individual as well as team or company performance. 

This introduction to the interactive core of the conference ignited very lively and engaging conversations at the roundtables across the room. The second half of the event, led by Julia Jelińska, centered around two practical questions:

  1. What is one action that you can take to become a role model for diversity and inclusion?
  2. What is one action that your company could do to increase the number of role models and drive diversity and inclusion?

16 teams worked on both questions and presented their results at the summary plenary session. The discussions continued also in the networking session that followed. The atmosphere of openness, curiosity and listening to each other made this event unique. Everyone had a chance to speak up and share their opinion and ideas. In many cases it took courage and vulnerability to open up. There was also an opportunity to express your opinion anonymously. It was amazing to see how much people in the room had in common and how much the participants aligned on this topic. Below you can see the result of the online poll about the top 3 qualities of a good role model:

To get an impression of how participants of the event felt about it, have a look at how they themselves described the conference:

Many moments of bravery, inspiration, connectedness and making a difference by the interaction with each other – also before and after the program during the networking sessions with delicious food and drinks provided by the gracious hosts – were captured by the official photographer of the event, Kasia Van’t Schip-Giska. Kasia, who specializes in personal branding, event and conference photography and also photographed the Grand Opening of The Netherlands Chapter in June 2018, prepared an album with a collection of the pictures from the event and you can view them here.

While you look at these beautiful photos, think for yourself about the actions you can take to become a (better) role model for diversity and inclusion. The Netherlands Chapter of the LEAD Network invites you to share your experience and how putting these actions in motion is going. You too can make a difference every day! Here’s to Doing, Not Trying!

Julia Jelińska

Chair of the Netherlands Chapter of the LEAD Network