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International Women’s Day 2023: Storyteq COO Kim de Graaff on the importance of positive role models for women in the workplace

Mar 8, 2023
While globally the statistics might be shifting towards gender equality in the workplace, in tech less than 20% of leadership positions are filled by women. For International Women’s Day, Storyteq’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kim de Graaff shares how her personal role models helped to guide her down a less than straightforward path, one which awaits most women who want to become a leader in tech.  

While I was always ambitious, at the start of my career I wasn’t sure what area of business or what role I wanted to grow into. I did not have a clear goal in mind, as I lacked inspiring examples of career-driven women around me. Only later, after working in different roles and companies, where I met various types of leaders, did I become inspired to develop myself in a leadership role in tech. Becoming COO has been a bit of an unruly journey at times. But it has taught me a great deal about what type of people one should surround themselves with in the workplace.  

But how can women make sure that they have a proverbial ‘leg up’ at the workplace? What type of role models should women look for? The answer, for me, is simple: work with leaders from different backgrounds.  

Having had the opportunity to collaborate with a host of great leaders, which included though was not limited to women, I can say that I have learned something important from each and every one of them. I still apply some of those lessons in my day-to-day work. For one thing, I discovered the advantages and disadvantages of traditionally masculine VS feminine leadership styles. Regardless of gender, I have noticed that I was mostly inspired by what some would consider a more traditionally “feminine” style of leadership , one which is focused on a people-based approach, founded in strong communication.  
But how do you learn how to do this? 

“Diversity within company leadership is crucial for young professionals. These examples of representation are more important for women and other minority groups to feel confident and empowered enough to chase their goals, like leadership positions. Otherwise, the idea of an unbreakable glass ceiling might inhibit them from even trying to overcome it.” 

Kim De Graaff, COO at Storyteq

Something we could do directly to encourage the growth of women professionally is quite basic: talk about it. Ask questions about their career aspirations or discuss women in the industry. Women might not speak up in the same way men do yet could have the same potential and motivation to develop their career. In fact, it is confirmed in McKinsey’s 2022 “Women in the Workplace” report that women who have supportive managers who show genuine interest in their career development end up doing better professionally. Less than 50% of women in that same report said that their managers show an interest in their career path. So, there is still a lot of room for improvement.  

Gender is one thing, but diversity in a general sense is essential to a healthily functioning workplace.  Whether that’s a difference in culture, languages, ethnicity or sexuality, I have always found something to gain from mixing with people I contrast with. We only get to experience our own life, so why not try to glean at least an insight into the world of others? If you yourself can offer a different perspective at the workplace, your coworkers and manager will notice and appreciate you for it. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion. In a positive workplace, different perspectives are celebrated. 

We strive always to maintain our focus on diverse hiring. In fact, a few years ago our CEO Lennard signed a pledge for the diversity charter, a document that pledges that Storyteq will make a very conscious aim to become more diverse in terms of gender, culture, race and nationality. 

However, a workplace doesn’t just become inclusive overnight. Especially in a male-dominated industry like tech. We need to actively push for more diversity in our teams, especially in management.  There is still a critical gap that we need to fill. The number of women working in tech, commercial and leadership roles is not even close to 50%.  Even as an ambitious woman working in tech with great role models, I too must recognise that I haven’t worked with many female CTOs and CEOs yet, and almost none of the companies I have interacted with had female founders.  

The obvious answer is to just hire more women. However, I suspect there are larger societal issues at play here. For example, in the Netherlands, childcare is often very expensive and not always accessible, which leads to parents working less. In my experience, that is if the relationship is heteronormative, which often leads to the mother having to reduce her working hours. A direct effect of this is that less women are making it into leadership positions, making the achievement of a 50-50% split an enormous challenge. 

Although we probably all know this, I’ve seen in my career that often teams exist of people that are very alike (people have the tendency to hire people that they are like). On the short term this might seem convenient, but in the long run you are losing out on the benefits of different visions, perspectives, ways of working and therefore, refreshing ideas. For example, imagine some team-brainstorming: would you like five ideas from like-minded people or five ideas from people with different backgrounds and with different aspirations? With the first team, you may agree faster on what you want to execute. But with the second, you will get the opportunity to choose from a much broader variety of ideas, potentially resulting in a larger impact when executing those.  

“You get the idea. Don’t limit your perspective only to your own. Be open to new perspectives. Trust that even if you are already in a leadership position, your opinion might not be the best one!”

Kim De Graaff, COO at Storyteq

I can truly say we have a diverse team with over 35 different cultural and national backgrounds ranging anywhere from Aruba to New Zealand. Walking around the office or joining an online meeting you’ll quickly realise that we have moved beyond just being a Dutch company too. 
However, we still have a gap to close. Therefore, hiring more women and increasing the diversity at Storyteq will continue to have our focus for the coming period. I hope I can be instrumental in that cause and provide the sorely needed female representation that the industry of tech needs.  


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