A woman who was inspired to become self-employed and now wants to see more women at the top. Elke Jeurissen wants to give other women the support and strength they need to stand up for themselves and to combine family life and their careers, without having to give up their freedoms and rights. Really an inspiring woman
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Elke Jeurissen, the founder of a network called Straffe Madammen or in English, Fierce Ladies. My mission is to make women visible in the media, on congress stages and in companies. We do this from our own community, where we organize monthly meetings so all women can collaborate with other members.
We have inspiring role models that we put on stage, not because they are women but because of their field of expertise. We also organize a lot of practices and workshops to help women grow faster (in their careers) because there is far too much undeveloped female potential. And that’s exactly what we need, female potential, because women have so much more to offer than they think.
What is stopping women today, both at work and in the social field?
I think we have all heard, too many times, that we’re supposed to be beautiful, sweet, well-behaved and obedient as girls. We really have to get rid of that. From now on, everyone should think like Sheryl Sandberg when they find a girl bossy: “Don’t call her bossy, call her a future boss”. I think that is very nicely said. It’s all about daring to take your place and daring to express your ambition, but I see that just few women do that.
It’s okay to brag about yourself, but as women, we sometimes have a hard time doing that. People can’t read other people’s minds, so it’s important to explicitly express where you want to go and what you want to do. It is also important to surround yourself with people who can help you with that. A lot of women waste too much energy defending their choices, whether it’s to stay at home, to work part-time or to take that top job. Just imagine that you, as a woman, could put that energy into making your dream come true, that way it will be so much easier to make that dream come true.
How can we change that?
I think there are three drivers for real change if we want to develop female potential. The first strength lies in the way we raise our children. Show your sons and daughters that ambitious men and women are happy people! Make it clear to them that it is the most normal thing in the world to pursue your dreams. Make practical arrangements with them so that they also contribute to your success. This tip also applies to the whole family.
That brings me to the second strength of change: Women who claim their place are supported by their partners. A lot of women indicate that this still too often turns out to be difficult. A woman with ambition often has to defend herself at home and finds it normal that she takes on all the household tasks. That is not normal, as a woman you don’t have to be the CEO of your family! Fortunately, I see that a lot of young men feel the same way about that. In addition to working, they also want to make time for their families and the household. They demand, in turn, flexible ways of working so that they can spend more time at home.
This brings us to the third driver of change: Managers must make an effort to make women more visible in the business world. For example, when a congress is organized, at least half of the speakers should be women. If women don’t feel heard in your company, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential and talent. Developing female talent is not a women’s business but a growth opportunity for your company! Get on it, take concrete steps and start today rather than tomorrow.
What is the best advice you have received to feel good about yourself and by whom?
A while ago I read a very interesting book called Playing Big by Tara Mohr, an author I had the opportunity to interview in San Francisco. One of the things she mentions in her book and a mantra I often think about is: “Not everybody has to like you”. I added “…but you do” to that. It all starts by discovering for yourself what makes you happy in life, what gives you the energy to go 100% for it.
What is your favorite moment of the day?
I’m a real morning person, so I often wake up early. Most of my roommates are night owls and that works perfectly. For example, during the weekend I have the place to myself for a few hours. I can do yoga, read the paper and enjoy the silence. With a cup of coffee, that’s just amazing. I have a job where I meet a lot of interesting people, but it’s also a job where I have to talk a lot. The silence recharges me: a walk in nature, visiting an art exhibition, attending a theatre play … It helps me to recharge.
What habit gives you energy every morning?
Dancing is one of the things I like doing the most and if I haven’t done it for a while, I really feel it. When you’re eighteen, you do it almost every week, but when you get older, you forget how important it actually is. I used to go out a lot and I could stand on the dance floor for hours, which is why I introduced a nice ritual together with my husband, about six months ago. We do a dance together every day, which can be a slow-dance one day and a wilder dance the next day. Every day dancing to good music makes me really happy.
How do you celebrate women?
I actually do that through my network Fierce Ladies and Straffe Madammen of which 2.500 very inspiring women are part. At the beginning of this year, journalist Tine Maenhout and I wrote down the lessons, that we learned from these women, in a book called Who run the world? The book is about the powers of female leadership. It contains many tips on how to achieve your ambitions as a woman.
The great thing about it is that in the book we also show where things get bumpy sometimes. It doesn’t always happen by itself and that’s okay. We also talk about those ups and downs, so every woman can identify with them. Besides, there are not only tips for women, but also a lot of tips for companies that want to work on more women at the top.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell her to become a self-employed businesswoman even earlier. I took the step when I was twenty-nine, but I should have done it much sooner.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Eating fries and a cervelat (special) with my children on Friday evening. That can be really delicious!
What is your power look, in what outfit can you conquer the world?
I love earrings and I also have a lot of statement-earrings. When I wear them, I feel very good in my skin. I also like bright colors. Most of the time, I wear flat shoes, because I’m actually tall enough to walk around without heels.
How do you prepare for a ‘night out’?
I don’t have a fixed routine. I can take the time to bathe for an hour and brush my hair at ease, but sometimes I just put on some lipstick and mascara on and I’m ready to go!
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