She worked for IKEA for many years, but in the end, she felt the need for a career change. Liesbeth Dillen chooses to be autonomous and independent, two standards that break through the classic values of the 1980s.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name’s Liesbeth and the colors blue and yellow are the perfect words to describe my background. I have worked for IKEA all over the world for more than twenty years. Actually, that was a certain pioneering task, because in 2001 I worked hard on putting women at the heart of the company as clients. On the board there were only Swedish and Belgian men, I was the only woman. Despite the fact that the IKEA customer was previously discussed as a female customer, there was absolutely no question of a woman-oriented customer mentality. That’s why I wanted to put women on the map at IKEA.
Afterwards, this was extended to the rest of the world. In 2007, I left IKEA and started my own company; She works with wo-men. We focus on women in leadership positions. Since 2010, I have changed my approach and started working with both women and men, because I make progress for women when I work with men. There’s a lot of change being brought about, especially when I work with men. If you want to think innovatively, there must be other people sitting at the table today than at the table of the last century.
How do you celebrate women?
I give a lot of presentations, but when I am invited for women’s day, I’m actually disappointed. I am saddened by the fact that we still need a women’s day in 2019 because that proves that it actually is something exceptional. This contrasts with the diversity that is promoted as the standard today and I do not want “a women’s day” to be necessary anymore. What I do to celebrate women is to encourage them to grow. In the early 1980s, this mainly meant that women had to adapt. Although I am now wearing colorful LolaLiza clothes, back then I would always wear a black suit and a white blouse underneath.
So, not really feminine. Meanwhile, I started loving dresses and preferably red dresses. Women don’t have to conform anymore to be heard, their differences create a new dynamic. We have evolved from conforming to innovative thinking. The working world of the 1980s was a really hard world. The saying is as follows: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Women of my generation had to harden to take part. As a result, the phenomenon of the queen bees, women who have worked so hard and who toughened up to get to the top, arose. Those women got tougher on themselves but also on everyone around them. My mission is to fight this and to facilitate innovative thinking. In the past five years, I have started to mainly focus on men, to teach them to be more inclusive leaders instead of hoping that women will adapt to the old world. I believe in a new world and its new spirit of the times, where people at work go beyond their own interests and think about the bigger picture. A world in which women but also men have their place.
What is stopping women today, both at work and in the social field?
Shoes that are too small. Women don’t raise their voices and don’t tell what they dream of and what they can do. I think this is a big obstacle for women. A woman will sometimes underestimate herself for a vacancy which even causes her not applying for it. Men are different. A man is more likely to take on a challenge and realizes that he can still learn what he can’t do. Women have to learn to open doors instead of walking shoes that are too small.
Who is your inspiring woman?
I could give you an intellectual answer, but I have to admit that my mother is my source of inspiration. At thirty-eight, she became a young widow and didn’t work for a long time. You often saw the classic pattern back then, in which the woman financially depends on her husband. Therefore, my mother is an example of self-reliance and resilience. Although she didn’t get the same opportunities that women get now, she did give me those opportunities.
She never had a role model and yet she did everything she could for me. I also have one daughter, Marine, who recently left to Australia for a year and hasn’t wanted to come back yet. She’s doing a fantastic job there! She’s a symbol of the current generation that wants to introduce the new world and dares to fall and rise again with confidence. There are many inspiring women around me, but these are the women who inspire my heart.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
This may sound strange, but when I was watching over my father’s deathbed as a sixteen-year-old girl, I realized how often family members depend on the father or the husbands. Therefore, when I lost my father, I decided for myself that I never want to be financially dependent on a man. When I am in a relationship with someone, it must be because I have freedom of choice.
So my best advice came indirectly from the death of my dad and is that you are always a free person if you can make sure that you are financially self-reliant. Another advice that I live by is to laugh more. Life has become ten times more fun by laughing a lot.
What are your tips for a positive mindset?
Don’t forget there’s still a young girl in each of us. For me, this means dancing every day. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a hotel room or at home, I just put some music on and I swing around in the room. It gives me such an energy boost because I really let go of the young girl in me. It stands for the innocence and the playfulness in every woman.
My second tip is not to get stuck in life’s setbacks. You have to come out better and not bitter from those setbacks. A concrete example of this is that a few years ago I became a victim of a medical error when a tumor was removed. The diagnosis was that I would remain 70% disabled for life. It is very easy to get bitter and to feel the urge to then fight the hospital.
The remaining 30% of the energy I had left, I could put into lawyers and long legal proceedings, but I deliberately chose to get out of that situation better. Not bitterly. That has become a complete life change. Don’t let fear drive you, but let hope drive you.
What is your power look, in which outfit can you conquer the world?
I was an employee with the typical company look, but I don’t do that anymore. I’ve been collecting red dresses for several years because I just love them so much. So my power look is a red dress with some lipstick, every day. When someone introduces me, they introduce me as lipstick Liesbeth.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Cake, cookies and chocolate!
How do you celebrate me time?
Me time for me is shopping from a distance with my daughter in Australia, if possible of course. Even though she’s in a fitting room in Australia and I am at home with my cup of tea, I still enjoy virtually shopping with her. I also pamper myself with some early yoga session in the morning or by going out in nature on my own. Silence helps me to reconnect with myself and to not take the events of the day with me the next day.
What is your feel good song?
I have too many! I dance around as soon as I hear some music. That can be Marvin Gaye, Joss Stone, Raphael Saadiq or Paolo Nutini. I can also sing along with Aretha Franklin. Music really gives me the joy of living, your body starts tingling with energy. So wonderful!
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