Showing up, or how it is still a challenge for women to show themselves

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On December 7, Antwerp Management School (AMS) opens its doors for the TEDxFlandersWomen event ‘Showing up’, with visibility as its central theme. Leading ladies Ilse Daelman (Director full-time master’s programs AMS) and Ellen Wezenbeek (driving force behind TEDxFlanders) give us a taste of what’s in store.

A belief in the power of diversity is what connects AMS and TEDxFlandersWomen. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the paths of both organizations cross more and more frequently. ‘After their graduation, we often find the gems from your programs on our stage for a TED talk’, says Ellen Wezenbeek, driving force behind TEDxFlanders. ‘That’s when they have come full circle.’

What should we expect from Showing up?

Ellen Wezenbeek: ‘‘The event features a live-stream of the most inspiring speakers at TED WOMEN 2018, with ‘Showing Up’ as the central theme. How do you present yourself? How do you combine your femininity with a male-dominated business world? For many women, showing themselves and standing up for themselves is still an enormous challenge.’

Is this modesty typical for women?

Ilse Daelman: ‘We also see it at AMS. For example, we came up with the idea to name the auditoria in our new AMS building after big entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial families, as a tribute. But soon it turned out that female entrepreneurs are not so keen on that. That is why we founded a Sisterhood: a label that unites female entrepreneurs without them individually being put in the spotlight. It indicates that women often have different motives.’

Ellen Wezenbeek: ‘I recognize those differences. We constantly have amazing women on our stage, but usually they are not about ‘shining’ as such, but rather about the impact they can have with their TEDtalk. With their story they hope to inspire and mobilize others.’

Meaningfulness as a theme?

Ellen Wezenbeek: ‘Often it is. For me personally, meaningfulness also plays a big role. People who tell us that after a TEDx event they go home exhilarated or that an inspiring TEDtalk gave them the strength to change things… That’s what we do it for.’

Ilse Daelman: ‘Meaningfulness is an important motivator for female entrepreneurs. I am currently conducting research on this theme. While I have only just started, I have already noticed that meaningfulness is one of the primary motivators. Mind you, it is not the case for everyone, but for some people having an impact is more important than the financial aspect.’

If you say meaningfulness, you say authenticity.

Ilse Daelman: ‘It is great to see that women increasingly dare choose what is in line with their intrinsic values. They show their authentic self on stage, with their vulnerabilities as well as their strong leadership qualities. They do not need to put on a ‘masculine’ mask. At AMS we strongly believe in authentic leadership. I think it is amazing that our new alumni chairwoman Mimi Lamote, CEO at Mayerline, openly admits during interviews that she is not afraid to share her insecurities with her employees. Admitting that you do not always know everything is very empowering. It stimulates others to help find solutions. On the other hand, too much vulnerability can gravitate towards a lack of self-confidence. Research shows that only 35% of women believe they have the right competencies to be an entrepreneur, compared to 55% of men. Men score better than women when it comes to self-confidence and also self-promotion.’

Can coaching play an important role in this?

Ellen Wezenbeek: ‘At TEDxFlanders it is what we strongly focus on. All our speakers get three months of intensive coaching. Touching and captivating your audience for twenty minutes is very different from giving a work presentation. It is great to see how our speakers evolve and ultimately shine on stage, with a message that they fully embrace.’

Ilse Daelman: ‘Public speaking is a highly valued aspect of our programs as well, not only by women for that matter. We coach our students individually as well in groups to become the leaders of the future. At the same time, we try to be a warm school. Business schools often suffer criticism: as if they are only geared towards boosting your career – and especially your salary. That is not what AMS is about. Above all, we want to guide our students towards a sustainable career path that makes them happy. And that goes for women as well as men.’

Let’s not forget the men indeed.

Ilse Daelman: ‘Diversity is one of our main spearheads. 46 different nationalities come together in our school. Those differences make it incredibly exciting. The man-woman ratio in our management team is perfectly balanced, and most of our programs also attract a nice mix of students. But we still have work to do. Especially in our executive programs we find a larger number of male students. But I trust this will gradually change and that women will feel more attracted to our school.’

Ellen Wezenbeek: ‘This is a huge challenge for us as well. In recent years we were heavily concentrated on women. That was part of the Zeitgeist. Supporting women continues to be important, but today we want to broaden our target group and our community. Today’s goal is to focus even more on diversity. It is necessary. And in any case, we don’t like pigeon-holing. So dear men: we would love to see you at our event on December 7!’

By Lynn Guillaume on Dec 4, 2018.