Today’s DIVE In blog is all about success and how a diversified team can contribute to that. With 20+ years of experience in the retail industry, Esther Moolenaar, Head of Merchandise Planning and Supply Chain at HEMA is a successful female leader in the supply chain field. Her team’s success and development are especially important to her and today she shares her insights with us, including why you don’t need to act like a man to be successful.

What does success mean to you?

Success is various things, but one common factor of success is succeeding in making a change. It can be big or small changes. When you think back on your career, you can see the big changes – what you achieved. But you should be aware of the small steps as well and the changes that you are making along the way. I like to reflect in my car on my way home and review what we did together as a team, what we did for our customers and the company. Success is also about getting your colleagues moving and contributing to their development. I feel most proud when I can see my team growing and driving results. Another part of success for me is personal development and learning from others. You should be open to new approaches and ideas and I am fortunate to have great sparring partners. We provide and receive feedback from each other, and this helps with development and encourages us to be open to try out new things and step out of our comfort zones to reach our goals.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you, both personally and professionally?

Diversity and inclusion mean equality and to have equal opportunities, to be open to different backgrounds, characters, values, and norms. For me, personally, it is all about being curious and wanting to learn from each other. Understanding why people are doing things differently and taking a different approach. There are multiple ways to achieve a goal and it is very interesting to have this conversation to understand what is driving other people and why they do the things the way they do. When you bring more diversity into your teams it improves the quality of your team, it drives better solutions, it brings more happiness and it brings more results.

I have the privilege to work for a company that has these values high on their agenda. Last year, we were the first Dutch company with an extended birth leave for non-traditional families and I think this is a really great statement that we care about our employees’ well-being.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to reach a diversified workplace? ​

There are a couple of factors that influence that. First, I think it starts with who is in the lead of hiring. There is always the risk that you are biased in your own point of view and looking for a candidate that suits you personally. You need to dare to bring more variety into the team and the organisation. It should be a deliberate choice and companies need a strategy for that. You should ask these questions: Do we have a vision for what our future teams should look like? What value does diversity bring into our teams? Answer these questions and then ask how you can go beyond those answers to take a risk to bring in more diversity.

Do you think it depends on the type of role?

Yes, it definitely depends on the type of role you are hiring for, as there are some roles that are traditionally occupied by more females or males. When I first started in the commercial team at my company, around 80% of the team were females. When I moved to supply chain a couple of years ago, I realized that I was sometimes the only woman in meetings. This shows that there is still a lot to do here and sometimes it is hard to find suitable candidates.

What advice would you like to share with other women, that might help them reach their goals and become boundary pushers themselves, choosing to challenge?

Be yourself. I think that is the most important and powerful asset. Know your strengths and dare to make mistakes, solve them quickly and most importantly learn from them. This is what I always tell my team, that it is okay to make mistakes and not everything needs to succeed the first time. You need to be persistent, sometimes you need to try again or try another approach to succeed. Only if you dare to make mistakes, can you learn how to do things differently and develop yourself.

What was also important for me, was to realize that you don’t need to know everything yourself. When I first started my new role, I didn’t have all the operational knowledge needed and I quite often used my so called “help line” and reached out to test my assumptions or ask for advice. It is okay to show vulnerability and not know everything, that is why we have our teams for support. Another saying that I really like is to “feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.” In periods where I felt most out of my comfort zone, it later turned out to be the periods where I had developed myself the most. Be persistent and don’t give up easily, sometimes it just takes longer. When you keep going, you will succeed!

Do women need to act like a man to be a successful woman in tech?  

No, please don’t act like a man. And then again, what is a typical man? I believe you should be who you are and be your authentic self. Only then can you use your strengths and be the most powerful version of yourself. In the past, I once tried to act like my boss often did. This backfired on me, as it didn’t fit my personality and my team didn’t understand my behaviour. This was a good lesson for me and showed me who I am and how I want to work with people in the future, as my true authentic self.

Watch Blue Yonder’s recent LinkedIn live session with Esther Moolenaar.