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Associate Director, Europe

1. How long have you worked at Oxford HR and who have been some key clients in that time? 
I’ve worked with Oxford HR as a consultant since 2017 but knew them from before. They placed me in two different interim roles while recruitment processes for those posts were in progress. My first interim role was as Interim Regional Director South East Asia for Hivos in Jakarta. Two years later, they placed me as Interim East Africa Regional Director for Practical Action. In that sense, we knew each other quite well. I went to the Oxford HR Christmas party in December 2017, and then started as Associate Director Europe. We opened up the Amsterdam office in September 2018.

MSF was my very first client and is still my client today. I am now involved in the recruitment process for all the Operational Centre Amsterdam director posts. Another key client was Hivos, where I looked for two new members for the Supervisory Board as well as for a Programme Development Manager, Civic Engagement in the MENA region.

2. What was your previous job before joining Oxford HR?  
I was a director and CEO in child protection and youth care in the Netherlands for a long time. In 1999, I decided I wanted to move into international development. I was appointed as International Programme Director with Oxfam Novib in the Hague and did that for five years. Then I wanted to move to Africa, but first got offered a job with Help Age International in 2005 in South East Asia, managing a tsunami programme.

I was then East and South Africa Regional Director for Save the Children UK from 2006 to 2012. Since then, I worked in Interim Director roles up until joining Oxford HR.

3. Which role are you most proud of placing in your time at Oxford HR and why? 
I think that would be the two Supervisory Council members for Hivos. Hivos focuses on strengthening civil society in the south and is strong on women’s rights and LGBTQI rights. However, they did not have a Supervisory Council that reflected that sufficiently, and they were particularly keen to have more women from the south on the Council. We found them six great candidates, and in the end they appointed one woman from South East Asia and one from Central East Africa, both with strong backgrounds in capacity-building and networking in their continents.

4. What qualities make a dream candidate?  
I want to see someone who is knowledgeable in terms of the content of the role, and has sufficient background and seniority, but is also highly motivated for the role, is flexible and asks a lot about the organisation they will be joining. A curious person is what I like to see. It’s a good sign when an interview runs over time because I’m having an interesting debate with someone. I also like communicative people, who keep in touch with me and the client. Finally, it’s good if someone is self-reflective, knows their strengths and weaknesses, and can communicate that in the right way. Nobody is perfect.

5. Which organization would you love to place a role for and why? 
My newest client is BRAC, which is a very strong southern organisation. We’re just finishing up two global roles with them and will soon be starting a role for the Hague office. I like helping an organisation build up a team. For me, it’s important to create a team with a good gender and diversity balance. I’d like to continue working with BRAC to build a team with a good spirit, with people from different backgrounds bringing in different perspectives. For me, it’s more about building a strong team than working with a certain organisation.

However, I would love to work with some German and Scandinavian clients over the next year. We set up the Amsterdam office for all of Western Europe and have worked with several clients in Belgium and the Netherlands, but it would be great to expand.

6. What are the barriers to increased female leadership and inclusion in European organisations working in the international NGO and not-for-profit sector?
There are good female leaders in the sector, but for the larger organisations it is usually a bit more difficult. You can see that certainly 60% of the staff in the sector is female. The more senior posts often require much more than full-time investment. In families, the majority of the burden for childcare and housework is still on women. It is difficult to combine that with a role that involves a lot of travel and a serious time investment. That makes it difficult for most women to apply.

Regarding inclusion, I find it a bit strange that organisations work with partners in the south but, in one way or another, don’t see it as important enough to bring people from the south into the highest management levels. It is important because you bring another perspective. When you grow up in Asia or Africa, you have a very different perspective to someone who grew up in the Netherlands.

There are very good leaders in those continents, and we should invest a bit more in bringing them into the higher levels. I really liked that Hivos brought diversity into the Supervisory Council, but the management team at their headquarters is still all Dutch.

7. What role can executive search play in addressing these issues?
What I do, at least, is try to have a longlist and shortlist that have a balance between men and women, as well as a couple of candidates with a non-Western background. In the end, it is the organisation who decides. In our role, we should bring some diversity into the final interviews and argue for diversity. Currently, the role we are working on with MSF is for a very senior director. For the final interviews, we now have two women and three men, and three of the five have a non-Western European background.

8. What qualities do you think you need to be a good leader? 
It is important to have a good balance between being directive and giving guidance, and listening to your staff, your partners, and your clients. That balance is important. I have seen leaders who are too directive and cannot listen, and directors who fail to make decisions. What you need is to bring those competences together and bring your own personal qualities to the role. You also need to have sufficient experience. If you don’t have that, you need a coach to help you.  A good leader is also someone who is self-reflective in terms of their strengths and where they need to learn.