[Women in Tech] Diversity and inclusiveness are important to female talent: Marjet Andriesse of Red Hat
Amid the 2008 financial crisis, Marjet Andriesse was leading Randstad in Eastern Europe.
Most companies had to restructure their operations to survive and it wasn’t any different for Randstad.
“However, as most optimists say, ‘never waste a good crisis’ and so, keeping this in mind, I proactively reached out to our customers to discuss how we can support them in managing this crisis,” she says.
She also reached out to employees and shared the company’s business situation and new growth strategy plans to combat the crisis and invited them to take part in the transformation journey.
“The employees appreciated this openness and showcase of trust. Though the road to recovery was long, after a year of focused hard work, and great teamwork, we bounced back to be a stronger company backed by happy customers and employees,” she adds.
Marjet believes great opportunities are hidden in a crisis. And, this has been the guiding force in her career spanning 25 years.
Hailing from the land of cheese, wooden shoes, and windmills, The Netherlands, Marjet has worked across diverse regions in Europe and Asia. She is currently based in Singapore, having moved in 2016 to lead Telstra’s enterprise business for Asia after living and working in Japan for a couple of years.
At present, she is the Senior Vice President and General Manager at Red Hat, leading the company’s growth in the Asia Pacific.
In an interview with HerStory, she takes us through her 25-year-career, mentoring other women, and why diversity drives innovation.
HerStory (HS): What drew you to STEM and technology?
Marjet Andriesse (MA): I am not an engineer but an economics graduate and so my career path was quite different when you look at other tech leaders. I strongly believe that one doesn’t have to be in STEM to be successful because STEM careers may not be suited to everyone. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from taking advantage of other opportunities or academic courses.
Personally, I am always trying to push the boundaries and reinvent myself. I believe in the three Cs—curiosity, complexity, and cohesion. Driven by these three C’s, I have worked on three continents and across four sectors.
As I read more about open-source, its potential for driving innovation and transformation amazed me. I was also intrigued by the role Red Hat has played in advancing it and I thought it will be a fulfilling journey if I can support unlocking its potential in Asia. So here I am with my diverse industry background, passionate about customer centricity, and working with the best tech people in the industry at Red Hat.
HS: Please take us through your career. How have the last 25 years been?
MA: I have had my fair share of job changes, new role inductions, and all the anxiety and intimidation of joining a new team, office, and environment. I started my career as a product manager at the beginning of the 90s in the logistics industry at TNT in The Netherlands.
After a six-year stint, I moved to KPN, a Dutch telco, as a Sales Manager where I found my obsession for customer-centricity, and then I moved to Randstad where I worked for a decade as the company’s General Manager, leading the company in various regions both Europe and Asia.
During my time at Randstad, the largest HR services company globally, I lived in the Netherlands, Prague, and Tokyo. I joined Telstra in 2016 and worked for close to five years as the Managing Director for the Asia Pacific.
I joined Red Hat mid-pandemic at an interesting time when the entire world was moving to a hybrid workplace. In my current role, I take care of the next phase of Red Hat’s growth in this region and lead initiatives to enable customer success with open hybrid cloud technology.
HS: Tell us about working in a team…
MA: When I joined Red Hat, we made sure that we were connecting more often with our customers, partners, and associates. It is important to listen and understand how our teams are working together across markets and managing the work and home.
We are seeing strong demand for tech talent across multiple industries. It is crucial for companies to invest in talent development early, building the ranks with junior hires and offering development programs to help them grow in their career. They should also look to beef up their workforce through the conversion of mid-career workers through professional conversion programs.
HS: How did you face the challenges of working in a pandemic?
MA: During the COVID-19 crisis, we moved from being a distributed and remote-friendly company to a fully remote company and that was new territory for us. Our first order of business was to enable as many of our teams to work from home. As we embraced new ways of working, we looked to the open-source way of doing business, where the best ideas can come from anywhere, and where transparency and collaboration are vital.
We also brought in our unique ‘recharge day’ where every quarter, for one day, the entire Red Hat team, globally shuts down all work. This means cutting down all calls, emails, and all forms of professional communication. We dedicate the day to the well-being of our associates.
Leaders across Red Hat also stepped up to create virtual office hours and additional (but remote) face time with their teams—not just to convey the latest information and updates about plans, but to check in with their teams and listen to their concerns or just keep our bonds strong.
HS: What more can be done to sustain women tech talent?
MA: I am a firm believer that building a bank of highly visible and active female role models can bring a strong positive influence on the society we live in. The starting point to look for these influencers can be anywhere—be it at home, in academia, in sports, workplace, and in all places.
Even small daily interactions with any of these role models can have an outsized influence on the youth. For example, a study has shown female students are more likely to choose a major in STEM when they are assigned a female professor instead of a male one.
Diversity and inclusivity are very important when we talk about fostering female talent. For example, in my case, I think having female role models early on would have given a different dimension to how I would view my career path, although I’m glad I got to learn a lot watching my parents.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to nurture talent. Role models take on a community mindset and lead their employees and youth groups in an open and inclusive manner. This creates a virtuous cycle that allows the community to nurture talent and encourage greater workforce participation.
HS: Do you mentor women in tech? Why is networking essential for women in tech?
MA: I do mentor but it is not limited to women or the technology sector. Leadership skills are transferable to any domain, and the steps to be taken to achieve growth remain the same.
It is very important to know what is happening outside your comfort zone. And so, connecting with team members or people outside of your work is very important. When I meet people, I believe in ‘listening’ more to contribute better. You should never shy away from an opportunity to talk to others. I am good at listening and that helps me in observing and learning more from each interaction, be it with a Red Hat associate or a customer or watching other industry leaders.
And often these observations have helped me be a good thinker and build a point of view.
There is one more thing that I would like to clarify: networking does not mean attending only social gatherings, but it also means taking part in conferences, lectures, webinars, and any other event where you can meet diverse and inspiring people.
HS: Why do you think there are very few women in leadership positions in tech?
MA: I believe that diversity drives innovation and so it is crucial to include people with different views, age groups, and diverse backgrounds in the workforce. Every minority has a bias and women get categorised in that space and it is hard. But the situation is improving now. We are seeing lots of women joining the tech workforce.
As leaders, we bear a big responsibility and though sometimes some of us may shy away modestly from being in the ‘spotlight’, I think it is important to be seen for the ‘right’ reasons. For female professionals to aspire to be someone, it does really help to see other female senior leaders around them in that role.
I am proud to share that in the APAC sales team we have more women leading the sales function at the country level. And in my leadership team, the finance and HR leader in APAC is also a woman.
HS: Who/What have been your biggest inspirations?
MA: When I think from the perspective of value, it’s my father who has always inspired me to be a better person and taught me to take care of people first.
My grandmother has also been one of my biggest inspirations. She has had a very tough life, World War II was a difficult time, but she never gave up. She applied herself despite the challenges and that inspires me every day.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta