Science & Technology mentor Suki Maesen about role modeling for young women

Science & Technology mentor Suki Maesen about role modeling for young women

09 December 2020
Veerle Seymus
Veerle Seymus
  • Suki Maesen, one of the Ambits mentors, was interviewed in August 2018 about her role modeling for young women with ambitions in the Science & Technology domain. This is a translation of the blog article published in CharlieMag, courtesy of Suki Maesen and photographer Sarah Van Looy.

    Suki is IT Program Manager at Atlas Copco and was a finalist for ICT Woman Of The Year 2016. She doesn't stop there: Suki is one of the driving forces behind the Pleiades Mentorship program that supports female Atlas Copco employees in their progression to management positions.

  • How does the Pleiades Mentorship program work exactly?

  • "We start with a speed date. There must be a match between the mentor and the mentee. When there is a match, the mentee is expected to take the initiative to meet at least once a month. As a mentor, I start by gauging the mentee's expectations. We draw up a plan for the next six months to focus on. I’m a pretty active mentor, but other mentors might as well only do a monthly casual conversation".

  • As a mentor, what do you get out of that program?

  • "I get much energy out of it when I see that I can effectively help these women move forward. That they actively go to work with what we discuss and succeed in taking the next step. I also learn from it because I find out what doubts they have, and these are often things that I hadn't thought about from my management position".

  • Are there general things to conclude from the questions your mentees ask? We already hear that women are not very good at networking or feel insecure when putting their feet down. Do you agree?

  • "Yes, I do. Learning to network was a learning request from my last mentee. We practiced on a pitch talk: how to introduce yourself in a fun way and keep a conversation going.

    Another classic is: "I've seen an interesting job, and eighty percent of the required competencies are fully mastered, but not that twenty percent. Or "They are looking for someone with ten years of experience, but I only have seven, so I'd better not apply." That's something feminine; men are going to say at fifty percent: "Ok, I'm going for this."

  • What is your advice in that particular case?

  • "My advice is to gather much information. Talk to the recruiter, talk to the employees on that team. There is always a gap between the job description and the reality of the job. Moreover, there must be space for growth; otherwise, there is no longer any challenge".

    Suki Maesen
  • We also hear that networking is more difficult for young women because it's mostly after working hours and they are too often expected to be at the school gate and help their children with their homework.

  • "That's right. That's why we used to send out invitations for our internal networking events to the ladies first, then to the men.

    The reasoning behind it was that women first check with their husbands whether they can go or have to arrange a babysit. Then after a few days, the networking event is often already fully booked. Today, our networking events have become so popular that women now register immediately".

  • You also organize the Techno Ninjas within Atlas Copco. What is that?

  • "I thought: "To get more women into the company, maybe we should start earlier." There are already many activities, such as CoderDojo and WeGoSTEM. I wanted to organize an activity for our employees' children to introduce them to STEM in a fun way.

    At Techno Ninjas, the children learn to program robots, learn to work with sensors, and solve concrete problems. Last year, we had an IoT (Internet of Things) session. The kids installed heat sensors on a mug and then made an app, which signals when your hot chocolate is ready.

    In another workshop, the children set to work with Ava & Trix. In this tablet game, children use a playful story with kitchen, garden, and craft materials to find a solution to a scientific or technical problem. Atlas Copco co-developed a module around compressed air, in which the children must come up with a solution for a bird that has fallen out of its nest.

    Techno Ninjas is a bit my baby. Many children, especially girls, want to be of value to others and to society but don't always make the link with the analytical and scientific. At events like Techno Ninjas, they can discover that we can use technology to improve lives".

  • You have a Master in Political and Social Sciences. How did you end up in ICT?

  • "I graduated just before the year 2000. They were looking en masse for university graduates to be retrained as programmers for the Y2K problem. I was, as the only woman, one of the ten lucky ones".

    The impression is that the Y2K bug was a big farce, but actually, quite a lot of programming was done back then.

    "I also think it was pictured worse than it was, but there was work to be done for sure. I was outsourced to a bank where they had two-digit date fields, and of course, that needed fixing. If that weren’t fixed, we'd have a severe problem. So, thanks to Y2K, I started in consultancy, and that's how I ended up at Atlas Copco.

    There are still female CIOs who have no scientific or technical education. I don't regret my study choice, and everyone must choose what she or he wants to do. But it would be a pity if women regret not choosing a technical field of study, because they doubted they'd like it and would be up for it".

    Suki Maesen
  • In 2016 you were in the finals of ICT Woman of the year. Do you think it's important to organize a separate award for women in ICT?

  • "At the moment, I find it useful because there are so few women in ICT. Then it's good to have a role model in the spotlight. But to explicitly turn it into a separate award, well. I have mixed feelings about this".

  • You have a thing with communication. On your LinkedIn profile, I read a small plea to learn to listen to each other. Where did you learn to listen well?

  • "I learned to listen in Atlas Copco's Leadership Development Program. That was an eye-opener: genuinely listening, asking questions, paraphrasing. Many people ask a question and are just waiting to speak again. For example, if I notice in a meeting that someone wants to interrupt, I'll let them, but I'll turn my attention back to the person who was talking. I like to have an efficient and effective meeting. If I notice that it starts to go in all directions, then I'll intervene".

  • You seem to be someone with an analytical mind. That's a quality often attributed to men, but I dare to doubt that. What do you think?

  • "In Atlas Copco, there are many women with an analytical mind, most of them actually. An analytical woman is often considered exceptional, but men and women's characteristics are very often interpreted differently.

    Take assertiveness: an assertive woman is often seen as aggressive, sometimes referring to her monthly phase or something like that. A bold man is said to put his foot down, that he knows what he wants.

    Suki Maesen
  • What are the advantages of diversity in a competitive company?

  • "Diversity in age, culture, gender, education... is the engine of innovation. I used to want all like-minded people in my team because "if everyone is on the same level, things will move fast." (laughs) I quickly came back from that.

    Now, as an executive, I make sure to have different profiles and characters on my team. This diversity challenges my vision and my way of working, which leads to more innovation, more creativity, and, therefore more efficiency. You may not always be able to reach a consensus immediately, there may be some more discussions, but the benefits are much more significant".

  • What would you say to girls who want to study science or technology but are deterred by the fact that they would be in the minority?

  • "I don't think this puts off the current generation. If they were worried about that, I would ask them why they’d choose that course of study. If they would tell me with sparkling eyes why they are motivated, I would say, 'then you have to go for it’".

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • new in this role

    and

    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling

    and

    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more

    and

    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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