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Empowering Women in the Professional Sphere

On the 1st of October, WIL held its final event of its opening block and its first ever WIL Talk, open to the public. Five incredible professional women took the stage in the Leiden University College auditorium to describe to the audience what it's like to be a women in their respective professional workplaces. All driven and successful women, they addressed their challenges and most importantly the strategies they learnt to develop to overcome the sexism they often face.

Dr. Maria Palacio Ludeña, one of the WIL Talk speakers, shared her insights into working as a lecturer in Political Economy at Leiden University. Originally from Latin America (Ecuador), she delivered a powerful message to the audience regarding how she, as a woman, from a foreign country, and as a professional, deals with the challenges and discrimination she sometimes faces in her professional sphere. As she stated during her speech, "I am not fighting for a world of equality but for a recognition of difference".

Saida van Kalsbeek, another speaker at the event, is a female Tech Entrepeneur, the founder of Start Up Kitchen as well as of her own cyber security provider company, Cybermarqt. During her talk she shared her insights into her experiences as a young woman working in the very male dominated field of cyber security. She gave advice on how she had learnt to deal with the frustration of being treated differently as a women in a male-dominated professional sphere. She shared entertaining and hopeful lessons on how to make the best out of such a situation.

Elles Achterhof, the event's third speaker, gave an energetic speech on her experiences in her work as the Chief Operating Officer of the SDR Academy. Besides her role as a COO, she is also active as a life coach and as the co-founder of Start-Up Kitchen, amongst other of her initiatives. During her speech she described the pre-exisiting biases individuals tend to hold of others, and how this, as a professional woman, has manifested in her professional sphere. With her energetic presence and ambition she inspired the listeners to take ownership of the responsibility of shaping society towards more diversity and inclusiveness.

Ileana Hernandez Mireles, a chemical and bioprocess engineer, has worked as a Consultant in Innovation and Applied research in Sustainability Chemistry. She has also worked as Process Engineer for the Chemical and Oil & Gas sectors. Her current job is as an Inside Sales Manager in one of the top 5 world’s more admired companies in engineering. Also faced with challenges of working in a male-dominated industry, Ileana shared the strategies she developed to overcome any biases or mismatched expectations. She descried how sometimes, all it takes to give you an extra boost of confidence is a trusted mentor, who will encourage you to purue your ambitions, regardless of the challenges you might face. She reminded the audience that "kindness has no enemy, and compassion has no limit".

Naya Pessoa, the last of the five speakers, graduated with cum laude with a Bachelor in Political Science and Spanish. Naya's interests in human rights drove her to pursue a juris doctorate from New England Law Boston. During her legal studies, she was an Americorps fellow, working on the immigration rights project and also volunteering at the local legal clinic providing assistance to Haitians seeking temporary protected status. She then decided to take her experience global as an International Criminal Process Clinic fellow at the ICTY in 2010. A personal life change then took her to The Hague, where she began working at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Peace Palace. Her most recent career change has taken her to now work at the Webster University Leiden Campus, as the dedicated officer for Graduate Studies. Throughout her speech she described embracing a healthy work-life balance and how to continue to pursue your interests and ambitions. Through anecdotes, she discussed her experiences in international organisations and shared the lessons these legal environments have taught her.

WIL's first ever Talk was an evening marked by laughter, ambition and self-realisation as these five strong women encouraged young professionals to build coalitions, maintain personal styles of leadership and practice self-empowerment on an everyday basis. Through anecdotes, sharing the lessons they had learnt, and advice on how to overcome challenges, the speakers made a strong impact on every single member of the audience.

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