08 March 2021

I hoist the flag

Every year I ask myself, shall I… or shall I not hoist the flag? This thought is immediately followed by the question whether the flag can flutter in the wind high on the mast as a sign of accomplishment and happiness or whether the flag gets stuck halfway up the mast? I have mixed feelings about it.

Today it is the 8th of March. It’s International Women’s day! And we stop for a moment. To think about women’s issues like emancipation, participation, equal treatment, economic independence and domestic violence.

What actions can you and I initiate tomorrow?

In some countries, the 8th of March is a public holiday and mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughter and colleagues are given flowers and small gifts. In other countries, including The Netherlands, many activities are organised and you and I are requested to ask ourselves what we are doing to stop the abuse against women that we see around us. What are you and I going to do tomorrow the help change the social systems that perpetuate gender in-equality. Talking about it can be enlightening and gathering information is essential but what is really needed are the actions of us all.

Influence with impact, the theme of International Women’s Day 2021. This theme applies to all of us. Each of us can assert influence. In your immediate environment, at home and at work and even in the pub. Never underestimate your power to influence. I have experience that a little influence can go a long way and may have a major impact on colleagues and processes within the organisation. I feel good when my actions make an impact. It stimulates me to continue exerting influence.

A first requirement to even have a possibility to influence is the mere fact that people have to listen to you. I have experience that sometimes this is hard. Men often listen to women in a different way than they listen to their male colleagues. They seem to hear what I say but they don’t understand. Over the years I have learned to develop strategies so that what I say has an impact. This involved begin very patient and repeating my message several times and often in different ways. But when I am steadfast, I usually succeed in getting colleagues to recognize what I, as a woman, experience in a patriarchal organisation. Then I tell them what I think needs changing and how I think this can be achieved.

It all starts with unbiased listening to each other

In the end it all starts with a conversation, talking to each other and especially with listening, which I find one of the most difficult skills to master. Unbiased listening.

Let’s agree that we will make an effort to listen better, and put this in practice tomorrow. You will experience that your influence will increase and that it will have more impact. Let’s agree on that and then I will hoist the flag until it flutters at the top of the mast, because I know that also this year, we have taken steps on the road to equal justice and equal opportunities for women. In the knowledge that we can only progress together and that there will be many International Women’s days to come.

In the meantime, make sure you make the difference.

Saskia van der Vies

Chair WO&MEN@VU network, professor biochemistry

Saskia van der Vies


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