Women can and should have it all

Interview with Ann Caluwaerts, Chief Corporate Affairs at Telenet

We interviewed Ann Caluwaerts, Chief Corporate Affairs at Telenet on her vision and personal beliefs of what Diversity and Inclusion should look like in companies today. She truly believes that women can have it all and shares her advice on how female professionals should show their ambition and let go of the small stuff.

Why is a culture of Diversity and Inclusion so important for organisations today?

Simply put, it makes the organisation more innovative, creative, profitable, and more fun.

The world used to be much more predictable, nowadays there are a number of factors influencing daily life. As a company, it’s crucial to gain as many insights as possible, and working with people from different backgrounds is one key way. Backed up by many studies, Diversity and Inclusion is important for the entire company, but it’s especially vital in management teams.

There are a lot of ways to work on diversity such as taking away unconscious bias, setting and monitoring KPIs and coaching. Equally important is that female leaders need to have a sense of belonging and feel they can be their authentic self.

I would therefore advise organisations to take a long hard look at their values and evaluate if they are female-friendly. This takes introspection and vulnerability. Women need to feel at home in all teams and in all layers of the organisation.

’In the book ‘Who Runs the World?’ which is about the importance of female leadership, you shared a personal story about the changes and challenges that occurred during your professional career. As a female leader, what have you learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

Here are three things I believe women can do for themselves in their career:

First of all, don’t be afraid to show your ambition at every level of your career. You can really have it all – family, work, sports, a social life,… Why do you have to make a choice? If I ask my three sons if they think it’s feasible, they would reply, ‘Sure, why not?’ So, it’s important for women to also express their ambition and dare to jump when opportunities come up.

Secondly, ask for help and delegate. Trust other people to do things and let go. When my children were younger, I had somebody pick them up at school. It was a big expense for a certain period of time. Some women have difficulties letting go but you need to be able to delegate at work and at home.

Lastly, don’t try to be perfect. It took me a while to get this, but the moment I made this shift, I became much better in everything I do – and much happier - simply by not worrying about how my actions would be perceived by others. 

Women need to feel at home in all teams and in all layers of the organisation
When you trust your people to do their thing, it’s liberating

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

In leadership, your team is paramount. And it doesn’t differ for males or females; I don’t make compromises. The people I work with must be driven and must be experts in their profession. Let team members take responsibility for what they do – they are better in their field than you are. Certainly, you need to coach your team and help them to evolve but don’t over-manage. When you trust your people to do their thing, it’s liberating. Try it!

What was the biggest opportunity you’ve ever had?

I truly believe that I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Either somebody asked me to change jobs or the company evolved in a different direction. But if I look at the biggest opportunity, it wasn’t necessarily the job but more how I expanded the job and made it my own. For example, when I started at British Telecom at the age of 30, I had a team of two people. Five years later, I was managing a team of 40 although the official job was still the same. As the role and responsibilities grew, so did I. I’m the type of person that likes to colour outside the lines of the official job description; it makes the job continuously interesting. At Telenet, the trust I built gives me the opportunity to increase my personal impact outside of my official domain.

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