Sarina Wiegman, the Dutch head coach of England’s national women’s football team, shares her experiences and obstacles as a pivotal pioneer of her field. Similar reflections are made by three guests who inspire Sarina Wiegman and are featured in her book: Lieutenant General Elanor Boekholt-O’Sullivan (Dutch Ministry of Defense), Corinne Vigreux (co-founder of tech company TomTom), and Annelien Bredenoord (rector magnificus of EUR).

Audience questions

“It would be a huge step, but I don’t know whether football is up to that”, answers Wiegman after being asked by the audience whether a woman coaching a men’s team in football would soon be witnessed. There has always been a gap between men and women in football: after all, Wiegman had to cut her hair short to first partake in football in 1977 in a mixed-gender team. As she rose through the ranks of coaching earning multiple accolades, her goal is now to ‘change society in a positive way through football’. The British ambassador to the Netherlands, who was among the audience, thanked Wiegman for her contributions towards women’s football in England and jokingly addressed one change she wants to see herself: “it’s called football, not soccer!”.

Similarly, Corinne Vigreux shared her experience as a woman working in the tech world. Stressing the need to include women in engineering and computer science fields, a student from the audience expresses her concern about staying strong as a woman and women trying to become more like men. “It is a stereotype that to be successful, you must behave like man; that is not true”, shares Vigreux. “Be yourself, have your values, and be authentic. Don’t become someone you’re not!”

Taking off the tie

Elanor Boekholt-O’Sullivan discusses the challenges of working as a woman in the Ministry of Defense. The overlooked issue she highlights is the differences in clothing. Suits and uniforms for women are uncomfortable, and only 12 percent of the Ministry of Defense consists of women, hence there are not enough clothes that are the right fit for them. She alludes to ‘taking off her tie’ from her suit, an action that she says angers ‘white men’ and sparks raging reactions: “I am a general with three stars and people are worried about my clothes!”.

Annelien Bredenoord also reflects on her experiences in her political career at D66, the Dutch national political party. She points out the lack of suitable circumstances for women at the senate building, and reflects on a particular instance during her pregnancy. “I needed a little rest before a nightly debate and I was given an inflatable mattress and a small fridge”, she recalls. “These are strange circumstances for work as a woman in politics”.

Student panels

Four EUR students shared the stage with the main speakers, with both groups obtaining insights from each other. Impressed by the students’ input, Boekholt-O’Sullivan jokingly offered the students jobs at the Ministry of Defense. Among the students taking center stage were Moos Schoemacher, a 25-year-old Financial Economics student and a working student at the Ministry of Defense, and Esmée Lieuw On, a 22-year-old graduate and board member of football club Antibarbari. “It was inspiring to hear them talk about their careers and obstacles”, shares Esmée. “If we sat there for another hour, we wouldn’t have noticed how much time passed by!”.

Schoemacher has his key takeaways from the seminar. “As a white man I have to acknowledge I am in a privileged position”, he shares. “We must always support women and keep in mind that diverse decisions are the best decisions.”

After the event, free copies of Sarina Wiegman’s book ‘What it takes’ were handed out to all the attendees.