Speak up for what you want

Monday, April 25, 2022

Lisanne Smink is product owner Business Intelligence in the Advanced Analytics Department at Van Lanschot Kempen, and was the winner of the RightBrains Digital Talent award in 2021. After working for many years in the creative agency field, Lisanne wanted to shift her focus towards the digital realm, but was initially sceptical about making a career move into the world of finance. What would a male-dominated and typically formal workplace feel like for Lisanne, who is energetic, curious, and outgoing? Upon being accepted for an internship at Van Lanschot Kempen, she took the leap and has not looked back. As an ambassador for RightBrains, Lisanne spoke with us about lessons learned from her career so far, about maintaining a sense of challenge at work, and about the important responsibility of self-advocacy.

Take a leap

“I was completing my master’s degree in Business Management, focusing on Digital Business, alongside my previous job. I really wanted to be able to apply what I was learning at university to my work, but I couldn’t do this in the job I had. I needed to find out what it really was that I wanted to do, so I gave myself six months to find that thing that would really scratch that itch for me. I came across an internship at Van Lanschot Kempen and, after meeting the hiring manager who had loads of energy, I thought, ‘wow, this sounds like a place I could indeed apply my learning’. The environment seemed fun and so did the people, so I thought ‘let’s just try this’, and it turned out to be a match made in heaven.’”

Ask, ask, ask

Lisanne’s appetite for new and challenging directions continued to grow as she quickly realised she wanted to develop towards working in a product owner role. She began working in this capacity in the public websites team, and after a successful period moved to the Advanced Analytics Department. Lisanne’s quick career growth is not only thanks to opportunities offered by others, but is very much a result of her asking for what she wants from her work; “I voiced to my manager that I had ambitions to move into the direction of data. I love the area a lot, and I wrote my thesis on it, so we made that happen. It was great to see what happens when you vocalise your needs.”

Have a goal in mind for yourself

Lisanne does not see meeting a challenge as an end-point, but frequently questions herself and her goals, and avoids growing bored in a role. “I take a very agile approach to this; things can change, maybe the direction of where you want to go changes, but you must always keep evaluating. I ask myself, where is it that I want to grow towards? I really like to have a goal in mind. If I’m a product owner, perhaps I want to be an expert. If I’m an expert, perhaps I want to be a lead. Then I ask: what does it mean to be a lead? What should I learn for that? When I began in a product owner role, for example, I knew a lot about data strategies, but I certainly didn’t know everything about the technical operations, so learning towards that role became my goal. That’s what makes things very exciting to me, to be offered space to continue to develop myself.”

Have a goal in mind for your workplace

As well as checking in with yourself, it’s important to keep an eye on your company or organisation, especially with regards to balance and inclusion. Lisanne explains that, although she is lucky to work for a company that supports her and where she has not felt unsafe or mistreated, she has often been one of the few women in the room, and that sometimes conversations or decisions may happen in a very masculine way. “Do a check-in. The company likely has an imbalance, so ask yourself if they are taking that seriously. If you feel like you’re being held back, taken less seriously, or paid less, you don’t have to live with the results. If the relationship is not equal, you can ask yourself if it is a relationship that you want to keep investing in.”

Speak up for yourself

Lisanne believes her positive experience as a woman in a male-dominated work environment is partly due to her mixture of feminine and masculine characteristics, describing herself as outspoken and not at all shy. “It’s partly your own responsibility. I don’t allow anyone to treat me differently, or to negatively address me because I’m a woman. It’s not something I’m necessarily very comfortable with, but I force myself out of my comfort zone because it’s important.” Lisanne also feels strongly that to challenge the culture of accepting gender imbalance, it is important for colleagues of all genders to be open to learning about each other’s perspectives, and to have open conversations. “For example, there might be a general assumption that a woman will be promoted if she works hard, yet currently there are no women in the board, so it’s important to point that out. Even if the conversation is sometimes frustrating, we all have to speak up.”

Balance in tech, balance in life

One of Lisanne’s goals for the field is that it will start to value feminine and masculine qualities equally, and that it will truly embrace balance, “… Especially in tech, which impacts so many parts of our lives. If products are made predominantly by men, then we only have a male perspective. A white, male boardroom will yield different results than a boardroom that is made up of diverse genders, cultures, and social backgrounds. A mixed boardroom is a better reflection of society, and therefore can better serve society as a whole. I hope to see a more balanced workforce that is more equal in all ways, and that also includes men being able to feel more free to work part time, or to take paternity leave, or to be able to show vulnerability at work. As we’ve seen in research, it’s only beneficial when balance is accounted for.”

Learn to grow

Some parting advice from Lisanne: allow yourself to learn. “Women often think they have to know everything before they can take on a role, whereas men who don’t feel qualified for a role are more likely to just do it anyway. I say if you like something, go chase it. Speak out for what you want to do. You don’t have to prove yourself straight off the bat, just remember your past experiences and allow yourself to learn in that area. If you’re new to a skill or a particular area, that’s something you can always communicate; ‘hey, I haven’t done this before, but I’m very willing to learn’. And remember, if it’s comfortable, then it’s not really challenging you. Get out of your comfort zone and you can learn something more, you can learn what you like, what you don’t like, and learn how you can grow in the career that you want.”

Meet Lisanne at the live kick-off event of our Mentoring Summer Programme.