Dutch women still lag behind in top jobs, but it is not always a man’s world

Thursday is International Women’s Day, the cue for a flurry of articles and press releases about the role of women in Dutch business.

The Volkskrant interviewed Kristel Groenenboom (31) who took over her father’s container business when she was 23 and has been successfully tackling male prejudice ever since.

In her book Mag ik meneer Kristel even spreken (Can I speak to Mr Kristel please) Groenenboom, who learnt the ins and outs of the business from a young age, singles out forklift truck sellers as the worst ‘sexist bastards’ (although she is quick to say not all forklift sellers fall in that category) describing one who, when she opted for a different manufacturer, sent her an email in which he told her to leave the technical stuff to her male colleagues.

Groenenboom says the book is meant as ‘a wake-up call’. ‘A 23 year-old woman can be a good container company boss. You don’t have to be a grey suit,’ she told the paper.

The AD also highlights women in traditionally male professions. According to 25-year old crane operator Jessica Bruintjes there are ‘still lots of men who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen. They are not fun to work with. But I give them what for every time. I won’t be bullied.’

In Wednesday’s editorial the NRC quotes EU commissioner for gender equality Vera Jourava who said equality ‘is still not a matter of course’. The Netherlands is one of the worst offenders, the paper writes, citing the very short career of Olga Zoutendijk as ABN Amro chair of the supervisory board  who fell victim to the ‘old boys network’.

‘It became clear that anonymous men at the top of the bank had problems with her ‘management style’. Exit Zoutendijk. Legal quota are no match for this sort of male misbehaviour,’ the NRC writes.

Chauvinism is alive and well in politics too, which the paper calls ‘particularly painful’ with prime minister Mark Rutte opting for a foreign minister, Stef Blok, who called women ‘irrational’ and nominating precisely one woman from the VVD ranks for a post as minister. ‘Who does Rutte think he’s kidding?’ the paper asks.

Top jobs

Accountancy and advice organisation Grant Thornton chose March 8 to publish a report on the progress of women in top positions around the world.

The good news is that more companies are taking on women. Some three-quarters of companies have at least one woman in a senior position in 2018 compared to 66% in 2017. The Netherlands, however, lags behind with only 56% of companies having a woman in a senior management position.

‘Policy measures are not enough. What is needed is a broader culture of integration and inclusivity from the top echelons to realise change’, the report says.


Dutch emancipation minister Ingrid van Engelshoven says the lack of progress made by Dutch firms is ‘pitiful’ and that she will not shy away from ‘tough measures’, including the potential introduction of quotas.

Efforts to encourage companies to put more women in top jobs began five years ago, with a target of 30% by 2019. ‘I cannot continue to allow a large group of companies to look the other way when it comes to putting women in top jobs,’ she said.

Just 11.7% of the board members at the biggest Dutch firms are female, as are 16.2% of supervisory board members, according to the latest figures, published on Wednesday.