I am a feminist. I totally believe in equality between men and women. Raise my children that way too. And still, at Yoast we have more men than women in our management team. As of last week, with me becoming the CEO, we do have a woman at the very top :-). However, in our management-team, there’s only one other woman beside me. And five men. That’s not even remotely equal.

So what’s the deal? I was on the board for four years, I could have prevented this. And it still happened. I was right there. But why? And how? I am afraid I cannot answer that question (at least not in a blog post of medium length). But I am going to take action. This inequality has to change. That’s why I am starting the empower women project at Yoast. I am really enthousiastic about this, but I could use some advice and tips in setting up a program! So help me out!

Responsibility of the employer

Having little women in key positions is of course the responsibility of the company. We should do better at Yoast. I want to do better as an employer and as a CEO. I have now invited all women working at Yoast to participate in the empower women project. The project is called empowerwoment, and yes I agree, that’s a terrible name. But I could not think of anything better and I wanted to start this project right away.

While I want to work with our female employees, making them stronger and helping them to step up, I am well aware that their effort is only part of the solution. The other part of the solution lies in our management. Having few women in our management-team is something we have let happen. And we need to find out why. We need to address those questions. That way, we can prevent this from happening in the future.

Empower those women

I am putting together a program for 5 or 6 women working at Yoast. The program is aimed at helping them to move forward inside our organization. Half of the program will consist of coaching. I want to talk to these women and I want them to talk to each. I want to know about the things they think are holding them back. About the things they think are causing inequalities. I want them to talk about their day to day challenges. About their beliefs, their ambitions, their dreams.

The second part of the program should be more theoretical. As a group, I want us to read books and watch movies and talks about female leadership. I’m thinking of Lean in by Sherryl Sandberg and Inferior by Angela Saini. But I would love some more input here.

A few years ago, I did a talk about gender prejudices at Yoast. Perhaps this year, someone from my project could do that talk. I would also like to invite a speaker in this field to our Yoast offices.

Do you have input or ideas for me?

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions! Which books should we read? Which talks should we watch? Maybe you have some other ideas what we can do as a group. Please let me know! Thank you!

Published by Marieke van de Rakt

Marieke is the CEO at Yoast. She has a PhD in social sciences and the mother of four kids.

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12 Comments

  1. Sounds like you have a lot of energy for this! Rock it!

    I liked this stance: https://innovationorigins.com/nl/feike-sijbesma-dsm-vrouwen/
    Which suggests that it is a lot about enabling like you’re already planning to do.
    Also keep an eye on Esther Perel, the workplace is becoming more often the topic of her research.

    Also, this is an interesting list: https://medium.com/culturedesign/my-personal-list-of-25-books-videos-and-one-podcast-to-shape-feminine-leadership-skills-c3c7c7baee4c

  2. I recommend not to put too much focus on reading books. Focus on action. Make sure those ladies don’t talk too much but act like they own it. That’s difficult. But the only way to achieve your goal.

  3. Just a thought. I’ve considered applying at Yoast I the past, but the jobs seemed to all require living near your headquarters. Would remote workers in more areas across the company assist in your diversity. If you want to stay with people having to live near the company, consider how the company recruits in the local area: who interfaces with the community, what is the message, have some local outside eyes give their perception

    1. Totally get that. Lots of companies in the WordPress-eco-system are hiring globally of course. We are different, although our support-team is distributed. I do believe in the strength of talking and bonding with each other. Our best ideas come do not come in a planned meeting, but just during lunch or during a game of Foosball.

      And… we do have a lot of women working with us. In the development department we have much fewer women, but overall, we have a 50/50 ratio. We don’t have salary differences. It just seems that women don’t make it to the ‘highest’ level. And we have to figure out what causes that. It’s not blunt discrimination… but still… we have to figure it out.

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my blog post!

  4. First of all, congratulations! My two cents: after three years in Lean In and other three in the WordPress community I can suggest you to create mixed working groups as well. In Lean In the mentorship worked very well, but we were always and only women. In WordPress I decided to start the change from within, explaining that diversity could only improve with a continuous comparison (by the way, I am member of the international project on “diversity outreach speakers” in WP and I invest a lot of time to convince women that they have to go on stage to demonstrate their skills). Good luck!

  5. Of course 5 is not equal than 2, math says so, and yes, I understand what you meant, but I’m pointing it out to prove the point that equality in men/woman numbers is not the best parameter, but equality of oportunities for both. I’m no one to give advice, but I think waht you are doing is wrong. If you want the best people to work for you, you’ll have to remove your prejudices and hire them or promote them based on talent, availability, commitment, experience, not gender. If the best people for the job are women, then good, if they are not, then also good

    1. Thank you for commenting. I understand what you’re coming from. I think in the end, we believe the same: men and women are equal. But in practice, their not. At least not yet. This program is focussed to make us all aware of that. I am not going to hire random women to be on our board, just to get the numbers equal. I want to try to get women who face things like imposter-syndrome, or who are hesitant to take a leading position to overcome those things.

  6. I like your approach. If I understand you correctly, your purpose behind empowering women is not intending to purposely hire women instead of men in spite of qualifications, but instead, the purpose is to help qualified women see their worth and value their skills, expertise, competence, and experience, thus empowering them to apply for those positions “at the top” for which they should be considered alongside everyone else who applies, as a level playing field.

    I’ve found that in addition to any group work/activities, people (and yes, especially women) benefit from having one-on-one coaching/mentorship from other women who have “been there, done that” and reached their goals. Finding other women in the industry who can be those mentor/coaches for the women you have chosen for your group would help them immensely, then on a monthly basis they could work toward the goals established individually and as a group, and report to each other in your group what they have discovered to be empowering. These coaches might not be local to you, but given today’s technologies, that shouldn’t be a barrier. (And, of course, I always believe in valuing time/energy/talent and paying for these services as an example of what women should want/deserve/demand in the workplace.)

    I’m happy to have more conversation with you about this. Feel free to reach out.

    And kudos to you for the self-realization for Yoast, and seeking to make it better. I wish you GREAT SUCCESS as you move forward!

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