This years’ theme of International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. We ask Margo Kok-Van der Wal, recently retired Vice President & CFO of the KOTUG Group of Companies, about her experience as a female leader. What is her advice to women and companies to ‘break the bias’?
Can you tell us about your career?
MK: “I joined KOTUG in 1982 to handle all administrative and tax matters. A few years later, I got promoted to the function of Management Assistant. In 1996, after finishing law school, I joined the board of Directors as Financial Director. When Ton Kooren, CEO and the third generation of the Kooren family, retired in 2002 and was succeeded by Ard-Jan Kooren, I was appointed CFO/Vice President after an internal job application.”
The maritime industry used to be a typical men’s world. Fortunately, we have seen this change rapidly during the last two decades; how did you experience this?
MK: “Within KOTUG this has never been an issue, there has always been the golden rule, ‘the best person on the job’. Ton Kooren was a visioner and encouraged me to develop and encouraged a diverse organisation. At that time, we defined our robust set of corporate values that are still unchanged to date, uniting our staff and crew and still attracting new colleagues. Also, when we expanded internationally, respecting each other, regardless of age, gender or religion, was a prerequisite for success and turned out to be enriching. It opens your view. Our values never were just words, but are lived by and embedded in our systems. My experience in all those years is that as long as people can embrace the differences all teams become more complimentary, you get the best of both worlds, and you can perform stronger. In the beginning, I often was the only female in the room and had to find my way, but I have always been treated respectfully. I guess the bias we face nowadays occurs more out in the field, onboard the vessels. We also have women onboard our vessels, and we still see that we have to challenge the gender bias there. It is not obvious, although KOTUG has the same way of working there, we primarily look for the right capabilities. We invest in local talent, in training men and women. We also see these women as role models for future generations.”
What is your definition of female leadership and your advice to women and girls?
MK: “For me, the most important aspect of female leadership is to take ownership of your personal development, don’t compare yourself to others. To do that, you have to know yourself, including your weak spots, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be open to feedback. Then use that feedback to work on your personal development and keep going. But, again, to support that, it is essential to create an environment that supports diversity, that has a back-end in place, a system that supports personal development. For example, KOTUG was the first company in the towing industry to have annual appraisals. A moment to have a two-way dialogue, where this feedback can be shared, and personal development is a serious topic. Also, when you look at the piling regulations around compliancy, we all must be aware of the paralysing effect on the business and have an eye on the final goals; again, we apply a person because of his or her skills, not to reach a quota. That is very refreshing and leaves no room for bias.”
What do you wish the industry in this respect?
“The towing industry is beautiful. Getting qualified staff and crew will be a challenge for all of us. Embracing all differences, and not because you have to, but because you believe in a diverse team, will open worlds and grant access to wider talent pools.”
“That is what I wish for all people.”
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.