Women & IT

Rachèl van der Wal on 30 March 2021

Who am I?
My name is Rachèl van der Wal, and I am 30 years old. I recently moved to Alphen aan den Rijn with my partner Thomas. I’ve been working at Xebia Nederland B.V. for almost 7 years and recently took on the exciting challenge of building Xebia’s newest label, ‘Qxperts,’ together with my team. We enable companies to deliver high-quality software, taking a holistic approach to technology, people, and processes. I like to spend my free time with family and friends, sharing good food and wine. Pre-COVID, I liked to travel and go to festivals. I am looking forward to being able to do this again. These three fun activities are my ultimate way to recharge.

What does the IT world mean to you?
The IT world is a diverse, rapidly changing environment where your career opportunities are endless. I need an environment like this; it keeps me on my toes and ambitious, which says a lot about my character. I have completed various studies, and as a result, I have obtained diplomas in floristry, pedagogy, and a Bachelor’s degree in online marketing communications. If the challenge is not there, or there are not enough opportunities to grow, I quickly get bored. This makes the IT industry, with its innovation and speed, a perfect environment for me. I am responsible for all marketing activities at Qxperts. My years at Xebia have made me grow tremendously, as a professional and as a person.

What is your perfect work environment?
Working in IT is quite different from working in childcare. You actually go from a woman’s world to a man’s world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my female colleagues, but working exclusively with women, you’ll encounter a few struggles, as we can probably all imagine. But let’s face it, an all-male environment comes with just as many challenges.

Women and men have different qualities and communication styles. By striking the right balance, you can create an environment that offers the best of both worlds. In my current team, I do not notice any difference in the way men and women interact. Culture is very important to us. We expect and encourage mutual respect and make no distinctions between role, gender, or background. I strongly value the direct communication in a man’s world, as long as it is done respectfully. Feedback and criticism are often perceived as an attack or as ‘heavy.’ Still, if you create a culture where feedback is seen as an opportunity to grow, and people give it with this intention, I think you should embrace it. However, unfortunately, I often hear and notice that this ideal image is far from many women’s reality.

Of course, I had to get used to this way of communication. I took feedback personally and felt attacked when I was criticized. Until I realized that Xebia’s culture and how we interact with each other accelerate my career and personal development hugely. Just imagine, you’re in an environment where you’re no longer growing, where you don’t get any opportunities, where people don’t bother to give you tips and tricks? Or, have you ever wondered how far you could have gone if the people around you had given you that feedback?

In November 2014, I joined Xebia as a young girl with absolutely no marketing experience. Today I can call myself Chief Marketing of Qxperts, our own label within Xebia. Would I have gotten there without feedback? Would I have gotten there by staying in my comfort zone every day without any challenge? Right! If you, as a woman, get stuck during your growth process, look for another environment and don’t settle for less!

What skills do women have that are important in the IT world?
Our strength lies in our soft skills. That’s why I am a huge advocate of more women in IT. For instance, in my current team, only three of my 21 colleagues are female. The personal conversations, making oneself vulnerable, asking a few more questions, or raising personal issues is something women are more inclined to do than men; we connect differently with the people around us. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just different. And that difference should not be underestimated.

Successes achieved
I think I am currently experiencing the greatest success in my career so far. I am very proud to be Chief Marketing. I get to market a completely new brand, from content creation to event management, product ownership of the website, social media management, merchandise creation, and most importantly, I am the one who connects people to our brand, both internally and externally.

Why do women drop out of IT?
I can imagine that you drop when you do not feel valued, respected, and/or accepted as a woman. To all women who experience this: dare to put yourself first, share how you feel, and stand up for yourself. If you are not listened to, don’t be afraid to look for a place where you will be heard. The IT world consists of enough companies that do take a different approach.

Why should a woman go for the IT world?
As far as I am concerned, the IT world is the place to develop yourself. We are always looking for professional and personal growth opportunities. I think you will grow the most if you dare to step out of your comfort zone. You have to set your own boundaries, create a balance and look for opportunities.

Tips for women
Try to go one step further than usual, now stop and assess what it brings you, and learn your lesson. I myself did this during my early years in the IT world, and it has been my best-chosen mindset ever in my career. The unknown is always exciting, but if you dare to explore it, take risks, stand up for yourself, and set boundaries, then the unknown really can be your new happy place.