Gender balance and equal opportunities affect everyone

At ING in the Netherlands, Lioness has evolved from a ‘women empowerment’ network into a large and powerful community of members with all gender identities. The network’s mission is to achieve gender balance and equal opportunities for all – and this is a shared responsibility for males, females and all other genders.

Esther Burry and Fianna Nieuwenstein, two members of the Lioness NL board, get straight to the point: “Regardless of their gender, everyone is affected by prejudices that prevent people from fulfilling their true potential.” 

Esther: “At Lioness, we want to keep the situation relating to equal opportunities for men/women/other genders within ING firmly in the spotlight. We make colleagues aware of the fact that inequality and gender-based prejudices still exist. We challenge the senior management to think about this and act on it. Rather than focusing on the issue from a women-only angle, we take all perspectives into consideration, because that’s the only way to truly achieve a better balance in the workplace.” 

Overcoming bias 

“Everyone is affected by preconceptions and stereotypes,” adds Fianna. “There are so many different manifestations – from the Western woman who doesn’t stand up for herself because she doesn’t want to be labelled a ‘bitch’, to the man who is afraid of showing his vulnerability. Not only women but also men struggle to combine work with their roles as a carer. Prejudice and bias are everywhere, often subconsciously. We want to overcome that, because a lack of diversity means a lack of different perspectives, and that’s a missed opportunity. After all, different perspectives help people to grow both personally and professionally and help companies to make better strategic decisions.” 

Raising awareness

Both Esther and Fianna have had first-hand experience of prejudices in previous jobs. They have faced much less bias and inequality at ING. Fianna: “But we still see examples around us and hear stories through the network – and definitely not just from women. In many cases people don’t even realise it, and that’s why it’s so important that we keep drawing attention to it. Raising awareness about the existence of stereotyping and inequality is our primary goal for the foreseeable future.” 

Input wanted from men, women and x

“To truly achieve equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their gender, we must all work together,” says Esther. “We must accept everyone’s perspective and understand how to accommodate one another… identify a broad spectrum of areas that will help us to bring the topic to life. That’s also why we find it so important that the Lioness membership base is as diverse as possible.” Fianna: “We already have one man on our board – Sergio Alzate Muñoz – but ideally, we would like to have more. So, we encourage all our colleagues to join our network and attend our events. Besides that, we’re calling on everyone throughout the organisation to send us their input and ideas for sessions, workshops, and training courses. Whether you’re a man, woman, or x: the more diversity we have, the better it is for the balance!” 

Everyone is welcome

Sergio wholeheartedly supports that call. In the country of his birth, Colombia, he saw the destabilising impact of inequality – in terms of income and access to education as well as gender, for example – with his own eyes. “I immediately knew that I wanted to contribute to accomplishing the Lioness objectives. It’s so energising to be actively committed to a topic as important as equal opportunities and to make real progress. It’s a topic that affects everyone, so everyone is also more than welcome to help.”

About Fianna

Fianna is a Customer Journey Expert in the Client Advice Team Private Banking & Wealth Management NL for the past three years. She does improvisational theatre, enjoys running and is a huge animal lover. She grew up surrounded by horses, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, dogs and chickens, and she now has two cats. One day, she hopes to adopt a pig.

About Esther

Esther joined ING in 1997 and has always worked in change management. Today, she is a Business Consultant in Risk & Finance, for Client Tax Services. Esther is married with one daughter and a dog. Her favourite sports are skiing and boot camp fitness, plus she loves riding her motorbike. In fact, before the coronavirus pandemic, that’s how she used to travel to work. France is her top travel destination. She does a radio broadcast for a local station once a week.

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