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Empowering the female entrepreneurial spirit-lessons from Conny Vandendriessche’s Fin&Tonic keynote

Date:May 21, 2024

At our latest Fin&Tonic we invited Conny Vandendriessche, a leading figure in Belgium’s business landscape, to deliver an inspiring keynote speech focusing on the empowerment of women in finance. She shared her own entrepreneurial story, talked about dreaming, daring and doing, and gave valuable advice to women and their male allies in the business world today.

At our recent Fin&Tonic event, focused on women in finance, we were honored to have powerhouse Conny Vandendriessche as our keynote speaker. Conny, one of Belgium’s leading ladies in business, shared her own story about dreaming, daring, and doing, while also discussing the importance of diversity in the boardroom, the evolution of leadership, challenges faced by women in business, and strategies to overcome them. Known for her remarkable achievements including founding Accent, House of HR, Stella Polaris, and We Are Jane, Conny is also the author of ‘Dream, Dare, Do’, a book on female leadership.

Why your background matters

Conny introduced herself, highlighting the crucial role of a founder’s background in shaping a company. Growing up in Lichtervelde, West-Flanders, she was driven to entrepreneurship after her father excluded her from business discussions with her brothers. “This pissed me off so much, that it became my biggest driver to become an entrepreneur,” says Conny. “If you have a family of daughters and sons and you want to talk about your company, talk to every one of your children.” she continues.

My father discussing his business plans only with my brothers, never with me, pissed me off so much that it became my biggest driver to become an entrepreneur.

The importance of the board

“When I started Accent, I didn’t have any notions about economics. Luckily, I had fantastic people on the board who coached me, mentored me, and really helped me. That’s why, in 2014, I started Stella Polaris with one aim: to make sure every company has a diverse board,” Conny explains. Stella Polaris – the Pole Star – is a search office for board members. The goal was to bring more gender diversity, ethnical diversity and younger people to the boards. “Having a diverse board is very important,” says Conny. “It gives you other insights. It helps you accelerate, to get to another level.”

I started Stella Polaris, a search office for board members, with one aim: to make sure every company has a diverse board.

Fake it till you make it

“In the beginning, I really felt like I had to fake it because I had no degree,” Conny recalls. “In human resources there are a lot of women, but the executive committee and the board were very male-dominated 30 years ago. I was in lots of meetings and I always felt lonely. This is just something you need to fake until you are a little more successful, and you gain a little more confidence. Women will feel underqualified much more easily than men – if we don’t tick all hundred boxes of a job description, we won’t even apply. Men don’t seem to have this problem, they just go for it.”

Don’t drop the balls

But the differences between men and women don’t end there. In 2024, we’re still dealing with gender bias and familial expectations. “We have to be a good housewife, a good wife, a good mother, and when we come home from work, we have all kinds of tasks to attend to. Here’s how you avoid dropping the balls: ask for help,” says Conny.

“Delegate to your partner, hire a nanny, whatever you need. We think we have to do it all by ourselves, we don’t dare to ask for help. I used to be like this, too. But the simple truth is: you can’t do everything yourself. If you’re ambitious and there are goals you want to achieve, please organise yourself, outsource some tasks, make sure you tend to your own happiness. That’s very important.”

We have to be a good housewife, a good wife, a good mother, and when we come home from work, we have all kinds of tasks to attend to. Here’s how you avoid dropping the balls: ask for help.

Changing leadership

In 30 years, leadership has undergone substantial changes. It used to be directive, now it’s all about serving, participating leadership. And for Conny, this has been an important change as well. “I used to be very controlling, a true micromanager. But you can’t lead a large company that way. I knew I needed to change my leadership style, so I went to the Netherlands to attend leadership workshops,” says Conny. “It took four years, because when you want to change behaviours, you need to go in very deep. It was hard, but I’m glad I did it. It was exactly what my company needed.”

This vigour showcases Conny’s commitment to continuous learning. “Every year you should evaluate what you’re doing. What will you continue to do, and what won’t you do anymore? As a leader in a rapidly changing world, you need to keep investing in self-development. Never stop learning.”

I used to be very controlling, but you can’t lead a large company that way. I knew I needed to change my leadership style. It was hard, but I’m glad I did it

The magic of YES

Conny Vandendriessche concluded her keynote with a final word of advice to all ladies present at our Fin&Tonic. “Ladies, tomorrow, if you hear a challenge: stop thinking and say yes. Because when you think about it too much, you’ll talk yourself out of it and say no. As women, we’ve been taught to trust our head. Instead, we need to trust our belly, our gut, and just say yes. When you do that, fantastic things happen.”

Conclusion

This inspiring keynote taught us that when you have dreams and dare, there’s nothing you can’t do. Starting from the bottom, with no university degree, she built herself up to the head of the House of HR, employing 6,000 people across 810 offices. The keys to her success? Persevere, adapt, trust in a diverse board, outsource tasks and never stop learning.

About Projective Group

Established in 2006, Projective Group is a leading Financial Services change specialist.

We are recognised within the industry as a complete solutions provider, partnering with clients in Financial Services to provide resolutions that are both holistic and pragmatic.  We have evolved to become a trusted partner for companies that want to thrive and prosper in an ever-changing Financial Services landscape.