Women as IT Champions

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge.”

Women transform our lives every day and in all places. For HiiL, one example of this transformation involved Information Technology (IT). As the pandemic challenged companies to digitise and accommodate a new working-from-home environment, six women at HiiL challenged the “tech guy” stereotypes and led a mini digital revolution at the organisation. Together, they spearheaded an innovative and seamless transition to a suite of online digital tools that have improved HiiL’s efficiency and work culture.

On this International Women’s Day, we introduce you to our six IT Champions and celebrate their camaraderie, professionalism, and “aanpakker” attitude. Meet Armi, Claudia, Evelien, Gabby, Nadine, and Velika who, besides working towards user-friendly justice full time at HiiL, have also strived to build and sustain user-friendly IT throughout the company.

The following article is based on conversations with the IT Champions team. The text has been edited and condensed. 

What is an IT Champion? 

“An IT Champion is someone who is tech savvy and interested in technology,” said Claudia Heemskerk, the Director of Shared Services and a founding member of the IT Champions team. “First and foremost, IT Champions support other HiiLers in digitisation, making it relevant to their work.” 

For Armi Korhonen, a Justice Sector Advisor and another original member of the team, an IT Champion is “someone who has a special knack for IT and for helping others. It’s a person who can support colleagues to adopt new tools but also improve internal work processes and encourage a growth mindset for both the organization and the individual.”

Working alongside five other women

For more than 15 years, HiiL’s fieldwork and research has focused on shrinking the justice gap. Indeed, 5.2 billion people still live with unresolved legal problems around the world. In 2018-19, HiiL identified another gap, this one closer to home. The knowledge disparity in technology and online security prompted improvements to the IT and project management structures at HiiL.

“The fact that six women took up the initiative to improve the whole IT structure at HiiL made no difference,” said Nadine Hafez, the Justice Accelerator Project Officer. “It’s not gender-hindered work. At the same time, however, working alongside five other women for me felt similar to my all-female kickboxing class. I think we’re very efficient as a group and very results oriented.”

It’s an empowering experience, added Gabby Rialland, HiiL’s Digital Communications Specialist. “I feel we really have broken a gender barrier and expectations — as seen or experienced at other organisations — where you don’t need to have the “tech guy” with his dirty shirt and set of keys fixing your computer troubles. We are breaking that mould, like the Rosie the Riveter poster.”

For Evelien Evenhuis, the Justice Transformation Project Officer and newest member of the team, the experience has been one of growth and learning. “It’s been a nice way to get acquainted with HiiL and the new systems,” she said. “I think we can be most proud of the fact that we’re doing it ourselves and without the formal training in IT. And yet, we’re making a direct impact on HiiL’s impact!”

Women have the power to connect and resolve

Studies show that having more women in leadership roles can lead to positive changes and improve public confidence in community development, the rule of law, equality, anti-corruption, and access to justice. When women have the power to make a difference and make decisions, entire communities can benefit. This philosophy is no different for the IT Champions.

“As a group, we are constantly trying to make things better,” said Nadine. “Helping people with IT requires a bit of compassion. We have to be present and understanding and patient in a way that creates a general sense that our (new) colleagues are welcome here.”

“With this group, we have five women who are highly educated, smart, data driven, research-oriented, and who can transfer and translate the IT systems into daily operations,” said Claudia. “When I see this team, I think of the Dutch word ‘aanpakkers,’ which I think in English translates to ‘go-getters,’ hands-on people who take action.” She added, “I am most proud of our team’s ability to convert ideas from paper into action. They are actually implementing ways of working and doing it together to make HiiL better, more efficient.” 

For Velika Yordanova, the Junior Project Manager, the team reflects a broader sense of women’s leadership. “I believe that if more world leaders were women, then there would be fewer conflicts and more collaboration,” she said. “I think there’s a sense of community and understanding among us women that allows us to collaborate and accomplish things in productive ways. We believe in each of us — here and abroad — and everyone is dedicated to doing their part of the job.” 

This inspiration is personal for Velika. Her family consists of scientists and engineers. “Being an IT Champion actually helped me fit in with my family.” 

And when asked what advice she may offer to those who #ChooseToChallenge, Velika had this to share, “Be curious. And don’t shy away from trying to understand the problem to help increase your own understanding and knowledge. If you want to learn something, just ask. The more you learn, the more confident you will be.”

Further Reading