Stories / Blog

My story by Saskia van de Riet

Saskia van de Riet Hammer

June 2020 is the Female Wave of Change Storytelling month: Stories matter and we want you to share yours! Today Saskia van de Riet from the Netherlands, International Best Selling Author, TEDx Speaker & Bilingual Engineer who wonders if the world needs female entrepreneurs.

Does the world need Female Entrepreneurs?

Please meet my friend, the claw hammer. We’re very much alike, my friend and I, don’t you think? The two of us worked together for years in my professional life as an engineer. Trained to design and calculate structures is timber, steel and concrete, I specialized in piled foundations. Newly qualified as a construction engineer, I was decisive, dominant, and driven, in order to get the job done. Much like you would yield a hammer, to drive nails into a piece of timber.

Can you imagine what it’s like for a woman to be working in a male environment? 

If you’d have asked me then “Does the world need female engineers?” I would have said ‘Yes, absolutely’!

One of the “perks” of my job  I experienced a lot of was TLC. No, not tender loving care. My TLC is the Tea Lady Conversation.

Picture this: project meeting on a building site, in a sweaty, damp site hut.

  • The sound of heavy boots.
  • The smell of burnt coffee.
  • White plastic cups and coffee stains all over the table.
  • The pin-up girls on the wall.

And then … that inevitable conversation:

‘We’ll have four coffee’s one tea, please.’

‘Do tell the tea lady to make that 5 coffees 1 tea.’

Now, why did I say that? Well, I felt I had to compete with my male project partners. I felt the need to be seen as their equal. To prove that I was one of the guys. Looking back, I had overlooked the most … important … question of all: “Who did I need to prove this to?”

Indeed! Me! Instead …  I ignored my feelings of conflict, frustration, anger. “Was I really in competition with them?”

If you’d have asked me then “Does the world need … female … engineers?” I would have said ‘Yes, I do believe so!’

My attitude, however, only made me look bitchy and bossy, which frustrated me even further. So now, instead of looking to change anything in those men and the way I thought they saw me I started responding differently to the TLC.

I would now explain with dignity and calm that I wasn’t the tea lady, I was an engineer on the job. The response from the men in the room changed: I suddenly heard things like ‘I’m ordering coffees, yours is black, no sugar, right?’ and ‘Saskia, could you offer us your expert opinion on this, please?’

Now, I heard similar words, but received a different message. All it took was to change my perspective. It was that change made me see the other side of the claw hammer: curvy, slender, smooth, and elegant. I made me see another side to me: one of caring … cooperating … and connecting.

It is all about me being true to myself

By the way: this is not, was not, and never had been about gender. It is all about me being true to myself.

Up until then, I had been neglecting … ignoring … hiding an essential part of me: my femininity. I had been going at full throttle with the handbrake on. Now that was a pivotal insight, that made me clearly see the painful truth: I am not alone. Many women live through this. This is exhausting and counterproductive, wouldn’t you say?

So, I stopped doing that. To be honest, I had met my TLC not only in my work, but everywhere. I had been striving to be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother even.

I am not alone in this!

Again, I am not alone in this! When we women are fighting to be equal to men, all eyes are on the men to fix the problem we women create for ourselves. You reap what you sow: in rejecting men for their behaviour, you are actually rejecting yourself.

Despite my insights, I still didn’t quite surrender my battle until one unexpected life event. My life was turned around by a painful divorce. I lost everything: my marriage, my family life, my home, my income, my imagined future, my pension, and my confidence.

I shut the door to my old life, my old me.

Ironically, the pain I suffered is what motivated me to view the world through a different lens.  So much so, that when I shut the door to my family home for the final time, I shut the door to my old life, my old me.

There I was 55 years old, all alone, for the very first time in my entire life. And I had no clue what to expect. One thing was clear to me: my thoughts had been tripping me up all of my life.

I now asked myself:  Who was I? Or more importantly, who did I want to be? It was time to engineer the new life that lay ahead of me.  I thought I had nailed that before.

But it was only when I allowed myself to step into my gentleness, my femininity, that I gained access to the curviness, the elegance of my friend, the claw hammer. Can you see its beauty, too?     

So, if you ask me today “Does the world need female engineers?” I would say: ‘No’.

What the world needs is feminine female engineers

No! What the world needs is feminine female engineers. The world needs you, as women, to give up your inner battles. Then, and only then, you will be an instrumental cog in the machinery of life. That is how you can play your role in engineering world peace. And I assure you, when we women do that, we will propel the world from its current state of conflict into the realm of peace.

The knowledge you have – by itself – is of limited value: you have to pay it forward!

What’s important to realize, is that the knowledge you have – by itself – is of limited value. Others can only benefit from your knowledge when you write it down and share it, so that it can be paid forward to and be applied by the next generations. I truly believe in “Pay it Forward” as that is the key to the power of connection.

Luckily for me, I found a way of learning, applying and experiencing all of that, because I discovered who I truly am. I spent years investing in that. In coaching, in personal development which led to my finding clarity on my purpose, my talents, and my mission. I can now see my path ahead of me with utter clarity, which is precisely why I can help you to discover the writer in you.

Saskia gave Female Wave of Change permission to share her story also available on her Linkedin profile and you can watch her TEDx Talk

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