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Event Summary: Cross-Cultural Management

‘’The cross-cultural edition of the TopFem meet ups was actually the first I ever visited. I wish I would have gone sooner! It was a great night where intellect, conversation, experience and fun came together.’’

‘’The cross-cultural edition of the TopFem meet ups was actually the first I ever visited. I wish I would have gone sooner! It was a great night where intellect, conversation, experience and fun came together.’’

– Tamara van Tulder, Junior consultant at Revnext


Our January Network Event had the theme of ‘Cross-cultural Management’. Together with several professionals we discussed the theme by hearing about cross-cultural management and their experiences abroad. We welcomed our guest speakers Susan Blankhart, Chantal Heutink and Wouter Heikens, who are professionals of – among others – KLM and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our members gained information about working abroad, about interacting with different cultures in a professional environment, and of course, at the end of the evening, we networked with the TopFem network.

‘’The informal setting created a nice atmosphere in which stories between speakers as well as between the public were easily shared. The speakers were interesting and also refreshing due to their different backgrounds and unique experiences.’’

– Lisette van Nijhuis, Intern International Courts and Tribunals at the Ministry of Security and Justice and participant in the Leadership Programme 2016-2017


With Chairwoman Fien van Rossum moderating the evening, our members could ask any question, and Susan, Chantal and Wouter gave very honest answers. Here are some of the things they shared with us:

  • What are safe topics to talk about with people from other cultures? Food, Wouter told us. And when it comes to food, you should never finish your plate, as in many cultures you will end up getting more and more food.
  • How should you dress in a foreign environment? Do not wear cheap clothes, even when you are visiting a poorer country – it is offensive to the locals who will try to look their best given any circumstances.
  • As a woman, what should you do when people do not listen to you? Susan told us to perform twice as much and twice as good as any man. You should know even better what you are talking about.
  • The three speakers agreed on the Dutch being very blunt, which, as they emphasized, can be both a blessing and a curse. All in all, you should keep an open mind when you are travelling abroad, whether it is for business or for personal reasons. If you are unsure how to behave, ask family, friends or colleagues for advice.

’TopFem Network Events are a great way to spend your evening. It is the perfect combination of meeting new people and getting inspired by professionals. During this Network Event I have learned the value of different cultures and to what extent combining those different worlds can lead to new insights and innovative solutions.’’

– Kim de Gruijter, Recruiting Women in IT for ‘IT Diamonds’ at Computer Futures


All in all, it was a wonderful evening with a lot of storytelling and advice for our members. See you next time!


Read more about our guest speakers:

Susan Blankhart was appointed as Netherlands ambassador to Sri Lanka in 2002. She subsequently served as ambassador in Costa Rica (2005-2008), Egypt (2008-2012) and Sudan (2012-2016) and recently returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take up the position of Special Envoy Women Rights. She spent part of her childhood and schooling abroad. After her studies in Human Geography she worked three years with the Government of Zambia and then joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. At the ministry, she worked in different departments before becoming the director Humanitarian Aid, Crisis Prevention and Human Rights. She is married and has three grown-up children.

Chantal Heutink has 20+ years of working experience at a.o. Telfort, Deloitte, and PharmAccess. In 2006 she followed her childhood dream ‘as Florence Nightingale to Sub-Saharan Africa. She first worked for four months as a volunteer in Kenya. After returning, she set up a foundation and social enterprise in Kenya under the name I-Care. They designed, produced and distributed washable sanitary pads under the name I-Care pads and have since reached more than 55,000 girls and young women. This simple tool gave them self-confidence, freedom and a chance for a better future. Unfortunately, by the end of 2015, Chantal was forced to the realization that the project could not continue to exist in its current form. A period of mourning, reflection and introspection followed. She decided to write a book about her (personal) journey through the last decade, which resulted in ‘On high heels in Africa’ which will be launched on International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8th, 2017. http://www.lifeonhighheels.com/en/boek/

Wouter Heikens studied Business Administration and is Chartered Controller. He started his career as an Internal Auditor at Akzo Nobel, after which he moved to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. He held several international finance positions. He worked five years as an expatriate, three years in the USA with responsibility for teams in North, Central and Latin America and two years in Singapore with responsibility for teams in Asia, Middle East and Australia. He is currently Finance Director at EPCOR BV, a wholly owned subsidiary of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Wouter is married and is father of two children.


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