Neeltje Borneman was a TopFem Talent in 2014 – 2015, doing her research project at ING Group. At the time of our interview, she was spending a semester in Finland.
Can you tell us who you are?
I am Neeltje Borneman, a 22 year old student of Public Administration, currently living in Finland. I am spending a semester at the Business Faculty at the University of Vaasa. I would describe myself as accidentally ambitious.
Can you tell us which study you have completed and what career you were planning to pursue after this?
In Finland, I’m combining a Financial Management minor with some extra classes in Philosophy and Multiculturalism. I was interested in both ‘worlds’ and because I tend to find more things interesting than the amount that is actually good for me, I am now following twice the amount of courses I had planned. But I like finishing things that I have started, even if it requires putting in more effort.
What were you like as a student?
After combining conducting a research project at ING Group and finishing classes back in Leiden, I really felt like making some rigorous changes: I needed a break. So here in Finland, I am especially interested in combining the noble arts of drinking beer, spotting moose and enjoying the student life.
How did you discover TopFem?
One of my friends from the Student Association I am in, asked if I knew TopFem and if I would be interested in joining the Talent Programme. I thought that going through the applications and talking about the possibilities couldn’t do me any harm. From there I rolled into the Programme and met with like-minded peers. And yes, I am aware of how corny that sounds.
But I regard the opportunity the Talent Programme gave me to have all sorts of discussions of great value. And to be surrounded by people who are sometimes more ambitious than you, stimulates you to take that extra step!
How do you experience TopFem?
Being able to discuss what you value most (or think you value most) in study and work life, how you approach challenges and to bring expectations you have in perspective, with people who are both like-minded and completely different in their view on matters of all sorts, is worth a lot. A great discussion is something I would recommend to everyone who is planning on making important decisions, especially those who want to approach it motivated and well-aware of the consequences.
And being surrounded by ambitious people generally gives you a great kick in the butt. Receiving critical feedback on your ideas gives you the opportunity to reconsider what the point is of what you are trying to tell people, and teaches you to defend that what you regard the essence of what you want. Combined with practical and hands-on advice and knowledge, the other Talents genuinely helped me instead of mumbling “Yes, great idea.” and repeating general words of wisdom or motivational quotes that I could have found in ‘March’ on the calendar. But I shouldn’t bother you with the too-extended version of my opinion on this. Though those discussions did help me a lot with developing more direction in my planned transition from student to working life.
What are you doing daily to ensure your continued development as a successful woman?
This question is in a way very beautiful and I find providing a simple answer quite difficult. I am not a professionally ‘successful’ woman yet, nor the upcoming talent of the work floor (though I am indeed a woman and it will take little effort to continue developing that part). My advice on a professional level is therefore of little use.
However, to keep your mindset on improving rather than being satisfied with sitting back and taking it easy is a good approach in my opinion. Also, when you hesitate in very intimidating situations: why not try YES? Or just doing it? See where the not-so-safe route leads you! It is either adventure and success, or adventure and an opportunity for some rethinking, fixing and learning… Is that not what they call experience?
You’ve taken part in the Leadership Programme or done a research project via TopFem project. Could you tell us about the experience?
Conducting a research project at ING was simply a great experience. I met people with not only a good sense of judgment and quick minds, but also the willingness to grab a coffee with me while explaining one thing or another. The seriousness of the job, the hours of work put into it and wanting to perform up to what (I believed) were the expectations, was new to me. Finance & Control is a numbers world, where I learnt to explain myself in exact terms and ask concise questions without any pretences. I focussed more on the social side of the processes I learnt here (and in my current studying environment), thereby combining a social approach with my interest for technical issues.
What is one characteristic that you believe every female leader should possess?
I would not say this is for male or female leaders specifically, but I am interested in the combinations of patience and risk taking. Of not hesitating, but still keeping a clear mind. Everybody who has an eye for both process and result could be someone I really look up to.
What are your plans for the future?
If you go on an adventure and you find out that that is exactly what you like and what suits you, you end up (completely unexpectedly) having unlimited resources of energy to do more. For now I want to finish my bachelor, then find myself an internship abroad for half a year to get some more experience. After that I would like to start and finish a Master Degree in Financial Management. Once that’s all done, I will sit down in a chair and read a book and drink some beer with my friends and look both back and foreward, very satisfied.
What is your final advice to young female students and professionals?
I learnt to value not being afraid of making decisions, even if it meant that I made decisions that could be regarded as… very, very challenging. I needed to remind myself to not be afraid even if it was when just starting a conversation with the one colleague at the coffee machine that I found very intimidating. So apparently it can be as small as that. And I respect everyone approaching ‘new territory’ with both courage and a sense of humor, choosing to pursue and not to wait.