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Improving gender diversity in senior management

The bottom-up initiative ‘Focus on Women’ was started by six female managers. Combined with our Coaching Circles – coaching, training, mentoring, and networking for female leadership – it seeks to increase awareness about the huge pool of female talent and to inspire female colleagues. Gender diversity is a win-win for Umicore.

Founded in 2016, The Focus on Women platform aims to boost awareness on matters related to female leadership and the gender gap in business. The platform’s activities include forming a network of women in managerial positions, organising events with keynote speakers on topics related to diversity, and introducing the Coaching Circles training program in Umicore.

“Diversity is essential for business.” -Sonja Mertens Director Business Applications Hoboken, Belgium

When you look at universities, while women make up over half of the university students and succeed very well, once in the workplace they have to find their way through the corporate maze. At university, if you work hard, you’re noticed. In a company, you also must be visible, network and make clear what your aspirations are.

Things don’t just change by themselves. We would very much like to inspire female colleagues to fuel their own career and increase the company’s awareness about the huge pool of female talent.

“A win-win for Umicore” - Marleen Van Den Bergh Director Business Applications Hoboken, Belgium

It was a natural next step for us to introduce the concept of Coaching Circles, a combination of coaching, training, mentoring and networking that would bring female leadership to the next level. We started a pilot in 2016 in Belgium. It was a very enriching experience both for the participants and for the mentors. Following the very positive evaluations, the Coaching Circles is now integrated into Umicore’s learning and development offer.

The Coaching Circles consist of 5 group sessions, on 5 topics introduced by a professional trainer: ‘Network & Connection’, ‘Communication & Visibility’, ‘Life Balance & Resilience’, ‘Effective Leadership’ and ‘Personal Growth’. Individual coaching at start and end complements the program with a personal growth factor.

The sessions are very interactive, with 20 participants and 5 mentors. There are breakout moments where we discuss how to apply the topic of the session in the specific Umicore setting; creating a link between theory and practice.

As a mentor, we want to create an open atmosphere, being authentic and thus lowering the hurdle for sharing. This also means showing our vulnerability, as some topics are not easy to share, i.e. how to overcome self-limiting beliefs.  We are convinced that our personal learnings and insights in the ‘do & don’ts’ can be of great value to younger female colleagues.


“Remaining authentic in a business world” - Valerie Van Hecke Internal Auditor Brussels

Two main reasons drove me to join Coaching Circles. First, I like to seize any opportunity to get to know colleagues better. Also, having participated in networking events for women, I found the vibe of such events to be open and energizing.

My objective was to increase my authenticity while navigating the business world. When I first started working I noticed that young female managers copy their mentors, who tend to be men. As a woman, you can lose your specificity in this process. It’s important to find a balance and be yourself.

For me Coaching Circle has broken the isolation. I realized that many women are struggling with the same challenges.

Coaching Circles allowed to translate a specific leadership or diversity topic to the Umicore reality. Therefore, I would highly recommend Coaching Circles to other female managers at Umicore.

I found that the topic of diversity is also a living and breathing subject for all Umicore employees. Events organised by Focus on Women, with key note speakers are attended by approximatively as many men as women.


“Opening minds” - Janneke Jellema Managing Director/Career coach, TALENTA Consult

TALENTA co-created with Focus on Women the Coaching Circles

In general the challenges women managers are facing are situated at 3 levels:  individual, company and society. The Focus on Women initiative, and the Coaching Circles relate to the first 2 levels.

In companies, with a gender gap in senior management, the company culture is often based on traditional career models. These companies need to become more open minded, and pay specific attention to the underlying, unconscious stereotyping.

In society career models are changing, we see an evolution towards flexible, double career patterns. Society provides e.g. parental leave for fathers. This creates an atmosphere for men to “step out of the glass elevator”, allowing them to be more involved.

Women should lean in and realise they are in the driving seat of their own career. Focus on Women and the Coaching Circles offers the right career tools and support women to express their aspirations.

The most important thing for companies is to create an open culture with diversity awareness, equal chances for everyone and transparency about promotion and development policies. We see that the best performing, most innovative companies are the most diverse ones.

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