In our daily life and especially in the most difficult times, we need heroes, who will inspire us and give us faith in a brighter future. It can be an older brother helping with homework, a volunteer at a hospital, or a woman who has built a great family and a successful career. I interviewed one of the real heroes of our time – Pien Oosterman, a strong woman, a professional, a wife, and a mother.
A CEO, a wife, and a mother of 5… How do you have enough time for everything?
There is indeed little time, so the question is, what is it that you really want to do. I made a choice to focus on work and family. Not on the parties, nor on the clubs or friends. I can only manage because I focus. Otherwise, I would be overloading myself.
Listen and drive at the same time, for example…
Yes, for instance, I combine it with other things as well. Even on Sundays, which is my relax day. I do the laundry while having my audiobook on. For me, it works like meditation. So in that way, I still do something, but it`s also really relaxing.
Could you tell me a little bit about your family?
I met my husband when I was 25. He is 12 years older than me and at the time, he was already married and had 3 children. He got divorced and we got married, then had 2 children. When we got together, his youngest one was 3, so she was still small – and then we got 2 more. When those 2 were born, it was extremely busy. My husband had his own company, I was already working fulltime. When I think about it, I wonder how we managed. But we did.
Did all the kids live with you from the very beginning?
No, the oldest 3 lived partly with their mother, partly with us, so one week with her and one with us. When our youngest boy was born, their mother had a burnout, so she couldn’t take care of the kids. During that first year, we had all 5 of them fulltime. That was a challenging year, but since then everything became easier. The children grew up, the oldest ones went back to their mother every other week. That created a little less pressure.
How old are they right now?
The youngest one turned 15 last week, and the older one is 17. Then it’s 24, 26, and 28.
The oldest three kids moved out, so only the youngest 2 are still at home. We have an easy life now. Comparatively.
How did you choose the field of activity? Why IT?
That was just a coincidence. I had nothing to do with IT. At a certain moment, I was looking for another job. Somebody that I used to work with said, “I know a company and they take really good care of their people”. That was an IT services company, and I applied. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I accepted a job as a Software Testing trainee. They educated me on software testing.
What was your previous background?
I started studying medicine but never finished. I stopped after 1.5 years. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to Austria and became a ski instructor. After that, I went to Portugal for the summer.
You were a ski instructor! Really?
Yes, that was nice (smiling). Then I went to Portugal, worked at a restaurant, and then a year later I went back to the Netherlands. I needed to find a serious job. I had no diplomas and no money. I ended up in a Japanese company called Yakult. We had a lot of events to promote the product. Working for a new brand that was financed so well was exciting. The company grew fast. There were a lot of young people. And that’s where I told myself, “Ok, this is what I really like – being in business”. I figured out that if I wanted to do something else than just being somebody`s assistant, I needed a diploma. So I studied economics while working.
You mentioned that it was a trainee position. In what department was it?
In Yakult, it was in the marketing department. When I went to Sogeti, I was a tester in a trainee position. I finalized my training and started to work for a customer. I liked it a lot, and I especially enjoyed the contacts with that customer. If you are working in the same location, you get to know them, you start talking to them, you have coffee together… After a while, I had so many friends that one of the account managers told me, “Maybe you should consider becoming an account manager, as you’ll do sales instead of testing”. Since I had never been a tech hero, I agreed.
But still, you had this experience, and you at least understood what these people were talking about.
Exactly. That really helped me from the sales perspective. If I hadn’t done that, it would have been much harder to sell.
Did you have maternity leave? Did someone help with the children? How long was it?
In the Netherlands, it’s very different from Ukraine. We have 16 weeks of maternity leave in total. 4 weeks before the baby is born and 12 weeks after. When your baby is almost 3 months old, you need to get back to work. Before we had the children, we agreed that my husband would work 1 day from home and take care of the children. I was 1 day at home as well, and for the 3 other days, we had childcare.
Didn’t you have a nanny?
No. We did have somebody in the house, but she didn’t take care of the children. She helped us for 7 hours, 3 days a week, with cooking, doing laundry, cleaning. When we came home after a day of work, and the children were tired of their daycare, we wanted to have some quality time with them, instead of doing shopping and cooking.
How do you relax with your family? Before, when all 5 kids lived with you, and now? Do you spend time together, or maybe prefer a glass of wine on your own?
I`m never on my own, only when I’m traveling for business. There are a few things that we do. On Sunday morning, if we don’t have anything else on the schedule, my husband and I do a walk together for 2-3 hours. We talk, and this is our quality time. There`s nobody there, just my husband and I.
Children are long sleepers now, that used to be different (smiling), but now they like to stay in bed. It took quite a long time before it happened, but now Sunday is really my day off. On Saturday, the boys play soccer, and they expect me to be there. They are disappointed if I`m not.
Do they want you to be the biggest fan? Yes, I`m their biggest fan (smiling).
What do you think of feminism?
When I was younger, I didn’t think it mattered that much. In my opinion, women just had to be ambitious, work hard, and be persistent. Now I know that it’s not that simple. I`ve read a lot about the differences between males and females, especially related to culture. I realized that they will never be equal in our culture unless we fight for it. I don’t have negative experiences myself, but there is so much published that confirms the inequality between men and women. Indeed it`s not changing by itself. I know a few powerful ladies who dedicated their lives to this cause. I really admire them for doing that. It`s not my path, but I see how much they accomplish, and I think that is fantastic. That is also one of the reasons why I truly believe that we need to fight for our position. By doing that, we can be an inspiration for so many people.
Do you think that women that try to be equal with men can still be happy in marriage and in personal life?
Of course, they can. They deserve that as much as anybody else.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? What do you mean by feminism?
Well, I am a feminist, but I am also a bit ashamed of my limited dedication to the topic. I stimulate our top management to be more diverse, it works out very well. We`re getting there, we talk about it, I meet the ladies in the Delivery Centers. I give them that attention because I find it important to know and see them. But I realize it`s on a small scale, it`s focused on our company. I know that I`m very little focused on the outside world, stimulating women and girls to develop themselves out there. That`s mainly because I just don’t have time left for it. Yes, I find it a very important topic, I must play my role in that. Could I do more? Definitely. Am I willing to do more? Not at this moment.
What inspires and drives you in your daily work?
You. People, my colleagues. We can only be successful together; I cannot do it by myself. I can contribute only so little, you`re doing so much good stuff. If I want you to do good, I`d better take good care of you and better understand how to help you.
You are already a CEO, what`s next?
I have no idea. I`m CEO of Levi9, I`m also a non-executive board member of another company, so I do that in my spare time.
Not an IT company?
No, not in IT. It`s a publisher of scientific and educational books, and maybe someday if I decide not to work fulltime again, maybe I`m going do this kind of work – being a non-executive board member. I`m not interested in bigger, larger, more money. Now I`m happy with this – working for a bigger company doesn’t make this more fun.
You have conversations with women who work for Levi9 about family. Why do you consider it important and why do you promote it? Don’t you worry that everyone will go on maternity leave at the same time?
No (laughing). It would be very special if I were powerful enough to make people have babies just by talking. My work brings me a lot of satisfaction, but my family is my life. I love my children so much, I can`t imagine having a life without them. By the way, I`m not only talking to women about their private life and their families, but also to men, it`s important for everybody.
Do you see a difference in attitude to personal and work life between Ukrainian and Dutch women in IT?
Oh no, I don’t see any difference. I think you are heroes; you are doing great.
When I asked Pien about the interview, I was not sure what would be the main message. But 15 minutes in I realized that it’s all about people, faith in them, and the ability to be inspired by them. It’s not every day that you meet those who think that this world has good chances for a better future only if we start investing in people today. And that’s not just words, that’s everyday actions, whether in the family or at work, whether when making important decisions or having lunch with colleagues.
Today is a difficult time for our world, but a great time to become someone’s hero.