Anne de Kerckhove: Celebrating my Anniversary as Freespee CEO on International Women’s Day

As an active promoter of women in leadership roles, celebrating my work anniversary at Freespee is particularly meaningful as I started my tenure of CEO on International Women’s Day. What a year it turned out to be!

Freespee grew by over 58% in terms of top-line revenue with fantastic brands across Europe. We grew the team across Sweden and London hiring so many brilliant, interesting, quirky people. Each person who works at Freespee has a unique history, unique passions and unique talents. Some are great musicians, others body builders, some are ex-skiing champions, other great cooks. Most have travelled the world and explored different cultures. The more I get to know my teams, the more I discover their great unique stories and journeys. Two passions tend to bring us together: a love of discovery and innovation.

I tried to push the topic of diversity of gender, backgrounds and nationalities every day.  I push our Freespee teams to let go of their boundaries, their fears, their pre-conceived notions of other people to become one unified team, in love with its diversity. With over 15 nationalities across the company, we don’t shy away from discussing the particularities of each country. We talk about them openly and laugh about our differences.

Beyond my work at Freespee, I mentored 8 women towards the next step in their career through the INSEAD mentoring program, amongst others and I invested in 3 companies with female co-founders.

As a speaker at many conferences, I push audiences to explore their desire to take risk, to create change, to build new different teams. I often talk about the taboos most people shy away from.

As I reflect on the year gone past, I wonder: have I done enough? Am I having impact? Am I creating change?

Society still has so many stereotypes, so many pre-conceived notions about our roles as men and women in society, about what is acceptable.

One of the most telling moments for me this year took place in September. I was a guest speaker in Paris at a conference for Les Sommets du Digital. Half an hour before my speech, I broke the zipper of my trousers. It was annoying but I certainly was not going to let it ruin my night.

 I tried to hide the issue with a long flowing top but I am a very animated speaker and within 30 seconds of my speech starting, everybody in the room could tell my zipper was undone. A sea of panic hit the audience and I could feel it sweep across the room. As I finished the speech, I explained to the crowd that my zipper had broken, that I was aware of it and laughed about the joys of speaking on stage and managing the unexpected. The crowd immediately sighed of relief and joined me in laughing about how uncomfortable the situation had made them feel. Together, we had almost let a tiny piece of metal take over this conference and our shared experience!

We need to see past our differences and learn to let go! We must learn to see beyond appearances and learn to truly see the people that surround us. We must focus on positive impact in everything we do.

In a time of political uncertainty, of conflict and social media manipulation, it is more important than ever to take a deeper look and to see past the superficialities.

Despite some good progress it is frustrating that in 2019 we are still talking about the challenges of building equality in the workplace.

The truth is change won’t just happen because we want; tech leaders – men and women – must keep pushing for it on a daily basis.