8 March 2024  |  Schiphol

5 questions with Marlous van Wouwe, Global HR Director at DIF

Ahead of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Marlous van Wouwe, Global HR Director at DIF, to talk about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion to an organisation.


1. You’ve been Global HR Director at DIF since mid-2022. What have been your proudest achievements?

“It’s very pleasing to see that diversity is now a standing strategic agenda item at our board meetings. I have seen so many businesses, not just in infrastructure, still treating diversity as an administrative issue. Recognising that it’s something the board should be discussing every time it meets is very important. Having real conversations on the topic.

The board recently suggested themselves that diversity should be part of our KPIs. It is  great to see that the most senior individuals in the organisation are now actively putting themselves forward to help to improve diversity. We work as one team at DIF, combining our global outlook with local expertise and feet on the ground. To be able to function as one team and to reach our best potential, we need an inclusive culture, different perspectives and equal chances. This is why having Diversity, Equity and Inclusion embedded in our organisation is so important.”


2. On a personal level, what lessons have you learned throughout your career with respect to diversity and inclusion?

“I’ve learned a few lessons about what leadership looks like. Some of them have been learned by reconsidering things I was told. For example, like a lot of women, I was told that my leadership style needed to change, that effectively I needed to adopt a more masculine style. Over time I have learned that this isn’t true. The best leaders are those who are authentically themselves and focus on empowering their team.

I’ve also learned the best organisations for diversity are those that try to be ‘ahead of the curve’ and anticipate issues before they arise. There have been times in my career where I had to speak up for myself and establish a boundary, for example over leaving the office to pick up my children from school. The best businesses make clear that they understand people need to take care of family responsibilities. Communicating proactively on issues such as caring responsibilities, disability and neurodiversity can make a big difference to team members.”


3. How diverse is DIF as an organisation?

“Today we’re marking International Women’s Day, but we need to focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion all together. Inclusiveness and equity (equal chances) are key, and we need to demonstrate this as an organisation to contribute to changing the way we work.

In general, financial services, and infrastructure specifically, hasn’t traditionally been a very diverse sector. For DIF, diversity is extremely important and part of the way we operate. In our day-to-day work we actively manage our assets to generate value for our investors, with teams on the ground where those assets are located. We recruit local experts and globally our business comprises of more than 23 different nationalities. That has shaped how we work and ensures we have diverse perspectives that are welcomed and included. Think globally, but act locally, with feet on the ground.

Actively managing our assets also means hiring executives with diversity in experience and background. We’re looking for a mix in strategic thinking, technical expertise and experience in the field. Making sure a team consists of talent with diverse expertise and backgrounds is what leads to divergent thinking and success. For example, new hires in the past year have come from over 55 different universities and schools.”


4. Can you give some examples of how diversity, equity and inclusion is incorporated in DIF’s everyday business?

“There are a whole range of initiatives at DIF to try to become a more diverse organisation. I think we can categorise them into recruitment, retention and advancement.

When we recruit, we ask recruiters for a diverse slate of candidates – gender, ethnicity, educational background, career history. We accept that this means it will often take longer to build that diverse group of candidates.

We’ve built a number of internal structures to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace. People should feel valued, and voices should be heard. We’ve tried to do this by, amongst other initiatives, the introduction of a Next Gen Board, which ensures the voices of younger team members at DIF are heard at board level through regular meetings on strategic topics. Networking groups are also key, like bringing women in DIF together.

Also, it is important to make sure everyone has the same opportunities for success. This is all about a fair talent review process, making sure everyone is measured via the same standard and eliminating (unconscious) bias.

Finally, and not to be underestimated, is inclusive leadership training at all levels, tailored to the career stage of each team member. For senior individuals that includes ensuring diverse voices within teams are listened to and a focus on emotional intelligence, making sure authentic leadership, meaning a variety of leadership traits, are appreciated and supported. How do you empower the collective. One of our core values is that we are one team. That only works if everyone can bring their true selves to work.”


5. What is DIF doing to ensure our female team members get equal opportunities throughout their careers?

“One of the most important things you can do to improve diversity is to be an understanding employer. We recognise the structural barriers for women building careers in our industry and try to eliminate them.

One of those barriers is returning to work after having children. Too often, women are left to ‘sink or swim’ in that situation when a better approach is to have regular ‘check-ins’, not just with the HR team, but with line managers too. That’s where issues women are facing can be identified and dealt with early before they impact equality of opportunity.

We have a culture of flexible working hours and the possibility to work from home. The work is still demanding but people have the flexibility to pick up their children. I also have a family to manage with two daughters and a husband who works fulltime. I personally know how difficult it is to balance work and family responsibilities and the importance of an employer who makes a healthy work-life balance possible.

Having mostly referred to women with children, equally important is the focus on empowering young female talent. Doing the right things to make sure they have equal opportunities by offering leadership training and coaching on how to engage and empower female talent and ensuring a representation of role models in female leadership. Our senior female leadership has increased from 12% to 21% over the last two years and our board consists of three male and two female members. Next to this, we are establishing both internal and external mentorship programs.

Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion is an ongoing journey. It’s something we continuously need to focus on and put effort towards.”


Bio Marlous van Wouwe
Marlous is the Global HR Director at DIF. She has 15yrs+ experience in the field of HR transformation with a focus on reward & talent, global HR strategy development, international mobile employees, process outsourcing/automation, and large-scale employee relocations.

Prior to joining DIF, Marlous was Director People & Organisation at PwC, and prior to this, she was Global Head International Mobility at ING bank. Marlous is a tax lawyer and holds a Master’s degree in Tax law from the University of Leiden.

Marlous van Wouwe