“Unfortunately, our world is constructed in such a way that everything is measured in money and not in impact”

Published on: 20 June 2023

In order to make real changes, you need to have power. But who really has the power? And against what can that power be measured? Financial results are still the most important indicator of successful leadership, is the conclusion of Annette Mosman and businesswoman Marguérite Soeteman-Reijnen. And this while having an impact is more important than ever before if we want to leave behind a better - as in: livable - world. “We have to start raising our boys differently.”


Being elected Top Woman of the Year, Annette is committed this year to put financial independency of Dutch women on the map.
As part thereof, she goes on walks with a number of women who are closely involved in this topic in order to exchange perspectives. Annette will incorporate these gained insights when writing the manifest that is to be presented to policymakers in September.


When it comes to power, the Netherlands is nothing more than a small pawn on the global chessboard. That is something Annette Mosman and Marguérite Soeteman-Reijnen unanimously agree upon. “That is, if we are on that chessboard at all”, Marguérite even doubts. Is that a pragmatic, realistic assessment of two CEOs who have been at the top of the Dutch business community for quite some time now? Or is it the typical female characteristic of not considering yourself as being excessively important? The different ways in which men and women look at themselves and at their role in society come up multiple times during their conversation. This to find an answer to questions such as: how to achieve more equality in the way of thinking and acting, more diversity in administrative bodies and an increased level of self-reliance amongst women.


These are topics in which conversation partner Marguérite Soeteman-Reijnen, until recently chief executive officer at Aon Holdings, is tried and tested in practice. She became known for her commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion, topics she promoted, among other things, during her time as chairwoman of the Advisory Board of SER Topvrouwen. She also was one of the driving forces behind the Law on Balanced Allocation M/F (Wet Evenwichtige Verdeling M/V) that came into force on January 1, 2022. And she is internationally active in the field of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.

What she sees is that success is still measured against money. “Shareholder value has obtained an excessive level of importance within our society. The question is whether this serves the interest of a better world or the interest of a few people. We are all raised with capitalism. That capitalism has to be reformulated.”


Other incentives

Marguérite: “Harvard Business School makes lists of the most successful CEOs. Of course, they also started looking more at sustainability, but financial results are the leading indicator for success. Not the impact you have. I am in favor of measuring the success of CEOs in a different way. Challenges and ambitions obviously have to be stimulated, but the current incentives are faulty.”

Annette: “Then we have to start with raising our boys differently. Because that urge to want to score points is not only witnessed in CEOs; it’s something I see every week on the sports field. Our society stimulates boys to win. That may be a great link to the role women are able to fulfil. Whether that be as an individual parent or as a female CEO: I am convinced that everyone is able to have an impact.”

Marguérite: “The key question for us all is: why are you on earth? It is just weird that we are driven by financial gain. You could call that ‘care for the generations to come’, but what if that next generation is flooded because you didn’t act upon the impact you could have had? It is our role to leave the earth behind in a better state than it is now.”



Annette: “You have to think big: wherein lies the problem? But you have to act ‘small’ If you want to leave the world behind in a better state, you cannot simply pass that on to the policymakers or to that one specific leader. Everyone has to participate. My position as Top Woman of the Year is a trigger for me to come up with something that can help me improve the world a little bit.”

Marguérite: “As a CEO you indeed have the privilege to be able to make an impact. And that’s when you find out it is impossible to do it all by yourself. In order to set a movement into motion, you have to look for partners, both men and women. Diversity is required to create a snowball effect.”


More diversity

Marguérite: “There are five ways to create diversity. By means of governance codes, with laws, through institutional investors, with the women themselves and, lastly, by utilizing reports made by organization consultancy firms such as McKinsey. Europe has adopted many laws on realizing diversity. Those laws really worked in Italy and in France. In the Standard and Poor’s 500 index, 41 companies are led by female CEOs and 459 by men. (The S&P includes 500 industry-leading companies that, combined, control approximately 80 percent of the market. In Europe, less than 10 percent of the CEOs is female, in the Netherlands 8 percent, ed.).

And when you look at the results of diversity - I don’t want to think like that, but I cannot help myself - you can see that those 41 women outperform the men with 380 versus 261 percent.”

Annette: “In terms of returns. My hypothesis is that, should you measure their impact, they would probably score even higher.”

Marguérite: “But unfortunately, our world is constructed in such a way that everything is measured in money. Leadership is still defined in masculine terms. So: be assertive, earn money. No assessment is made in terms of impact or collaboration.” 

Little financial knowledge

Marguérite: “Alison Rose, the CEO of the NatWest Group, had an investigation conducted in Great Britain three years ago on what the situation is regarding women and money. That investigation looked at both girls in school and female entrepreneurs, older women with money etc. This resulted in the conclusion that the financial knowledge of women and the willingness to learn more about it, is often limited. Partly because of this, they become more dependent on men who have that type of knowledge to a larger extent.”

Annette: “It is essential for women to become aware of that fact. That is where it all starts. Many tax laws were actually based on the fact that women had no legal capacity. Working more hours has to be fiscally facilitated but is now demotivated. This means the government has a role to play in this, CEOs have a role to play, women have a role to play. We can only accomplish something by joining forces.”

Marguérite: “And in addition: many couples in the Netherlands have a joint bank account. (79 percent according to the Nibud, ed.) What percentage of the women doesn’t even have their own bank account? We should really look into that some day.”


Role model

Annette: “We both had working mothers. That’s when you learn that it is normal to work and to still grow up in a warm family.”

Marguérite: “We grew up in very harmonious families. Yet, the image is sometimes still created in the Netherlands that the perfect mothers join you for a cup of tea when you get home from school. Honestly, how outdated is that? My husband spent more time with the children than I did, and so I was depicted in interviews as ‘a hard-working mother who is always travelling’.”


Nurture or nature

Marguérite: “But I also see that difference in interest between my own daughter and son. They both have a Robeco account. But my daughter just leaves the money in her account, while my son takes action to invest that money himself.”

Annette: “I think that is nature. Even though you had the same upbringing. Investing brings results in the short term. But women have a different drive, they are more focused on the long term, on sustainability. That also causes them to have a lower risk appetite. This is one of the reasons why diversity at the top is such a good thing. We have to hold on to that long-term vision to achieve what we want: leaving behind a good world. But it is strange that women don’t project that long-term perspective onto themselves.”


Stimulating self-reliance

Annette: “I chose to commit to more financial independency of women. But money should not really be the driver. Independency has everything to do with a mental change. That you start making your own choices with self-confidence. And that you oversee the impact thereof in the longer term.

Stimulating that self-reliance has more to do with jointly utilizing our strengths than with power. Because nobody has that power. People often look at APG thinking: you work for eight pension funds, invest more than 500 billion euros. If someone is able to make a difference, it’s you. And we obviously do everything we can, but we also don’t have the power to build a sustainable Netherlands for instance.”

Marguérite: “We often accept things as an established given. But just the fact that something is the way it was yesterday, doesn’t mean it also has to be the same tomorrow. A leader has to be extremely curious about that. We are just not curious enough. Everyone has blind corners and you have to start looking for those. And that can only be done by connecting with others.

That is how we both try to make our sphere of influence as large as possible and to inspire people to think along and to participate. We want women to be informed, we want them to improve their financial knowledge.

And I would like for every woman to know that she can accomplish everything - as long as you just go for it. It is wrong to think that things just come your way, we also had to work really hard to get to where we are now. But why would a man be able to do this and not women?”