"My aim will have been achieved as soon as Stichting Topvrouwen has made itself superfluous. Companies will then have enough women on their longlists as soon as there’s a vacancy."

"The ultimate goal: enough women on every longlist

Marry de Gaay Fortman has a positive view of diversity. "Diversity is anything but a punishment: with more women in the boardroom, companies perform better and the atmosphere is improved, as discussions are broadened and deepened, and the manner of communications changes. Companies that still don’t have this topic on the boardroom agenda, or that do not act to promote diversity, have no idea what they’re missing." De Gaay Fortman speaks forcefully about her own experience of meetings with executive boards and supervisory boards where she was usually the only woman. "And then I knew that it was high time to bring about change." Within Stichting Topvrouwen she wants to use her own experiences and network to make gender diversity self-evident.

Everyone benefits from having more women in top jobs, according to De Gaay Fortman. Isn’t it therefore very puzzling that the ladies still haven’t made it to the top of the corporate ladder in large numbers? Not for De Gaay Fortman: "In my career, I’ve noticed that men often find it uncomfortable to be the first to suggest that women belong in the boardroom and on the supervisory board." She sees it as being the task of the Chair to raise this issue. "So if he doesn’t do it, nothing will happen. Stichting Topvrouwen aims to bring about change in this over the coming period."

"As far as diversity is concerned, the Netherlands – in contrast to many other countries – is still virgin territory. A good deal of missionary work is thus needed. We are going to connect the women with existing board members, create the conditions for them to enter into contact with each other, and ensure that they speak each other’s language. To achieve this, we want to make the group of potential female top candidates on offer completely transparent. Our database of board-ready women therefore needs to have a strong position in the market. "The ultimate goal: sufficient women on every longlist. At that point, this foundation will have rendered itself superfluous."

The fact that De Gaay Fortman takes a positive view of diversity, and has great confidence in the possibility of sending more women into Dutch boardrooms, does not mean that she has no need to call on her fighting spirit. "On the contrary. It doesn’t happen by itself. It is worrying that so many companies claim that they ‘can’t find any women’. Those companies should be ashamed that they are failing to mobilise female potential. In that regard, it is legitimate to get tough: diversity is not an optional extra. Companies simply mustn’t allow things to reach the stage where a quota is introduced." "However, the majority of companies have no wish to run roughshod over the principle of diversity; above all, they need guidance. When they are brought into direct contact with ambitious, board-ready women, I frequently hear afterwards that they found it a real eye-opener. It is therefore our task to connect."