#WCIW: Neelie Kroes
Distinguished Politician. Commitment to Startups. Advocate for Women in Tech.
Born in the Netherlands in 1941, Neelie Kroes received her education at Erasmus University in Rotterdam--Bachelor and Master of Economics degrees—before starting her career on the board of her father’s transporting company ZwaTra. She also became involved with women’s organizations in the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD in Dutch). Kroes, despite admitting that she has never seen herself as “a real politician”, wanted to make a difference in her homeland and ran for a seat in the House of Representatives under the VVD Party in 1971. She was successful and this win launched a distinguished political career that would span four decades. Over the years, Kroes would serve as Undersecretary for Transport, Public Works, and Water Management, Minister of Transport, Public Works, and Water Management, European Commissioner for Competition, and European Commissioner for Digital Agenda.
Kroes retired from politics officially in 2014 and returned to work in the private sector. Well-known for her abilities as a team leader and negotiator, she has been an advocate for startup companies and worked as Special Envoy for StartupDelta, a public/private partnership to establish a thriving ecosystem of startup companies in the Netherlands. She has also served on the Boards of AB Volvo, Ballast Nedam, McDonald's Netherlands, Lucent Netherlands, P&O Nedlloyd and Nederlandse Spoorwegen and was chairperson of Nyenrode University. Kroes is also a member of the financial committee of the Rijksmuseum. 2016 was a big year for Neelie Kroes. She was appointed to the Board of Salesforce in San Francisco in March and as an advisor on the Public Policy Board of Uber in May.
In addition to her responsibilities at Salesforce and Uber, Kroes is also a mighty advocate for women’s equality in the workforce. In an interview with Forbes, she was quoted as saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. I don’t buy the argument when someone tells me he can’t find women to hire. I tell them ‘go see your eye doctor!’” She has also said in the past that “Tech is too important to be left to men!” In 2014 she noted on her website that only 9 in 100 European app developers are female, only 19% of ICT managers are women (45% women in other service sectors), only 19% of ICT entrepreneurs are women (54% women in other service sectors), and the number of female computing graduate is dropping (3% of female graduates compared to 10% of male graduates). Kroes found these numbers disgraceful and encouraged women, especially young women to explore roles in tech and learn to code. She worked with organizations like Girl in Tech Paris and has addressed them about the importance of efforts like the organization’s Lady Pitch Night. Of young women starting careers in tech, she has said, “The fact is, this issue of women in ICT isn't a problem: it's an opportunity. One that should excite every talented, ambitious woman out there. A chance to make the most of your potential."
For her distinguished political career, her commitment to startups, and her advocacy for women in tech, Neelie Kroes is this week’s #WCIW.