Predominantly subconscious processes are crucial to the success or failure of a diversity policy. We describe these subconscious processes from three different perspectives that provide more of an insight into how they work: a person’s character profile, phenomena of transfer patterns and the system of origin.

Character profiles

A person’s character shows how he has responded to events and experiences in his surroundings at certain stages of his life. Over time, a significant portion of these reactions become automatic; you react the way you do without thinking about it. For the interviews, we based ourselves on the character profiles of Jung and Reich, and Lowen’s bioenergetics.

We distinguish six character structures within the character of each person. For the sake of recognizability of these structures to the reader, we replaced the original terms:

Original terms -> replaced by:

schizoid structure -> ‘survivor’

oral structure -> ‘needy one’

psychopath structure -> ‘challenger’

symbiotic structure -> ‘merger’

masochist structure -> ‘sufferer’

rigid structure -> ‘achiever’


Power of the system

Every individual brings his family system with him when he comes to work – usually subconsciously. You carry the footprint – or imprint – of your system with you as well. The hidden dynamics from your system of origin influence how you function in your daily life.

Major events in the family system disrupt the healthy order of relationships in systems. Subconsciously, family members take over responsibilities of others in an attempt to restore the disrupted balance and the order. They initially do this within their system of origin. Later on, they subconsciously perpetuate this behaviour in other contexts, including at work.


Transfer relationships

In addition to a person’s character, his or her personal history and the development of fixed behaviour patterns play a role in successful advancement to a top position as well. These patterns predominantly arise from the parent/child relationship. We have found that, every day, people subconsciously repeat relationships from the past, including in professional relationships. These phenomena are referred to as transfer patterns.

Background research

Gender diversity is extremely important to the vitality of organizations. Despite the many initiatives and publications over the years, the investment organizations have to make in order to get more women on the board and keep them there wasn’t clear. In order to develop an effective approach that would lead to permanent results, more in-depth research was required. In ‘Making It to the Board’, we describe the most important findings from the study and list the most important ingredients for a successful approach.

Study questions

Our study was based on two study questions:

  1. Which personal factors were decisive in getting those who are currently at the top level of organizations and companies (women and men) where they are and keeping them there? And can these factors be developed?
  2. Which personal factors are decisive in the stagnation of women and men at the sub-top level? And can these factors be developed?

Study approach

In order to get an answer to these questions, over the course of 2010 and 2011, we conducted one hundred and thirty in-depth interviews with men and women at the top level and the sub-top level. We interviewed people from various types of organizations, which included profit, non-profit and public organizations, and both large multinationals and medium-sized Dutch companies and institutions.


We have discovered the ingredients that do make the difference, that do make advancement to the board successful and sustainable – particularly if women and men contribute to that themselves.

Study participants

People who participated in this study:

Anita Arts, Guus Appels, Arjan van Asselt, Annette Baart, Carina Benninga, Yvonne Benschop, Renée Bergkamp, Magda Berndsen, Naomi Bisschop, Mariëtte Blaas, Ursula Blom, Marjolein Bolhuis-Eijsvogel, Henriëtte Bongers-Kuipers, Karin Bos, Gineke Bossema, Pamela Boumeester, Maartje Bouvie, Didi Braat, Anneke van den Breemer, Eric van den Broek, Lily van den Broeke, Carola van den Bruinhorst, Carolien Bruls, Nanda Burke, Dorine Buurmanje, Marc van Casteren, Heleen Crielaard, Gerda Croiset, Françoise Dechesne, Lieve Declercq, José van Dijk, Marion Dol, Margriet Drijver, Maarten van Duijn, Margreet van Ee, Fleur Engberink, Hanneke Ester, Pauline van Esterik-Plasmeijer, Marit van Eupen, Ellen Faber, Irine Gaasbeek, Gita Gallé, Astrid van Gerwen, Sabine van Gent, Cor Gerrits, Ingrid de Graaf, Robert van de Graaf, Meiltje de Groot, Anneke Haarsma, Lidewij de Haas, Hanneke van Hengstum, Riegbolt Hilbrands, Niek Hoek, Petra Hoogendoorn, Adéle Jeuken, Ellen Kuik, Kiki Huynen, Cora Jawad-Smelik, Kirsten van der Kolk, Ria van ’t Klooster, Ada Kok, Sibel Köklu, René Kottman, Gert Kroon, Annemarie Laan-van Dongen, Wouke Lam, Susan Lammers, Ellen van Langen, Fieke van der Lecq, Alette van Leur, Emile Lohman, Nicolette Loonen, Marion van Lunenberg, Paul Medendorp, Ghislaine Meijer, Marion Mestrom, Monika Milz, Riet Nelisse, Ingrid B. Oosterhuis, Robert Otto, Laura Pensotti, Elly Plooij, Jolanda Poots, Maaike Poulussen, Marijke Pubben, Esther Raats-Coster, Ans Rietstra, Brigitte Rijshouwer, Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga, Linda Santing, Yvonne Schers, Ulrike Schild, Carolien Schippers, Judith Schoenmaecker, Janneke Schopman, Anja Schouten, Annemie Schuitemaker, Lieke Sievers, Mirjam Sijmons, Karin Sluis, Ria Sluiter, Marjolijn Sonnema, Walter Spangenberg, Lidia Spindler, Phyllis Spuls, Susanne Stolte, Suzanne Straathof-Kocken, Carole Thate, Bas Telgenkamp, Yasemin Tümer, Mariëtte Turkenburg, Debbie van der Veen-Bouguenon, Monique Verhoeven, Mischa Voogt, Bart Voortman, Annerie Vreugdenhil, Richard Wagenmakers, Mariëlle van de Weijenberg, Lonneke Wijnhoven, Ank van Wylick, Harm Albert Zanting and Margaret Zijlstra.

List of organizations that cooperated / whose employees we interviewed:

ABT BV, Achmea , Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, Accenture BV, Arcadis, Belastingdienst, Career & Kids, Central Government Real Estate Agency, Cisco Systems, ComWonen, Delta Lloyd, Dutch Tax and Customs Administration, Eneco, KLPD, KPMG Accountants NV, KPMG Advisory NV, Heilijgers bv, Heijmans NV, Holland Casino, House of Representatives party D’66, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, ING Bank NV, KONE BV, KNHB (Dutch Hockey Federation), Korps Fryslân, Leeuwenborgh Opleidingen, Loyens & Loeff N.V., Maltha Groep B.V., MAB Development Nederland BV, Martin Frank International BV, Michael Page International Nederland BV, MSD-Merck & Co., Inc., Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Municipality of Bergen op Zoom, Municipality of Heerlen, Municipality of Woensdrecht, NCD, NUOVO, NVOD (Dutch Olympians Association), OLVG, PA Consulting, Philips, POSG, Province of Drenthe, Rabobank Nederland, Radboud umc, Radboud University Nijmegen, Randstad, Royal Haskoning, Schoevers, Security Region IJsselland, Shell, Social Insurance Bank, The Land Registry Office, The Royal Dutch Touring Club, ANWB, Timing, TU Eindhoven, United Nations – International, Labour Organization, UPC Nederland BV, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, VolkerWessels, Witteveen+Bos.

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