IWD 2024: Accelerating Progress with our Program Managers

07 March 2024

The theme proposed by the United Nations for International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, ‘Invest in women: Accelerate Progress,’ resonates deeply with the Lovinklaan Foundation’s vision of investing in Arcadis and Arcadians to unlock their full potential and drive meaningful change.

In line with our core values of ‘Inspiration,’ ‘Connection,’ and ‘Investment,’ we are honored to spotlight two exceptional Program Managers on this special occasion. Through their personal journeys as women, Arcadians, and Program Managers, Nikki Spapens and Mar Zumaquero exemplify resilience, determination, and leadership. Nikki’s dedication to sustainability drives our Sustain Abilities program, while Mar’s commitment to innovation fuels our Imagine Awards initiative.

Join us in celebrating their achievements and inspiring stories, from role models to trailblazers, as we continue to champion gender equality and empowerment.

Tell us about your journey leading up to your role as Program Manager:

Nikki: Right after graduating I started out as a sustainability expert at Arcadis in the Netherlands, and it was so much fun! After working for clients for about 7 years, I became the Program Manager for our Global Manufacturing and Technology sector. In this role, I met dedicated and passionate colleagues from whom I learned a lot. Those years really shaped me into who I am now.

After about 5 years in Client Development, I moved back to my old love, sustainability. But this time, it was for the global sustainability team. This is where I was asked to run the Sustain Abilities program, an online training developed by Arcadians for Arcadians, and supported by the Lovinklaan Foundation.

Mar: I joined the industry as a Civil Engineer with a passion for designing a better world. Throughout my career in Arcadis, I have experienced different facets of our industry such as Business Transformation, Digitalization, and now, Innovation. Leading the Imagine Awards, encouraging Arcadians to put forward their most innovative ideas in imagining a better future program – all of it feels aligned with my day-to-day job.

Who are the women in your life who inspire you the most?

Nikki: During my time at Arcadis I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic female colleagues. All of them shared certain traits: they were great communicators, unafraid to step outside of their comfort zones, in tune with who they were, and eager to learn. I felt seen, without judgement, and valued our collaborative efforts to leverage strengths and address weaknesses together.

Mar: I have been lucky to have a strong female figure throughout my life: my mother. I have drawn inspiration from my mother’s entrepreneurial journey when she navigated the business world. I’m also inspired by women who confront harmful stereotypes, showing younger generations that inclusivity in the industry is not only achievable but also beneficial to all. I regularly connect with women at the forefront of their fields, particularly those with STEM backgrounds, excelling in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by men. I learn from the challenges they face and take inspiration from their words and actions.

What was the pivotal moment in your career when you felt empowered as a woman, and how did it shape your perspective on gender equality in the workplace?

Nikki: I was lucky to have encountered a powerful female leader I could look up to, early on in my career at Arcadis. Additionally, growing up in a country that supports gender equality has always made me feel valued. That said, when I started working at Arcadis, about 16 years ago, there were few women working as engineers. This brought on some challenges as well as opportunities. When I walk into some of the Arcadis offices now, it is an entirely different experience; there is a lot more representation of women as part of the business and it’s great to see that.

Mar: In 2023, as part of a conference on digitalization and innovation, I was the speaker for the most well-attended session. This wasn’t just a personal win, but one for all the women who find the courage to share their views, especially in environments where we are still the minority. The most empowering moment came after the conference where several young women in our industry reached out to connect with me.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Invest in women: Accelerate progress” – what does this mean to you?

Nikki: We have some amazing women at Arcadis making a difference and setting the right examples. I strongly feel that women bring a different element to our workforce, enhancing the way we work. As we cultivate an environment that fosters more acceptance and understanding, we realize that not everything must be done the way it has always been done. We can support these women (and other colleagues with the same mindset) and reach new heights!

Mar: It’s time to ditch the stereotypes and tip the scales by investing heavily in female talent. We need to make serious progress if we want newer generations to feel more empowered than we did when we started. Through the Imagine Program, we target traditionally underrepresented Arcadians within the innovation space, encouraging more women to submit their innovative ideas.

How do you envision accelerating progress for future generations of women?

Nikki: We must ensure that we communicate in a way that helps our female colleagues feel heard and valued. Often, we unconsciously employ tips and tricks in our communication, but do we ever take the time to share these insights with each other?

I once had an awesome female colleague who really took the time to talk through any challenges we faced in communication. Together, we would brainstorm new solutions. So, if you ever feel undervalued or unheard by a colleague or client, my advice is to find a colleague whose perspective you trust and discuss potential approaches you can try. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first time; changing a colleague’s negative view or perception can take time!

Mar: Businesses play a key role in driving women’s empowerment and gender equality by investing in female talent early on. This means not only providing mentoring or coaching but providing opportunities to succeed, and facilitating access to sponsorship to fast-track their careers and ensure they reach their full potential.

For example, Lovinklaan’s programs have always differentiated themselves for their drive for inclusion. In that spirit, continuing to promote strong levels of female representation across all programs is critical to staying relevant and ahead of the times.

As a program manager, facing setbacks and disappointments sometimes is inevitable. What helps you maintain your focus and keep going?

Nikki: There are highs and lows in almost every project. Even when developing Sustain Abilities we have had to deal with a lot of unexpected circumstances. But these actually make a project much more challenging and interesting to lead. One thing I have learned from challenging situations is that it is very important to be transparent and keep everyone up to date. When this happens, as a project manager, my first thought always goes to the team. I want to make sure everyone continues to feel supported and valued.

Mar: Not losing sight of the end goal, and understanding why I’m doing what I’m doing, is crucial. The best you can do is be prepared for things not going according to plan. Knowing that what you are working towards will have a positive impact on people provides a strong reason to overcome disappointment and recover from any setback.