Meet Isa Rolfs & Miranda Roelant
This blog is part of Sisu Group’s International Women’s Day 2023 campaign. Our aim is to tell the stories of talented women to inspire the next generations to come.
Isa is financial controller at Sisu Group. She lives in Antwerp city and has worked in finance for 3 years.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with numbers. In high school, I studied Economics & Languages. At the university, I chose to study Socio-economic Sciences, which can be described as a mix between Applied Economic Sciences and Sociology.
I really appreciated these studies and the economic aspect, but it was too general for my taste. I decided to go for a second Master’s Degree in Business Administration and that was really my thing! With courses like cost management and cost controlling; I knew: this was the right place for me to be.”
Rolling into the finance industry
“I have been active in finance for 3 years. One of my first professional experiences included an internship at a creditor. Their mission was to help people who don’t easily get access to receiving credit. It was about giving people a chance, which I really liked. Later, I started at my current employer and that’s how I got in touch with my project at Sisu.”
What inspired you to pursue a career in finance?
“I made a small detour, actually. I started off in high school studying Latin, but that wasn’t my cup of tea. So, I studied Economics instead because it seemed interesting, which afterward turned out to be an excellent foundation for my university years. I fondly look back on those years by the way. The way that the professors were able to speak so passionately about their occupation was very inspiring. Usually, they combined their academic career with an interesting finance job, so they were very knowledgeable about how it went “in the real world”.
During my internship at the creditor, I worked alongside a lot of women who were under 30 years old. I was the youngest on the floor at the age of 21. To me, that made the finance world seem easily accessible. It went against my first conception of it being a man’s world with corporate suits. I could see myself staying in finance and building a career in it. I appreciated that my environment was diverse in gender and age. It felt completely normal to be a young woman and start in a finance position.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
“Being meticulous is definitely an important skill. Numbers don’t lie: there’s only one correct answer. But more importantly, professional life is not only about doing the job, but also about how you sell it. I have noticed on multiple occasions that when you are eloquent about what you do and are able to express it clearly, you’ll get a lot more appreciation. Not an underrated skill during an evaluation for example.
One way I try to mind it is by minding my language. Instead of saying “Yes, I think that I did that”, I choose to say “I did that”. Language shapes reality, and it really helps to radiate self-confidence. Decisive language shows that you’re confident and that you stand firm.”
How would you define leadership?
“A leader is someone who inspires others to do better and guides them there. I currently coach team members, and truly with a lot of pleasure. I don’t mind being asked the same question, I’m always more than happy to help!”
Which advice would you give to…
- your 18-year-old self?
“Don’t be afraid to follow your gut! I’m thankful that my studies were very interesting to me, and it wasn’t a difficult journey to find what I wanted to do. I followed my gut and never doubted. I’m grateful for my environment: my parents supported me in whatever I chose to do, and they still do! This gave me confidence in my choices.”
- other women who aspire to pursue a career in finance?
“Choose a company where you feel great. Don’t get distracted by flashy company names but look at where your gut takes you. If you feel good, your work will be good. Pick an environment where you can learn and thrive. You do you.”
Imagine you’re at the end of your career, and you look back. What will be your highlights?
“Obviously I hope I did a job I loved to do. However, I’m a firm believer that life is about more than just work. I don’t have kids at the moment, but if I could have some later and teach them to look at the world with an open mindset, that would be a great accomplishment. Or if I was able to inspire someone.. So many possibilities! There was a moment when I doubted becoming a teacher. I think it’s one of those professions where you can truly impact someone’s life. Maybe I’ll make a big career switch in 25 years, who knows!”
How do you contribute to opening the door for other women in your career?
“Right now, especially by being available to guide new employees and making sure they receive the tools to thrive. I also join interviews with applicants and participate in job fairs. I notice that the finance world attracts both men and women, but that men are quicker to say what their ambitions are. Mostly during job fairs, I hear a lot of them say that they want to be finance managers. My role there is to inspire the women as well: to give them an idea of where finance can take them in their careers.
How do you see the role of women in finance evolving in the future?
“I think a lot of women find their way into finance, but that seems to wear off as you go higher in a company, especially at C-level. That’s something that will change. Especially at the university, the majority are women. Women succeed in getting their diplomas, they get jobs in finance, so it’s unavoidable that this wave will continue up to the higher levels of a company.
An obstacle for women today is potentially the stigma about parttime work. Too often, it is linked to the idea of not being ambitious, while it makes no sense that working 4 or 5 days a week could be an indicator of one’s ambition. Mostly women work parttime, I think this will change and become more general.
Thanks, Isa! Anything else you’d like to share with our reader today?
“Thank you for interviewing me. This topic is very important to me and I’m happy to have been given the chance to contribute to the conversation. To round up, one of my favourite quotes is “Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mom”.
Miranda is accountant at Sisu Group. She’s a mother of five, works full time, and lives for creating core memories.
Education & career path
“When I had to make the decision about which studies I wanted to do, I didn’t know for sure what to pick yet. I went for business management because of its versatility: languages and economics. After that, my career path brought me from an internship at a Paris hotel to working in different administrative jobs across various industries. The stories I could tell! (laughs)”
About overcoming challenges & being resilient
“I have been active in the finance industry for 14 years. Along the way, I had to overcome a few challenges. During my second pregnancy, I was fired. It was very difficult to find something new while expecting a child. Instead of letting that get to me, I decided to make the most of my time and followed extra courses. I was able to find a new job after giving birth, in trust fund banking. My first experience in accountancy followed later while working at a notary. I discovered there that I really enjoyed doing accountancy.
Six years ago I started at the company that would later become known as NedWorks, one of the Sisu branches. And that’s how I eventually rolled into working at Sisu.”
You work full-time and are the mother of five children: how do you do it?
“I have two daughters (18 and 7) and three sons (20, 12, and 11). From the start, I taught my kids to be as independent as possible. And that started when they were very young. When they were small and wanted to reach something that was a little too high; I showed them how to use a step to be able to reach it. If they were unable to do something: I taught them how to look for solutions by themselves first, before asking for help.
It’s important to me that my kids don’t limit themselves. “I’m too small”, or “I’m a girl” are not valid arguments for not being able to do things. You either believe you’re equal, or you make sure you become equal by finding solutions. Obviously, I don’t push my kids too far. I know we all have boundaries. We can’t judge an elephant on its ability to swim in the bowl of a goldfish. I teach them to focus on what they’re good at, which is why I don’t like it when school results get compared to the average score. What matters most is that they did their best, and gave it their all.
At Sisu, I get all the necessary tools to be able to combine work and family life. Hybrid working and having an adequate family car makes it all easier.”
How do you define leadership?
“It’s similar to the upbringing of my kids: leaders are able to identify and acknowledge strengths and areas of development, without taking over and taking away your chance to learn. Leaders are able to motivate their teams. One way to do so is not only by focusing on long-term milestones but on short-term goals as well. There’s always a strategic framework, but that can’t be the only focus. Being aware of the steps to get there, and acknowledging your team’s work along the way keeps motivation high.
I’m an opinionated person, and at the same time, I’m not afraid to review my previous opinions. We grow by challenging what we used to think and discovering new insights.”
Which advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
“I have plenty! (laughs) Stay home longer to be able to save first. Live for yourself, not for the interests of others. Stand firm in keeping your boundaries. Giving in and not saying no when you actually wanted to say no eventually takes a toll. You must protect your core and the way you want to live your life.”
Imagine you’re at the end of your career, and you look back. What will be your highlights?
“My highlights, or what I like to call core memories, will be the moments I shared with my family. I cherish those moments when we all shared a laugh together. At the same time, life isn’t always a walk in the park. I hope to look back on difficult experiences and say “we really went through that by sticking together.”
Can you have it all?
“No. (laughs) Having enough time together is a challenge. We’re currently saving to go on a family trip this summer. As my older kids are becoming adults, this might be one of the last ones we have all together. I have an extra job on some weeknights and in the weekend to make this possible. This means I need to sacrifice little moments like being there for bedtime, but I keep my eyes on the prize. Looking forward to creating all the new core memories this summer!”
More interviews with talented professionals are coming in the next weeks. Don’t miss out! Follow Sisu Group on LinkedIn.