12 Questions- Petra Hielkema

Division Director Payments and Market Infrastructures at Dutch Central Bank




Question 1. Who is Petra Hielkema?

PH: I have many roles. First of all, I am Director of the Payments and Markets Infrastructures Division at the Dutch Central Bank. With a great team of motivated individuals, the Division is active in the fields of operations and collateral services, oversight, CCP supervision and recovery planning, policy and research (including our blockchain team), the DNB Cyber Intelligence Unit (including our TIBER/red-teaming project) as well as financial inclusion. I am also on the supervisory board of Child and Youth Finance International, a global movement dedicated to empowering children and youth through financial inclusion and economic citizenship. Furthermore I am a loving wife and proud mother of three great children. I am also a caring daughter (in law) and the oldest of five sisters. But besides the roles I play, I am a positive person who counts her blessings and likes to work hard.

Question 2. What do you enjoy most about your job and what do you find most difficult?

PH: I love the variety in the field of payments, and I enjoy the fact that payments is at the forefront of innovation in the financial sector. Payments and market infrastructure are at the heart of our society and key to our financial stability. It’s technical, more and more about IT, about behavior, about people. I don’t think there is anything in finance that is more technical and at the same time so tangible in society as payments.  What makes the job difficult is that with so many interesting developments going on and only 24 hours in a day, I have to prioritize. However, while prioritizing, I always know that I will have some other interesting items to look forward to.

Question 3. As a woman in a high-powered position in the financial sector, what has been the most significant barrier in your career so far?

PH: It’s quite hard to name concrete barriers and, having worked in the oil and gas industry, I do not believe that barriers are specific to the financial sector.  But I do think they exist. Frankly, when I started my career I did not think there were barriers, I just thought that it was up to women to make it. However, as I continued my career and moved up the ladder, I started to notice that the number of women in the room was diminishing quite quickly, and more quickly than simply could be explained by women not making it. And so now I believe that there must be barriers.

In order to move up, you need people to believe in you and you need to believe in yourself. I was fortunate that people did, also at times when it really mattered, like when making your way back after a pregnancy.

Question 4. What is the best piece of advice given to you? Who gave you that advice?

PH: One of my former bosses and an inspirational female leader once told me that if you see an opportunity you should go for it and not consider all kinds of “what ifs?”. Keep those for the moment that you made it through the process and they offer you the job.

Question 5. Who inspired you and why?

PH: The heroes of my youth were Thea Beckman, Marilyn French and Nawal el Saadawi; all very bright female speakers and writers who inspired me with their stories about strong women who did not accept the world as it was, but dared to be different and create change.

Question 6. When you began your career years ago, did you ever imagine that you would become a leader in a male-dominated profession?

PH: I imagined I would be a leader. I never thought about whether it would be in a male-dominated profession or not.

Question 7. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership especially in the financial sector?

PH: Doubt.

Doubt that women have themselves, questioning whether they are able, good enough and can create a good work-life balance once they want a family.

Doubt that men have about women, whether they are up for the job if they do not speak up for themselves and whether they want to continue to work full-time once they start a family.

Question 8. What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in financial sector? And what do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

PH: Go for it. If you see an opportunity, don’t question whether you can, go!

Don’t doubt. Just do it and doubt later.

Stop feeling guilty! Just pick the best and most challenging job you can find and be great at it, so you can go home to your family late and tired, but moreover happy and proud!

Question 9. Mentorship? What is your opinion about it? Is it necessary? Does it make a difference? Did you have a mentor when you started your career? Do you think it would have made a difference if you did?

PH: Mentorship is a gift for both mentor and mentee. I would not have made it this far and will not make it any further if it weren’t for the many mentors I have had. Some were “official mentors” others were managers who believed in me and gave their support. Each of them in their own way contributed to my success. And having become a mentor myself now, I learn every day even more from my mentees who share their questions and stories.

Question 10. When it comes to the gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion in financial sector: are we progressing, moving backwards or stagnating? Why?

PH: We are moving forward in the financial sector but movement is too slow. At the top there are women but it’s still not 50% and below the top, climbing the stairs are great women, but not enough to make up the 50% anytime soon. And that’s only women, whereas we need not only gender diversity but also diversity in background and culture. So we are making progress, but a lot more can and should be done.

Question 11. What is some of the advice you can share with women entering a male-dominated profession such as tech or finance?

PH: Be yourself, stay yourself, find support from inspiring women but just as much from men who can help you further, and meanwhile support other women who are also entering the profession.

Question 12. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

PH: Nothing, as any change might result in not ending up in Payments and Market Infrastructures, and I wouldn’t miss that for the world!

Petra will be speaking at the EWPN annual awards & conference event in Amsterdam on October 30 & 31st. Make sure you grab your ticket before they are sold out. Register for the event here.

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