Petra Teeuwen

Senior Project Manager at the Healthy Living and Work unit

‘At TNO, you can ride your own wave.’

Petra Teeuwen devotes herself to, in her own words, ‘unusual projects’. “I prefer to get stuck into complex, overarching initiatives that transcend multiple departments and disciplines. Ones such as the digitalisation of labs and large-scale remodelling projects.”

A stroll by the sea

Teeuwen has a background in public administration and organisational sciences. Her experience ranges from sales and marketing to setting up a company for healthy lunches for children. Her journey at TNO began somewhere rather unexpected... on the beach. “The sea, the sand, the surfing... that’s where I get my inspiration. I first came into contact with TNO as I was strolling along the beach. When I was six or maybe seven, I would go walking with my family along the dunes at the Waalsdorpervlakte, near The Hague. The distinctive tower of a TNO building caught my eye. “That’s where I’m going to work when I grow up,” I said to myself. I might not work in that exact building now, but at least I do work at TNO.”

Variety is the spice of life

The organisation is more versatile than she expected. “I knew TNO mainly from its research on working conditions. When I heard that we are also accelerating drug development here with all kinds of technology, I thought 'wow!’ That versatility suits me well; I am really a generalist. From time to time, I want to delve into something completely new. And there’s plenty of that at TNO: from healthcare to digitalisation and from security to sustainability.”

Asking stupid questions

As a project manager, she is involved in projects from start to finish, playing a crucial role in connecting people and ideas. “At TNO, we work in six units. When all these experts put their heads together, they can solve these huge problems. Yet they don’t all speak the same language. That’s where I come in: to bring different disciplines together. And asking the ‘stupid questions’. If you want to work together effectively, you need to know exactly what the other person is saying. Besides, you’re never the only one wondering what something really means. So, you have to have the courage to ask!”

Added value

Health is recurring theme in Teeuwen’s career. “Getting older, I look at things in a more inclusive way, which was inspired by working here. Can we get everyone on board? And how do we ensure that innovations get to where they are needed most? Think of solar panels, which we aren’t seeing on the blocks of flats where they are most needed. Or smartwatches, which are mainly used by people who are already healthy. At TNO, I am really working on something meaningful with added value for society.”

Gender equality

One of the projects that highlights Petra’s passion for inclusivity and social impact is her commitment to gender equality in medical research. This project also began on the beach, when she was listening to a podcast about women’s health. “That’s when I heard for the first time that drugs are being tested on men in their 30s who weigh 70 kg, because women’s hormone levels were proving too complicated for clinical trials. But we are half the world’s population! Shouldn’t we find out more about how these drugs affect women? So, with a small team, we came up with all kinds of proposals for more research on women’s health issues. I think the strength of TNO lies in the fact that we bring and keep different parties together. When it comes gender equality in medical research, all kinds of parties have a piece of the puzzle: gynaecologists and pharmaceuticals, but also employers and occupational health doctors. The trick is to bring the right people and knowledge together.”

At TNO, the first questionnaire has now been released on gender-specific health problems and how they impact work. Take menopause, for example, which women face at some point. Raising that topic at work is not always easy. Teeuwen: “I was quite open about that. My manager then mentioned that, at TNO, we are working with Curilion, the women’s healthcare centre of expertise, where you can go for support as an employee. It’s great to have an employer that is so thoughtful. But at the same time, we’re not there yet. There are also departments where these things are more difficult to discuss. That is precisely what we are looking into now.”

Eventually, Teeuwen’s team hopes to build on this research with partners as well. “But we are unique in that we have an opportunity to start this research at our own organisation. We are trusted to follow through on good ideas and have the freedom to do it the way we want. No wonder I go to work every day with a spring in my step.”

How does Teeuwen envisage the future? “I want our daughters and granddaughters not to have to struggle with a different experience in the workplace just because they are women. So, my advice to them is: embrace being a woman. You don’t have to adapt to reach your potential.”

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