International Women’s Day 2024

Digital society
Sustainable society
Healthy society
Safe society
8 March 2024

Different perspectives enrich our work and are necessary to be able to find valuable solutions to the challenges of our time. On International Women’s Day, three TNO colleagues – Christa Hooijer, Sharon Prins and Esra Bektas – explain why it is important to celebrate this day.

A place where everyone feels at home

At TNO we believe in the power of diversity and we believe that everyone should be given the same opportunities to participate and develop. In society in general, and as an employee and colleague. That is why we want to be a place where everyone feels at home and can be themselves.

For International Women’s Day TNO is collaborating with Equals to showcase role models that work at TNO.

Christa Hooijer (350 x 350 px)

Christa is Director of Science and Technology at TNO’s Defence, Safety & Security unit. She studied Technical Physics at the University of Twente and obtained her PhD from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She was a policy officer and later director at the FOM Foundation, the funding organisation for physics research in the Netherlands. Christa switched to TNO in 2019 as Science Director at the High Tech Industry unit.

Christa Hooijer

Director of Science and Technology

What are you working on?

“I use my knowledge to contribute to a safer country. The threats we face, both physical and psychological, are increasing. This leads to complicated, often ethical and moral, challenges that need careful consideration. At TNO we are happy to help with this.”

What are you most proud of?

“I find it difficult to highlight projects, I am enthusiastic about everything we contribute to. But I am especially proud when I see that an innovation is actually used in practice. I love the way TNO people work on impactful solutions.”

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

“When I joined High Tech Industry as Science Director, female colleagues said: ‘I’m glad that there is finally a woman in management now’. I was also the first female director at FOM. I am aware of my role, I simply have a clearly visible position. I try to be open about what I do and want to show that a top position can be combined with, for example, a family. The number of women in top positions is still lower than desired, also at TNO. Whilst representation in the workplace matters! You need examples and supporters. If you never have a lecture from a woman, who can you compare yourself to, how do you know that it is possible? It helps to see an example. This doesn’t only to women, but also to other groups that are less represented in top positions.”

“I would therefore advise women to allow themselves to be guided by their hearts, not by the expectations of others. Dare to go for your dream: if an opportunity presents itself, grab it with both hands.”

Sharon Prins (350 x 350 px)

Sharon has been Research Manager of Data Science within the ICT, Strategy & Policy unit since 2019. As a teenager she wondered if she was smart enough for a technical study. Yet she chose Applied Mathematics, she thought ‘let just give it a try’. Sharon then worked on cryptography at KPN Research, which was acquired by TNO in 2003. At TNO she has grown to become a manager of more than fifty Data Science researchers.

Sharon Prins

Research Manager of Data Science

What are you working on?

“The mission of our department is to make AI as human as possible. We make social impact by combining knowledge and data-driven models in a meaningful and reliable way and thereby improving decision systems.”

What are you most proud of?

“I am often proud of the little things. The times I discovered what really makes someone tick. Or when I see that someone’s self-confidence is growing and we are achieving success with our team. I am most proud of how Data Science has developed from a neglected department where not everyone was on the right position, into a team where smart, driven and super fun people enjoy working. I am proud that I was able to guide that process together with the team and performance coaches.”

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

“I have always found it interesting why it’s harder to achieve things when you are different. In my career I was often one of the few women in a group. I haven’t had much trouble with that, but it is important to pay attention to minority groups, to talk to each other and to help each other. I am therefore the point of contact for diversity and inclusion within our unit.”

“I would advise women to have self-confidence. Do what you like, just try it and make sure you gather people around you who support you. For me, being successful equals being happy. In order to live happily, it is important to follow your inner compass, make sincere connections with others, know what your talents are and develop them. That leads to great results.”

Esra Bektas (350 x 350 px)

Esra studied architecture in Ankara, Turkey and obtained her PhD at TU Delft. In September 2012, while completing her PhD, she started at TNO. Here she is now a Senior Scientist Specialist at the Digital Built Environment unit.

Esra Bektas

Senior Scientist Specialist

What are you working on?

“I am fascinated by understanding end-of-life decision-making for civil infrastructures and also applying semantic technologies. I create models and help Rijkswaterstaat in prioritising their aging structures in their replacement and renovation programs. Applying an emerging technology in practice motivates me. And it gives me a sense of relevance to be able to contribute to society with my work.”

What are you most proud of?

“Coming to the Netherlands to pursue my dream was truly a leap of faith. I gave up my comfortable life in Ankara to develop myself as a researcher here. I am proud of what I have built up in the Netherlands from scratch, that I didn’t choose the easy way, and of completing my PhD. I also look back proudly on a TNO project in which I developed a model for tunnels for the Centrum Ondergronds Bouwen and Rijkswaterstaat. Doing my PhD was quite lonely at times but now I work together with colleagues with all kinds of different expertise and roles, which is educational and enjoyable. When you complement each other in a team and work together trustfully, you can overcome anything.”

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

“Fortunately, I see more and more women in technical positions around me within TNO. In our field and particularly within projects, I am often still one of the few women. That alone makes International Women’s Day important. I think it is important that we show ourselves as women in these types of fields and that we support each other. Organisations should also place more emphasis on the female power they have.”

“I would like to tell young women to listen carefully to themselves and focus on what they want. Follow your dreams and take the opportunities that are offered to you. Life is too short to wait, dare to take risks. Don’t give up and trust on what you are good at during challenging times. There will be ups and downs, your development doesn’t follow a linear line. Don’t beat yourself up if plans don’t work out right away. Or as many Turkish mothers would say: there is something good in every bad situation.”

Would you like to know more about working at TNO?

Then view our careers website and vacancies.

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