Alex de Vries , 20 april 2023
Alida Vreden-Cyrus (51) has been a member since 2014. She talks about what it takes to become a leader as a woman. Attaining a leadership position as a woman can be a real challenge, battling against expectations and glass ceilings. That hasn’t stopped Alida, though; she owns a company and is chairwoman of two foundations including Themater, which organises socially-relevant theme nights in Capelle aan den IJssel. But obtaining these positions only became possible after overcoming a mountain of obstacles – both external and internal ones.
Struggling to open up
“I used to be very shy growing up,” Alida says with a widening smile. She recounts being the second-youngest child in a large family in Groningen, often sitting in the corner and not talking much. She learned, though, that by doing nothing, nothing she wanted was getting done. Her shy disposition started changing when she moved to Rotterdam by herself in order to study to become a nurse, encouraged by her parents to choose her own path. The huge shift in surroundings coupled with the necessity of clear communication as a nurse pushed her to learn how to better express herself. Over the years, she became a great communicator. After gradually working herself up to a leadership position, Alida eventually wanted more depth and chose to go back to university to study sociology. Which was challenging, because at that point she already had children with her husband. “On a typical day I would go to work from nine to five, then take classes in the evening until nine,” she explains. Her husband made this possible, doing whatever needed to be done at home.
The role division in society
Ten years ago, Alida researched the role division between men and women for her master thesis, finding that division skewed. While she has noticed positive social changes since, she acknowledges we have a long way to go. Alida actively takes the lead on this front. Becoming chairwoman of Themater, for instance, did not just come to her. Alida experienced doubt and inner conflict when the board went to choose a new chairperson. But engaging the critical internal voice, she asked herself: ‘What’s stopping me?’ – ‘Well, I don’t know everything.’ – ‘Okay, but no one does. So why not me?’ She raised her hand and said: “Why not me?”
There are times when Alida gets told she should lead more forcefully, like a man. She responds: “No – because I’m not a man. (…) Women bring different valuable qualities to leadership.” Alida knows who she is, so she can lead like herself. Person-centred, with a female touch. Knowing herself and her values also expedites setting boundaries in the rare cases she deems it necessary. One time when Themater was planning to put five men on stage for a theme night, she vetoed that idea and insisted on the presence of female experts, who were plentiful and no less capable. Alida highlights the importance of having that internal conversation; without it we may not speak up and have such an effect on the external world. Having practised and become better at that inner talk, Alida now wholeheartedly goes for what she wants.
She embraces the struggle and has come to enjoy doing what feels right, comparing the temporary pain of a worthy struggle to getting something fixed at the dentist. It may hurt in the moment, but the regret of not doing it lasts much longer. And if she fails, she’s forgiving towards herself, knowing she at least tried – and that she will try again next time. After all, as she says: “You only need one person to believe in you to make a difference.” Inspired by Chanel Lodik’s ‘Antiracisme Handboek’, Alida plans to do more for people of different cultural backgrounds, too. The book advocates not just to not discriminate, but to actively help those being excluded in some way. As chairwoman of Themater, she aims to keep inspiring conversations about important issues and give an uplifting push to societal shifts.