We haven’t had a Girl of the Month in quite some months, but we’re making up for it by having a whole team of Girls featured for April. Superhero Cheesecake is a digital production agency that has been famous in the media for famously not selling cheesecakes, despite the shop’s name. What they should actually be famous for is their diverse team, which consists of no less than 8 girls in tech.
Sara Gerion – Back-end Developer
Coco Granger – Front-end Developer
Lisa Marie Schachtschneider – Front-end Developer
Amber van Os – Front-end Developer
Vanessa Jonasson – Art Director
Janine Freriks – Digital Producer
Lieselot Verheye – Design Intern
Suzanne van der Pluijm – Office Manager
Clockwise, from far left: Coco Granger, Suzanne van der Pluijm, Amber van Os, Vanessa Jonasson, Janine Freriks, Sara Gerion, Lisa Schachtschneider, Lieslot Verheye
Vanessa: There’s something comforting in that…
Lieselot: I have a similar experience to Janine, my older brother was a big “nerd” and he used to start developing HTML website when he was 13, which he dragged me into. I was more interested, though, in the design part, so I used to Photoshop things and collaborate with him. I started using Photoshop when I was pretty young, and I wanted to do something with it for a profession; I found an education in Belgium that teaches design and development. I study that now, and that’s how I got here as a design intern.
Sara: I am a back-end developer. At university, I studied computer science, then I kind of wanted to explore new technologies and see what the scene was like in Europe, so I decided to come to the Netherlands. I really love being in this field because it’s always interesting and challenging.
Lisa: I’m a creative developer trainee here and I just got into developing about a year ago. Before that, I majored in art history, which is totally different. For me, I started developing when I was 12 or 13, and I sort of shelved it away because I wanted to try my hand at more [traditional] design and theory. Eventually, I got bored of it – it was not challenging enough, so then I started getting into development when I moved here to the Netherlands.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on, and what are some of the favourite aspects of those projects?
Amber: I think one of my favourite parts is working for big clients, because when you finish a project for them, you see your work everywhere: on TV, on Billboards, on the Internet, everywhere. You actually see your product is being used. From a technical standpoint, you spend a lot of time on details at Superhero Cheesecake. Not everyone tends to notice these details, but they make the work just a little bit better. At other companies I’ve worked for, this was not always the case, but I enjoy the focus that everyone brings.
Coco: I agree with Amber, it’s great to see your work all over the place, and even Internationally. I’m from France, so sometimes my friends will call me, “I saw what you did!” It’s really cool, and sometimes even you don’t have the time for details, you end up making time for it because the end product can be so much better. Working for big clients can also push your limits, which can be a little bit frustrating, especially because the public might not notice the changes anyway. You see the details yourself, though, and when other technical people see the work, they can also see the difference.
Vanessa: I really like the process of getting an idea to execution. Maybe as an art director, I have a particular vision for an idea, but when I hand it over to development, they have another take. The collaboration between the areas that we work with can shape an idea in time, makes it better. I really enjoy getting different angles on the same thing and seeing where it leads us.
Sara: I have this weird feeling that the projects I work on are somehow like children, as in, you are responsible for them, you see how they bloom. Sometimes it goes really well, and sometimes less so, but most of the time, you feel very proud of them. I also really like this feeling that I am surrounded by peers, because – and we already mentioned the “nerd” thing – not all companies have this “nerdy” vibe.
Vanessa: You don’t have to be ashamed of it!
Sara: Here you can be free to be the “nerd” you really are.
Do you find that there are challenges to being a woman in this field? Or rather, do you find that there are still preconceived notions that people have about you, that you need to overcome?
Vanessa: I have definitely had experiences – not specifically at Superhero Cheesecake – where I’ve been to meetings with other agencies and other creatives, and someone will comment, “You dress so well!” It won’t be a comment about my skills or the content of my presentation, it’ll be about how I present myself, which is ridiculous because that is not my profession. They didn’t say anything about what I presented, and it made me feel like I wasted time; is that what they are going to take with them? I also don’t like that people presume that I’m “nice” because I’m female – you’re either “nice” or you’re a “bitch”, and that really annoys me.
Coco: I think it depends a little on what you work on, because in front-end development, the gender stereotypes can sometimes be an advantage. You can play around with your charms, to point a project or client in the direction that you want. Communication skills come a little bit easier to women, and can definitely be advantageous.
Janine: I think being a woman also adds something to the company. The rhythm of a day, for example, changes because there are more women who are perhaps more interested than men in healthy eating.
Coco: For example, there are a lot more salads at lunch now. This has changed a lot in the two years that I’ve been at Superhero Cheesecake.
Suzanne: It has changed a lot, yes. Before coming to Superhero Cheesecake, I worked at another agency, and at an inter-agency football tournament, I talked to some of the girls in this room, after which I was surprised, because I’m used to the idea of a developer being a guy. I was full of prejudice about it – not that I thought girl developers were bad people, but more like I thought girls would have a harder time being in a technical field. Being part of this team totally changed my perception.
Do you there has been as much change for the males in the company as much as you’ve experienced?
Vanessa: I think they’re all positive about all the girls in the team. I don’t know how their experiences were before, maybe they were in teams with girls that didn’t fit in as well. Here, I think everyone is pretty much equal and from top-down or side-to-side, everyone is as much as appreciated as anyone else.
Janine: I think the “nerdiness” plays a factor in their perception of us, to make us more equal. If there was a stereotypical “girly-girl”, who would come in and do her hair and make-up at her desk, I think that would affect perception.
Coco: Because we can all be ourselves, there isn’t a barrier for everyone to focus on our skills instead of sex or appearance. We’re all just one of the guys.
Suzanne: Or they’re all just one of the girls…
Do you find that the process of working on a project with more women is different to that of team dominated by men?
Sara: My experience is that gender doesn’t tell much about how a person works, because sometimes it’s easier to work with guys more than girls, but that doesn’t depend on their gender so much as their personality.
Lisa: I have to agree with Sara; the benefit of working here is that you get to work with different people all the time, so for your next project, you probably won’t be on the same team as your last. At my company before, you would collaborate with the same people on projects, so if there were any problems among team members, there was a chance that it would change but the likelihood was pretty small. Here, when you’re switching teams and between people, I think it’s much better, but that it has to do with people in general and less with gender.
Janine: When you think about the stereotypes of a “Girl Group”, this is not something we experience here at Superhero Cheesecake, probably because none of us fall individually into those stereotypes. There isn’t very much “bitchiness”, and because we can all be ourselves, there are no walls between us; when we work together, it comes naturally. Sometimes you hear about people gossiping or talking behind each other’s backs…
Sara: I think the gossip around here doesn’t come from the girls…
Do you have any advice for girls or women who are interested in doing what you are doing now?
Lisa: Work hard, play hard! Or… work hard, work harder. It’s such a learning process, and there’s always something new you could learn, there’s always some way to make things better, so just keep going at it.
Janine: Don’t feel held back because of stereotypes.
Vanessa: It’s important to think positively… if you think people are judging you because you’re a girl, then they will. If you focus on your skills, then they will judge you on that. Make sure to position yourself.
Janine: I think it’s definitely changing, especially if you consider that Superhero Cheesecake is now 40% female. I think it’s very important to not be taken aback by the fact that most developers are men, because the fulfilment that you get from doing this kind of work is very rewarding.
Coco: If it’s too hard in your own country, for example, to be who you want to be, then it’s also good to just leave. Everyone deserves a place where they feel comfortable. Decide what is best for yourself.
Lieselot: At school, they also emphasised that work is not a competition, and that everyone needs to work together – it’s a learning process, so don’t compete but try to help each other.
Sara: Be brave. I know it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone, but there is so much to gain from it. The learning curve is insane and even in the worst case scenario, it can be beneficial, so don’t be afraid to take risks!