50 years of women at Nyenrode: “Quite soon it felt as if us women had always been there.”

Speaking: Alumna Margaret Wijnands and student Charlotte van Rijt

June 29 2022

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Nyenrode Business Universiteit. For the first 25 years, it was a men's stronghold; however, since 1972, women were also welcome to pursue their education. What was it like for those ladies who were the first to study here? How did the men react? And how different are things in 2022? Margaret Wijnands (68) and Charlotte van Rijt (20) have the floor. Margaret studied at Nyenrode 49 years ago; Charlotte is currently in her second year of Bachelor of Business Administration.

Although in 1973 it wasn’t self-evident for women to continue their education, to Margaret it made more than sense that she would go to college. "I had finished gymnasium [preparatory high school], so you’re not just going sit around doing nothing after that. I had made a conscious choice to go to Nyenrode. My father has been laid off around that time; going to school for another six or seven years like it would be too much to ask of him. That's why I started looking for an education with good prospects that didn't take too long. So then it was easy to choose Nyenrode."

Second batch of female Nyenrodians

For Charlotte and her fellow students, it is only natural to study at a ‘mixed’ school. Things were different back when Margaret was studying. "We were only the second batch of female Nyenrodians. I had no problem with it, because I had also studied with boys at the gymnasium. The ones who had to get used to it the most were the juniors (men). Their first year studying was without women and suddenly, they had to share the bar in the basement with us. Yet that process of getting used to us didn't take long. Quite soon it felt like us women had always been there."

Charlotte can hardly imagine what it must have been like in the early 1970s here at Nyenrode. "It's so natural for us to study with boys and girls mixed together; it's hard for me to imagine that there weren’t any female students running around here in those days.”

Living, studying, and partying

The main reason Charlotte chose Nyenrode was the campus life. "It was love at first site for me. It seemed wonderful to be able to live, study, and party in one location. At the time I didn't even know that Nyenrode also had a student union. All I really wanted is to be together with others, and that has worked out just fine. I feel so much at home here! I’m the president of the Heeren Vijf this academic year, the board of student organization NCV. It's a full-time job, but I wouldn't miss it for the world. I'm learning a lot and I'm enjoying myself to the fullest."

Work hard, play hard

Margaret does recognize that ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. Even in 1973, serious studing were interspersed with regular visits to the Basement Bar. She especially remembers the performances of The Racket, a band that was already covering the Beatles at the time and is still doing so today under the new band name, The Analogues. "It's true that we partied quite a bit, but even in the bar we had moments of studying. Because the number of women at Nyenrode was only about ten percent at the time, we were pretty much in the spotlight. The men kept offering us drinks; there was no end to it. Until one of them hinted that I too should sometimes pay for a round of drinks, even if the glasses were still almost full. I'm still grateful to him for the wise lesson he gave me then."

Out of your comfort zone

"We still get that kind of 'social education' now," Charlotte laughs. "Of course we learn a lot during lectures, but the lessons outside of them are just as important. "Every year we organize a 'Garden Party’, which is a recurring festival-like event that is preceded by months of preparation. We have worked hard, learned a lot and, above all, had an awful lot of fun. It’s really satisfying when an event like this succeeds and when everyone has a good time. Then you notice that you’re capable of much more when you’re not afraid to step out of your comfort zone."

Follow your heart

And that’s exactly what Margaret wants to pass on to the younger generation of ladies. "Get as much experience as you can and ultimately choose the direction where you feel most comfortable, where your heart lies. I always wanted to be a buyer in the retail industry. And I succeeded. For years I did the purchasing for large organizations such as Hema, Vroom & Dreesmann, and Zeeman. I worked hard and managed to continue developing, ultimately into purchasing director. Hema gave me the opportunity to get my MBA at Nyenrode, some ten years after I started my bachelor's degree there. Another tip I would like to give to students: do not take your MBA immediately; give yourself some time after you’ve completed your bachelor's. In my experience, things work out much better that way.”

Getting a Master abroad

Where Charlotte wants to end up after her studies, she’s not sure yet. Because she misses the exchange program in the second year due to her board position, she does feel like doing a master's abroad. "I’m still young and would like to see a lot of the world. A master's in London, New York, or Barcelona, for example, would be nice. With the experience, the friendships, and the beautiful memories of Nyenrode, the world is at my feet."

This academic year is a special year for Nyenrode: not only are we celebrating our 75th anniversary, but we have also been welcoming women to Nyenrode for fifty years. On the occasion of this anniversary, we will publish three double interviews with an alumna and current student in the coming months.

Curious about the other stories? Read the interview with Jonneke and Rika and the story of Ans and Renée here. 

With thanks to photographer: Nancy Poeran

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