C. Miller Van Dyck

Disrupting the Glass Ceiling

Interview of CD Miller van Dyck by Snezana Zivcevska-Stalpers
for UN Women EmpowerWomen.org #BREAKTHEGLASS Campaign

Could you please introduce yourself and tell us something more about you professionally?

My name is Cheryl Miller. I am the founder of the Digital Leadership Institute, a Brussels-based NGO with a global mission to promote inclusive digital transformation by increasing leadership of girls and women in what I call “ESTEAM”: STEM plus Arts and Entrepreneurship. I have been active in promoting ESTEAM to girls and women for seven years now, and have advocated, written articles, organized events, and given speeches about it in every corner of the globe. I guess you could say I am passionate about increasing participation of girls and women in these sectors.

I have a degree in International Relations, Law and Organizations from Georgetown University, and a Master of International Business Studies (MIBS), or International MBA, from the Darla Moore School of Business at USC. I am American by birth and have lived all around the world. For the last eighteen years, I have made my home with my husband and four children, including a set of twins, in Brussels, Belgium.


What was your motivation to found The Digital Leadership Institute and become a Digital Disruptor? And what was the most important (decision/thing/action) you have done to progress and advance your career?

My motivation to found DLI came out of a year-long series that I pioneered in 2013-2014 called “Women 2020,” which had the mission of increasing the contribution of girls and women to achieving the European 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. After five high-level meetings that explored the requirements for achieving the Europe 2020 vision, my partners and I were convinced that an organization to promote leadership by girls and women in digital fields, particularly in entrepreneurship, would address a clear, unserved need on the global landscape. On International Women’s Day 2015, the Digital Leadership Institute, and our idea for the inQube “female digital accelerator,” was born.

I never became a digital disruptor. I’ve always been a disruptor but am now leveraging technology to disrupt society for good. Hence: Digital disruptor.

The most important decision I made to advance my career was, as a “round peg”, to give up trying to fit into a “square hole” in the patriarchy, and more importantly, to support other women in avoiding and overcoming the same mistake. I have never had a more challenging and rewarding career in my life than that which I chose to design, build and execute myself. It is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, and I wish I had the fortune to have discovered this path much sooner. As I say to other young and adult women: The shortest path to the boardroom is to create a company and put yourself there.


What is your opinion on having role-models in the career? Do you think it is important? Having on mind that you are a successful professional, a mother, and a big supporter of empowerment of girls and women in IT, do you consider yourself as a role model?

Role models are critical in one’s career, and as I shared in my 2012 TEDx talk, there are no silver bullets to increasing participation of girls and women in STEM leadership. But there actually are two:

  • Enforced paternity leave, so fathers can stay home with their children and become role models of another sort; and
  • Better and more portrayal of girls and women in media. As Geena Davis amously said: “If she can see it, she can be it.” Without women role models, girls will not aspire to be leaders, in STEM or otherwise.

There actually are two silver bullets for getting more girls & women into STEM: Enforced paternity leave, and better and more portrayal of girls and women in media.

I don’t know if I myself am a role model, but I very much try to walk the same walk that I constantly advocate for other girls and women to do. I try to be conscious of conditioning that affects my behavior and to put in practice things I think all women should do more of, for example:

  1. Consciously boot-strap other women every day. Don’t just say you’re going to do this. Make it a daily exercise to put women in touch with people who can help them. Make connections on LinkedIn. Write recommendations. Put women forward for jobs you think they deserve. Suggest mentors. Suggest people who can help women you know get ahead. Lend an ear. Give advice. Be a coach. Count how often you do these things every day and keep track. Challenge other women to do the same.
  2. Do great things and, when you do, take credit for your accomplishments. Too few women feel they deserve to get recognition for things they’ve achieved. This is wrong for an individual woman, and for womankind as a whole. If it’s difficult for you to take credit for something you’ve achieved, think of how important it is for other girls and women to see you in leadership and how inspiring your story is for them. Never forget that you too are a role model and an inspiration. This is sometimes the mindset women need to be in in order for them to take credit for something they rightfully deserve. It’s too bad we have a problem with just accepting accolades we deserve on face value, but this too is a symptom of our conditioning.
  3. Don’t judge or impede other women who compete, are ambitious and achieve. We are conditioned to suspect women with ambition, but where does that get us as women? Even if you don’t agree with the style of a woman you might find “aggressive” or “assertive,” please support her. Ambitious women are those most likely to get to the top, and any woman at the top is in a place where there are just too few women. She is, in turn, a role model too. Let’s check our knee-jerk reaction to judge, impede or ignore women who strive to succeed, and let’s help them to become leaders so they can open the doors for the rest of us.


Ambitious women are those most likely to get to the top, and any woman at the top is in a place where there are just too few women.


Have you ever faced any obstacles in your career from the gender point of view? If yes, what kind of obstacles?

I’ve been bullied, cheated and maligned by men and women. But I find that the competition I face from women comes in the form of jockeying for position as equals, which is disheartening as it is. The obstacles thrown in my path by men have been more in the form of abusive power relationships, where for example, my male bosses have created barriers, invoked double-standards and laid professional traps that impeded my ability to succeed. I also believe that women are the victims of their own competence. Men in leadership are intimidated and/or excited by women who are capable, ambitious and self-confident. We are treated as DIY projects, sex objects, competition, or are ignored altogether — and sometimes each of these in turn. Such reactions reflect a survival reflex by men in power who fear powerful women and, imho, suffer from their own sense of inadequacy.


We are treated as DIY projects, sex objects, competition, or are ignored altogether — and sometimes each of these in turn.


Do you believe in Glass Ceiling? Do you feel like you have already broken your Glass Ceiling? And if yes, how have you done that?

I believe there is a glass ceiling, and a glass door, a glass wall and a glass floor. I haven’t broken through and will only know if that’s happened when I’m ruler of the world.

What are your views on the big gender gap in STEM, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership, and particularly the lack of women on executive level?

The lack of women in STEM, in STEM entrepreneurship and in leadership across the board is a tragedy, a failing of humanity and a loss to our species, fellow creatures and planet. The state of our world is a symptom of the disrespect shown toward all females — human and, sadly for us, the planet too. Greater participation of women in decision-making of all kinds — but especially in the strategically innovative STEM sectors — is critical to ensure a sustainable course for all of us.


What, according to you, is needed to be done to change the working culture in the male dominated fields like STEM and have more gender balanced working environments?

One by one, men have to find their place in the family and broader human community as care-givers and nurturers of our future generations, our planet and fellow creatures, and come to accept the value they contribute to society in this capacity. We must learn to embrace men’s role in this setting, and equally, to recognize the importance of women’s contribution to decision-making that impacts our communities and society-at-large. Men who lead a world based on trust, love and empathy will, by design, also make room for greater participation, decision-making and leadership by women too. Till then, please see my answer to #3.


Men who lead a world based on trust, love and empathy will, by design, also make room for greater participation, decision-making and leadership by women too.


What would be your message to other ladies and girls who are ambitious and willing to reach the top of their STEM professional careers?

Do not participate in the patriarchy. Launch your own tech startup and create your own path. Any perceived “benefits” from a traditional career path — about job stability, maternity leave, etc. — will be more than outweighed by the loss of self-esteem, energy, frustration and time you will suffer from participating in a system that is simply not meant for you. Avoid the pitfalls of the patriarchy and find your community, build your ESTEAM skills and take a path you choose yourself. You will reap the rewards and, hopefully, you will bootstrap, support and inspire other girls and women along the way.


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