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    Emmy and Youssef

    In conversation with the oldest and youngest employee of Athora

    On 5 October Athora Netherlands is happy to celebrate Diversity Day. For us, diversity is about appreciating and respecting mutual differences and looking for connections. Therefore, especially for Diversity Day, we sought out the two - at first sight - most different colleagues we could find within the walls of Athora Netherlands for a double interview. 

    Emmy and Youssef are not only the oldest and youngest employees of Athora (they are 45 years apart!), they also have a different cultural background and are of a different gender. But nothing is ever what it seems, so are they really that different? Maybe there are more similarities than you would expect...

    Emmy (66) and Youssef (20) talked to each other for an hour. What do they dream of and what lessons have they learned? How do they view their careers and what about the diversity within their teams? 

    Working with data

    With his 20 years, it's not surprising that Youssef is Athora's youngest employee. He is in the third year of his Bachelor of Econometrics at the VU and combines that with a half-time job in the Actuarial Reporting department, where he has been working since May of this year. There he makes scenario analyses, on the basis of which products are valued and priced. "I build the curves needed for this: what happens if interest rates or inflation go up or down? I try to explain it simply."

    "Actuarial Reporting... the word alone is a tongue twister," chuckles Emmy. "But I know more or less what it means. So basically you work with data, just like me." Emmy also deals with data on a daily basis. As a DevOps engineer in the DTC Data department, she is concerned with the data warehouse, where all our customers' data is safely stored. She has been working for Athora and its legal predecessors for 21 years. Just like Youssef, she has a part-time job, because at 66 years of age she could actually retire already. "But I still enjoy my work far too much."

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    A parallel you could draw between Emmy and Youssef is that they are both a 'minority' in their department. Emmy as one of the few women in her IT colleagues and Youssef as one of the few with a Moroccan background. What is it like to be the 'odd man out'? Or does it not feel that way?

    Emmy: "Because I went to study science, I have always been in a 'man's world'. So I am used to it. Although we do have several women in the department now, we are indeed still in the minority."

    In the past - in previous positions - Emmy sometimes suffered from this, she says. "People didn't always take me seriously as a woman in automation. When we went to customers, they saw me as some kind of secretary. Whereas I was the expert. That's why I deliberately never fetched coffee during meetings. Just to avoid that impression. Now it's not like that any more.

    Fortunately, times can change. Youssef did not have a similar experience in his first 'real job' at Athora. "I don't necessarily feel different, even though my name is not Jan and I don't have blond hair and blue eyes. Colleagues are curious about my background, but I only like that. And besides, there are more colleagues with a Moroccan background in my team. The age difference is more of an issue, I could have been their son, haha."

    Horrible high school

    The two appear to have even more in common. After her teacher training in mathematics, Emmy went to work as a teacher in a secondary school. But that was not a success. "I hated it! I started in August and by Christmas I was gone. I couldn't control the students at all."

    Youssef, too, initially had difficulty finding his place at the predominantly white school, where he spent his secondary education.

    "I came from a super-diverse school in Amsterdam-West, which made the transition quite difficult. Sometimes remarks were made in class that I didn't think were acceptable. The teachers hardly took any action against it. Fortunately, Youssef persevered and in the end he looks back on that period positively. "And the school is still willing to talk to me about what they could do better in the future. I find that positive."

    Doing nothing in the household

    Emmy's two sons are a lot older than Youssef and have been out of the house for a while now. Recently Emmy even became a grandmother and looks after her grandchildren two days a week, she says. Furthermore, the roles in the Van Breenen household are not exactly traditional. "My husband does the housework, I don't do anything - maybe the occasional wash and Saturday shopping. When I was pregnant, part-time work in IT did not yet exist. So I had to choose between quitting work or continuing full-time." Emmy chose the latter, because she liked her work far too much to stop. "So I became a breadwinner and my husband a househusband. That is still unusual; I can sometimes get really angry about how we are doing with women's emancipation. It is positive that more and more women are working in some sectors, such as the legal profession, education and even IT. But at the top of the business world it is substandard: female CEOs are still scarce."

    The roles are not traditional at Youssef's home either. And unfortunately the pandemic has left its mark. "I still live at home with my brother and my mother and work from my bedroom. My father died of Covid during the first wave last year. He did a lot at our house: cooking, shopping. He also used to work as a cook. Now that he has passed away, I have taken over many of his tasks."

    A career or no career

    At the end of her working life, does Emmy have any good career advice or life lessons for Youssef? The two seem to have different ideas about that. Emmy: "I never really had a career: I was a programmer and now I'm a DevOps engineer, which is basically the same thing. My philosophy in life is 'Do what you like and don't go for the big money'. I am very happy in my little house and don't need a big car or boat. More money would definitely not make me happier."

    Youssef, on the other hand, does see a glittering career on the horizon. "I think it would be great to have a career. Especially because of where I come from: I am the first one in my surroundings to go to higher education. So I'm curious to see how far I can get." He also sees himself working abroad: "For example in London, or in the Emirates. At 66, I hope to retire somewhere in a warm country."


    Emmy's husband would like to travel after they retire, but she doesn't want to. "We've travelled a lot in our lives. I don't want to be away from home for more than three weeks, especially now that we have grandchildren. I'm not suited to doing nothing, so I'd rather do voluntary work. If I sit still, I'll break down in no time."

    The hour flew by: Emmy and Youssef could have talked for hours about anything and everything. But it is time to get back to work. "It was special to get to know each other a bit in this way," the two agree. "Very nice to get to talk to each other in this way."

    5 October: Diversity Day

    This interview was held in the context of Diversity Day, an initiative of SER in Bedrijf, which Athora Netherlands has joined with many other large organisations. Each company implements this in its own way.

    Read more about the diversity policy of Athora Netherlands here.