Melanie van Hemert was appointed DPG Media’s head of HR for Belgium and the Netherlands in 2022. What’s her background, and what are her thoughts on diversity, training, networking and returning to the office?
For someone who loves working with people as much as she does, Melanie van Hemert did not have an easy start at DPG Media. The integration of Sanoma Netherlands (where she helmed the HR department) happened to coincide with the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. As DPG Media’s brand-new head of HR for the Netherlands, she suddenly found herself sitting at home, talking to new colleagues through a screen instead of meeting them in person, as she would have preferred.
No surprise then that she was “tremendously relieved” when the pandemic finally faded into the background in 2022 and people returned to the office en masse. But 2022 was also a memorable year for Melanie in other respects: she was appointed head of HR for Belgium and the Netherlands, joined DPG Media’s Executive Committee and got to experience – finally, after working remotely for more than two years – her first DPG Media staff party.
You’re not just the only woman in the ExCo, but also the only tax advisor.
“That’s right! I studied tax law and joined PwC at 23 as a tax consultant. But to be honest, I realised fairly quickly that I was much more interested in the clients than in taxes. So after a while, I came to the conclusion that I would have to take certain steps if I wanted to do something I felt truly passionate about. That’s how I ended up in HR at PwC, and I eventually became head of the department there. Bringing people’s ambitions together with a company’s ambitions gives me so much energy, still to this day.”
You being in the ExCo is also good for diversity at the company.
“You could see it that way. For me, diversity means differences. We all have different backgrounds and competences, and we all look at the world from different perspectives. In terms of the male-female ratio, we now have a pretty good balance at DPG Media – just not at the executive level yet. We also need to do more to increase our cultural diversity. As media creators, our products help people connect with each other, and in doing so we create social impact. So if we want to appeal to all the people who make up our society, which is so diverse, we need to show all perspectives. And you can only do that with a diverse staff.”
What can we do to make the organisation more culturally diverse?
“To give an example, we’ve launched a traineeship for journalistic talent. It’s open to everyone, but the idea is to look for people who might not see journalism as an obvious career path due to their cultural background. So far, we’ve already received 450 applications. There was room for twelve participants, and nine ended up being assigned to a newsroom, for instance at NU.nl. The second cohort will start this year.”
What does the ideal diverse organisation look like?
“I want to create an organisation where every talent is seen and nurtured, and where people are given the space and freedom to disagree with each other. This is only possible if there is a sense of trust – if you know that you can safely express your opinions. In that sense, 2022 was a turbulent year in the Netherlands with the scandals surrounding The Voice of Holland and De Wereld Draait Door. In a socially safe working environment, you need to feel free to tell someone if they’re misbehaving, and you need to be able to have a conversation with them. Open dialogue – that’s something we consciously started working on last year.”
Has that also been integrated into DPG Media’s Campus and Academy programmes?
“We’re investing in three pillars: leadership, craftsmanship and digital transformation. Leadership is relevant at every level of the organisation. We must all take responsibility for our own individual tasks and at the same time for the team we’re part of, as a whole. That also means you have to take an interest in others, listen to their input and give feedback. If you manage to do that as a collective, you can be very successful.”
“We want to create a learning culture at DPG Media. Because the company is changing rapidly, and only by continuing to learn can we become even better and more agile. We have such incredible in-house professionals, and we need them to exchange their expertise with each other. That’s why we’re launching ‘Learning from the best’ this year: various training programmes in which you share knowledge and learn from your colleagues.”