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May 21, 2013Welcome to our new series of  #WomenCan profiles, highlighting exceptional female executives who are Catalysts for change in their careers and their companies. Learn how these smart leaders are rising up the ranks, changing corporate mindsets, and addressing and overcoming stereotypes about what women CAN and CANNOT do in the workplace. 

MEET: Abbe Luersman, Senior Vice-President, Human Resources, Europe,  Unilever.  (Unilever was one of the 2013 Catalyst Award Winners.)

Early influences:  I grew up in a blue-collar, lower income family where we had to work hard for the things we wanted.  My father maintained multiple jobs to support us, and taught me to strive hard and not be disappointed when I don’t achieve because there’s always the next day to try again. 

Career path: While in college, I had three jobs over the summer: working as an hourly employee in Whirlpool’s factory, sales clerking at a department store jewelry counter, and making pizza on the weekends. I received my BA and MA in speech communications with an emphasis on organizational development and change management from Miami University in Ohio. I spent over 16 years with Whirlpool, where I held various roles with increasing leadership accountability, and joined Unilever in September 2007 as Senior Vice President, HR Transformation and Strategy at their global headquarters in London. Since August, 2009, I’ve been the Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Europe for Unilever based out of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Executive decision: When Unilever approached me for a job in the UK, I had a three-year-old and my husband was a partner in a law firm. We had to make a family decision.  My husband decided he would take a sabbatical for one year, so we could move abroad. He ended up enjoying his sabbatical so much, he said to me, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue to be on sabbatical!” That sabbatical extended to five and a half years! Now we’re based in the Netherlands, and the experience has been amazing for all of us. We’ve been able to travel all over Europe with our daughter, who is now nine. 

Work-Life Wisdom: We made a lifecycle map for our family, using markers, crayons, and pictures to ensure our daughter’s engagement as well. It hangs in our home, and we each plot what we want to achieve and where we want to be over the next ten years. That way, we’re making collective choices. Work-life effectiveness is about ensuring what not only works for you, but also for your partner and your family.

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Hear more of Abbe’s comments, from the Catalyst Connects panel at our 2013 Catalyst Awards Conference.

Watch and share our #WomenCan Video.

Read how one mom and daughter shared a #WomenCan moment.

Learn how others are Catalysts for change at IAmA.Catalyst.orgSheryl Sandberg is a Catalyst. How about you?