More Women in Management
Frederike Probert is launching Mission Female, a network of women leaders. Already a rapid success.
You just completed the first networking meetings of Mission Female in Vienna, Munich and Berlin. What was your first impression, and what did you discuss there?
Nothing of what we discuss in our network makes its way to the outside. The individual members of Mission Female have also signed a voluntary commitment to this effect. That’s what characterizes our network: we actively support each other and create an environment of trust in which we can speak openly and exchange ideas. But this much I can tell you: there weren’t many women who knew each other personally at the first dinners. After a short warm-up period, it took about 30 seconds for the first in-depth conversations to commence around the table. Not only do we spend a nice evening together, but networking efficiently with one another is something we all have on our agenda. And that means things become concrete very quickly: “What do you do for a living? Is there anything I can support you with? Oh, I have a contact who could help you out in that area.” So all in all, we had very productive evenings and went our separate ways highly motivated and armed with specific To-dos for the entire network by the next meeting.
Did these sessions result in any initial decisions? In other words, will there be more meetings?
Absolutely. The feedback we heard from most of the women was that they had rarely spent such a sociable and efficient evening.
What this means for Mission Female is that we’re going to keep expanding our Female Leader Dinners: there will be other meetings held on a regular basis – in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, but also in Zurich and at the Côte d’Azur, with the Cannes Lions. We’ll be hosting ten more dinner evenings in 2019 alone.
During the first three evenings, we also decided that we’d open the session to selected external parties. We intend to keep it to a maximum of 15 women per evening, while striving for a mix of members and guests. Women interested in joining us can register for the individual events at www.missionfemale.com.
These events are part of your Mission Female offering. What other things are planned?
That’s right. Mission Female focuses on personal interaction. Only together are we strong. We all appreciate the benefits of social platforms, of course, but we also know that we need to get together if we want to sustainably expand our network. This means that the members of our network regularly meet at the Female Leader Dinners, but also at Germany-wide workshop series around personality and career development. We also organize expert presentations at our member companies and gather once a year for a retreat – an extended weekend away from everyday life, with plenty of time for ourselves and the network. We also work together in small, intensive and mainly local working groups throughout the year.
Can you tell us who is a member of your group?
Yes, I can. One of our stated goals is to make Female Leaders more visible. That’s why we make no secret of who is actively involved with us in the network. We have a healthy mix of leaders at the top decision-maker level, but also deliberately members from middle management. We firmly believe that it is only through this constellation that we can actively create a pull effect. This means that women from top management actively help promote other women with a clear commitment to pursuing a career. This is not a fixed mentoring program. Instead, it’s the automatic result of the active and personal interaction we promote in the network. Across industries and companies.
And back to your question: We have outstanding women in our network, such as Tina Müller (CEO of Douglas), Vera Schneevoigt (CDO Bosch Safety & Security Systems), Julia Stern (Board Member for Online Marketing 1&1 Telecommunications) or Susanne Aigner-Drews (Managing Director Discovery Deutschland).
How does someone become a member of the Mission Female Network?
Either by recommendation of an existing member or by direct application. Often, within the framework of the advisory mandates I have with companies, it also makes sense to include selected women in the network in order to make Female Leaders more visible to the outside world and ensure that women can build a network outside the company. No matter how women come to us, they go through a three-stage interview process in which we grant memberships only if we unanimously approve.
What are the current challenges women face as decision-makers and representatives of senior management?
We still have the glass ceiling – meaning it’s difficult for many women to make it into top management if they are not actively dragged up from above. It is precisely this challenge that we solve through the active pull effect in our network.
What to date has been a predominantly male environment also still leads to suboptimal framework conditions for Female Leaders in the companies. There are differences between industries here, but the challenge is usually similar: Women often feel alone and uncomfortable when they are always the only woman at the conference table or on stage at trade fairs. Our goal is to bring more women into the executive suites. We’re convinced that this can be accomplished through the network, in the hope that this will automatically eliminate the “lonesome rider” phenomenon.
How do you see the state of digital marketing today? Does this relatively young sector have a chance to position itself better than, say, in classical industry or even in retail?
Due to better demographic conditions, meaning usually younger people in executive positions, the digital economy has more opportunities to adapt and develop than traditional companies or companies currently involved in the digital transformation. There are differences here, though – as a rule, the larger the company, the more rigid the structures and the more difficult it is to bring about long-term change. This is why we are seeing a significantly higher share of women in management positions in smaller companies and start-ups in particular. The digital sector can benefit from this.
What kind of visibility will it take in the future to initiate further improvements in diversity – in the market, at events and in the firms themselves?
The very first step is to make the Female Leaders in these companies more visible. This presupposes, on the one hand, that women clearly raise their hands and do not struggle with requests for speaking opportunities and instead commit and rise to the occasion. Within the companies themselves, people need to look and see whether the male colleague really needs to represent the interests of the company in public once more, or whether a female colleague can fill this role. Incidentally, in our network we are also noticing see that it helps if women actively recommend each other for presentations on the major stages. Role models play an important role here: To motivate even more women, we need more role models of women making themselves and their businesses more visible.
Then, the firms that have understood that heterogeneous teams are more efficient and profitable and hence more successful also need be made more visible to the outside world. This is the only way they can recruit high-potential women and establish the ranks of tomorrow’s business leaders. With this in mind, we at Mission Female are also organizing lounges with partner companies at events that were previously more male-dominated. This is an area where businesses have an opportunity to make themselves visible in the competition for female executives, establishing the right kinds of contacts along the way. Women are using our Mission Female Lounges as a hub, home base, meeting area, networking platform or simply as an opportunity to unwind from the hustle and bustle of trade fairs and conferences.
What are the next steps for Mission Female? What does your long-term roadmap look like?
We’ve made quick strides since our launch at the beginning of this year. The need for female empowerment is enormous for women and firms alike. Within a very short period of time, this produced three concrete offers for Mission Female to attend to: a management consultancy with the goal of bringing more women into the executive suites and keeping them there. Then there’s our network for women in positions of leadership and our Mission Female Lounges offering women added visibility at events. We regularly tailor each of these important steps to the needs of the market, our partners and our members. This means that we are operating close to capacity at the moment and can see the successes of our efforts on a daily basis.