HeavenHR Speaker Series: It’s a man’s world. Is it really?

In recent years, more women than ever are occupying management roles in Germany. However, some argue there are still a lot of barriers for women in the workplace. In the start-up sector, for example, senior female employees are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. Accordingly to the European Startup Monitor, only 13% of German founders were female in 2015.

But what is it like for women in reality?

Does the glass ceiling really exist?

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On August 24th, our accomplished all-female panel laid their cards on the table in an open discussion, and shone light on topics ranging from what women bring to leadership to limitations they experienced as women in tech.

For those of you who missed out on our third Speaker Series event or simply want a refresher, here is a recap:

> On the difference between female & male leadership:

Antonia Albert, Co-Founder & MD of Careship


Antonia AlbertAntonia began her career as a business development manager at a Rocket Internet start-up called Lendico, and later transitioned to Zalando. Looking back at her early career, Antonia learned that ‘everyone cooks with the same water’ – which means no one is more capable than the other. Women are often more reserved in the workplace, whereas men come in with a more ‘ready-to-take-over-the-world’ mentality. However, there are many different ways to run a successful business, and having an aggressive culture does not always mean it’s the best culture. While women must have more confidence in themselves, female founders can bring softer ways of succeeding to the table.

For Antonia, the most important determinant of success if who you found the start-up with, and how much you believe in your idea. Whether you will accomplish your dream depends on how passionate you are about what you want, and being a woman will not hold you back. 

> On her path to becoming a founder:

Verena Hubertz, Co-Founder & MD of Kitchen Stories

Verena HubertzDid you know that Kitchen Stories derived from a burrito chain? That was the two female founders’ original idea when they initially decided to build their own company. While writing her Master thesis, Verena was in Berlin looking into different ideas and business models, and eventually realized a burrito chain would require too much money upfront. One night over beers, the two founders realized they were always watching food shows – so why not build a cooking app? They came up with the idea and just did it.

Being a woman was not an obstacle, and Verena did not feel people took her less seriously because of her gender. Whenever they went to meetings, people treated them like founders and evaluated their capabilities based on what they have already achieved. Verena said their minority position as female founders was never an issue, and in her dream world, her gender would not be a topic of interest. Instead of being labeled as a female CEO, she wishes to be seen as simply, CEO.

Her advice for future founders? There is no such thing as over-communication. When you run your own company, communication and transparency are key.

> On embracing feminine leadership style:

Annemarie Heyl, Co-Founder & COO of Kale&Me

Annemarie HeylAs the COO of her company, Annemarie deals with many men when managing the supply side of the production process. She learned that women are different in the way they communicate, and sometimes it can be an advantage. When she first started she often yelled and got angry, but now she realized that aggressive approach is not as effective as her own style of negotiation, which is more calm and pleasant. Annemarie opened up about being emotional, and in response to women being labeled as emotional, she said she would never try to hide who she is. However, since her other two co-founders are both men, she introduced bi-weekly feedback rounds to discuss everything and help them understand the way she perceives things. The more men understand you, she said, the better you can work together.

> On how to advance your career:

Videesha Kunkulagunta, Principal of Redstone Digital

Videesha KunkulaguntaStatistics show only 7% of partners at venture capital firms are women. Videesha sees this number as a product of the past decade, and says there are a lot of new blood coming up from the associate level who are female. The shortage of senior female managers in VCs can be attributed to two factors: insufficient knowledge about existing roles and lack of female role models.

In regards to general barriers for women in the workplace, Videesha says women cannot keep blaming the ‘glass ceiling’. Sometimes it is women themselves who stop pushing, who say they cannot move beyond a certain point. With an abundance in opportunities geared towards attracting women nowadays, there is more positive discrimination towards women in the workplace than negative. But the downside of this positive discrimination is people may attribute everything you achieve due to your gender, because it is “easier” for you as a woman.

The only thing that matters in success is competency. Whether or not you can perform and deliver the results. However, at a more senior level, Videesha shared two tactics maybe her male counterparts wouldn’t need to use. The first is ‘vouch for’, where Videesha makes extra effort to go for coffee with other senior VCs and get to know them. If she’s at an event meeting a new senior VC and a senior VC within her existing network comes up and says hi, this action would have a ‘vouch for’ effect and help remove some of the biases associated with her gender. The second is ‘open conversation’. Videesha explains men are quite forthright, whereas women have to balance being non-aggressive and diplomatic while also putting people in their place. She has to be far more rational and give more reasoning than men, or it could be viewed as temperamental. However, she adds, often men do not realize when they may be trivializing women, and sometimes the reality of the situation may differ from the perception. When you feel you are not being treated like an equal, the best way to deal with it is to initiate an open and honest conversation. “Here is my position, can we talk about this” is a great way of ensuring equal treatment and maintaining your professionalism.

And how should women ask for a promotion or salary raise? Go in with solid case studies, market data (average salaries for your role) and KPIs. It’s hard to rebut against numbers, Videesha advises. Know what you bring to the table, and highlight your skill sets and competencies. If you know you are indispensible to the firm and have a clear mindset of what you deserve and why, then you will be best prepared for the negotiating table.

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Many thanks to Lana Wittig from Edition F for moderating the discussion, and the team at Mindspace for their generosity and support. We look forward to seeing more of you at our next Speaker Series event. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get updates on those future events.

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