Category Archives: Leadership

It’s the year 2015…

… and you might think it’s a good time to be a grown-up professional woman since we have all the possibilities in the world (at least if you live in a Western European country and are of Western European origin) and we can do as we please etc. etc.

And, yes, it is as good a time as any other, and I don’t want to complain about little things. I’m in fact a rather happy person.
I’m privileged, I have a job, a relationship, a house, a garden, and so much more.

Still, today I feel like ranting about the obstacles we come across, the still existing preconceptions, and I want to share some of my recent experiences and also stories I heard from other women. I think we need to talk about this more, we need to bring those stories to light, and we must not stop working towards a world where every person has equal rights and is treated equal, not just on paper, but also in daily life.
You might argue that those are first-world-problems and that I should just be content with what I have. People who know me know that I have a rather quick tongue and that I’m not afraid to speak up and get heard. I tend to fight for others (sometimes more than for myself), for fairness, honesty and respect.

So I just need to write this blog post today and if any of my stories ring a bell, please feel free to comment or get in touch by email or on twitter.

A while ago I started looking for organ music by female composers. I need some pieces written by women for a small project. I asked around on twitter and got some really good answers from Morwenna (http://www.theladyorganist.com) and also from Kathryn (http://artsyhonker.net). Kathryn also mentioned a few composers whom I started to follow (Jenni Pinnock, Barbara Kennedy). I will write a separate blog post on our findings and on organ playing.
While I did my research, I came across a discussion in a German piano forum. A user (a man, judging from his user name) had published information on the Frankfurt based archive “Frau & Musik” (Woman & Music) and asked for support. There were quite many users who said that they didn’t want to support this organisation as it discriminates against men. Some said that if women composers were any good at all, their music would be played anyway and that they wouldn’t need any additional help. One person even said that it was a fact that women are just not as creative as men and that this is why there are less female composers and that this was just the way it should be. When one user (a woman, judging from her user name) claimed that there weren’t any successful women in film music, Rachel Portman was mentioned, and Anne Dudley. However, the woman said that she thought if female composers were just good enough, they would get those Hollywood jobs. Having worked both in the creative industry and in technology companies, I have to say that it is a fairytale that you simply have to be good enough to get those jobs. You need to be good, yes, absolutely, but you also need to have a strong network and maybe a mentor, and much more, to really get your foot into that door. And it does help to be a man (and not have too dark skin). Which seems rather wrong to me.

Speaking of tech companies, why is it that talented women in this year 2015 still have to fight against gender bias and some even quit their jobs out of sheer frustration? How can it be that we’re told to not aim for managing positions since these are not for women? Whether you’re good in tech has more to do with your personal talents and skills and not with your gender.

I’ve been driving trucks (lorries, HGVs, however you’d like to call these vehicles) for many years now. I own a 9-ton veteran truck and I take it to shows from time to time. I do as much as I can regarding repairs and maintenance, and my husband and I need to remind each other regularly that we should stop adding more vehicles to our collection. In May this year, we went to a truck show and I noticed that there was a group of people very interested in our truck. So I went and said, hey, is there any question I could answer for you about this vehicle? They looked at me, rather taken aback, and then said, oh, no, thanks, I probably couldn’t. I said, well, you could try it since I’m the owner. One man from the group opened his mouth and all that came out was, but you are a… (woman, he didn’t say).
Yes, of course women who own and drive trucks are a minority, and that’s not a problem. Men who own veteran trucks are a minority as well when you look at sheer numbers. I’m quite used to people frowning upon my love for those old Diesels, but most of the time, they don’t question my ownership or know-how and this is how it should be.

I’ve been told more than once in my life that I am too loud. My voice is resounding and I put it to good use when singing or presenting, and even in conversations, I sometimes stand out even when I didn’t plan to do so. Sometimes, women tell me that my normal tone of voice is intimidating and that I should speak lower. A woman should be calm and placid and not rub people the other way. Or should we?

I’ve been told to be quiet and behave instead of getting the support I needed from my manager when I was in a difficult situation at work. I’ve been told that men get confused when women act like a man. My observation is that many women act like girls (unknowingly or deliberately) and that some men get confused when they meet a woman actually acting like a woman. Of course we need to adjust our behaviour according to the situation and the group we’re in; of course we shouldn’t shout at each other (this would neither be manly or womanly but plain bad manners); of course we need to respect the other’s viewpoint and we need to constantly learn and work towards understanding the others.
But! Why shouldn’t a woman be extrovert if that’s the way she is? Why shouldn’t a man be shy? Why shouldn’t a woman speak her mind? Why shouldn’t a man love housework?
It’s the year 2015. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Dorothy L. Sayers, who’s more known for writing crime novels than for her translation work and academic work, once was asked about how she knew so much about men and had her main character speak like a man. She answered that she didn’t think about having her characters talk or act like men or women, but like humans.
When I first read this, I didn’t quite catch how important this was.
Now I do.

We’re all human, and that’s how we should treat each other. And I hope that one day I will look back at this text and smile and say, oh, this was sooo 2015. Thanks for reading! Comments are welcome, as always.

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Leadership: the catfight theory

I’ve had some really interesting weeks at work.
For more than three years I had been leading a small team (I’ve been leading teams for more than seven years, three years at my current workplace), starting with 6 people, then 3 people after my new boss had finished restructuring the department.
Whatever the reason, my team is a female-only team.
I find leading mixed teams easier, but I have learned a lot in the past three years and I’m grateful for all the learning opportunities my team gave me.

Well, my boss has now left the company which means I’m back to reporting directly to (male) management. After discovering that the entries on who’s leading whom in our internal database had been changed from me to another guy, I went to my manager and asked what was going on.

His answer was: “When women lead teams of women, or when women lead in general, there’s too much catfight going on, that’s why I want teams to be led by men.”

I was gobsmacked. I really couldn’t say more than “Uh-hu.” and then try to leave the room as quickly as I possibly could.

I have no problems with someone telling me that I am “the icon of incompetence” (as happened many years ago on the telephone), or that I am “interculturally illiterate” (as happened when someone from another country felt deeply misunderstood), or that my leadership skills need improving.

But I really struggle with the concept of being a not-so-good leader in general because of my gender.

Still don’t know how I will react to this or how I will deal with my manager next time I see him, but one thing I know: I will leave this workplace as soon as I can. I’ve put much time and effort into doing good work and I will continue to do so, but I’m not willing to pay the price of having a manager who obviously lives in another century.

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Kritikfähigkeit

Gestern hatte ich einen kurzen, inspirierenden Twitterdialog zum Thema, wie das denn wäre, wenn der eigene Chef twittern würde (und dann auch noch die Accounts seiner Mitarbeiter kennt, und sie den Account des Chefs) – dass es gut sein könne, wenn der Chef kritikfähig sei, und bei mangelnder Kritikfähigkeit liefe man Gefahr, dass das, was man so zwitschert, zum Problem wird.

Ich bin ja sehr für Transparenz in der Kommunikation. Allerdings gibt es Medien, die sich weniger eignen, um konstruktive Kritik anzubringen und um über Fehler und Schwierigkeiten zu sprechen. So toll Twitter ist, um sich auszutauschen, so hinderlich ist die Zeichenbegrenzung, wenn’s wirklich zur Sache geht. Und auch und gerade bei einem kritikfähigen Chef würde ich persönlich einen anderen Weg wählen, um auf etwas hinzuweisen.

Ich führe ein kleines, engagiertes, tolles Team. Ob ich tatsächlich kritikfähig bin, mag mein Team entscheiden, ich gebe mir jedenfalls Mühe. Aber abgesehen von der Tatsache, dass mein Team meinen eher privaten Twitteraccount und auch dieses eher private Blog vermutlich gar nicht kennt, würde ich Dinge, die im Team zu klären sind, nicht in der Öffentlichkeit besprechen wollen. Teaminterna gehören nicht ins Netz, weder bei Twitter, noch auf anderen Plattformen. Ein offenes Ohr sollte ich als Führungskraft haben, mehr noch, mindestens zwei offene Ohren. Dazu hatte ich hier auch schon einmal gebloggt.

Dennoch, egal, über welchen Kanal ein Mitarbeiter eine ihm wichtige Sache anspricht, als Führungskraft sollte ich soviel Rückgrat haben, mir alles, auch das Unangenehme, erst einmal anzuhören, und den Mitarbeiter nicht dafür anzumotzen, dass er sich getraut hat, etwas zu sagen. Sonst kommt eines Tages tatsächlich der Punkt, dass die Führungskraft irgendwo öffentlich lesen kann, was die Mitarbeiter von ihr halten, und vom Arbeitgeber, und überhaupt. Und das kann, so meine ich, nicht das Ziel sein.

In diesem Sinne: frohes Diskutieren, Zuhören, Neues lernen und Lösungen finden!

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“How do I become a good team leader?”

This is a question I’m asked frequently by new managers, but also by managers with some experience.
And while I could talk for hours about what “good” leadership might be, there’s one idea I personally find really helpful.

The idea is to look at your ears and your mouth and observe that you have two ears, but only one mouth.

Use them accordingly!

A good leader should listen more than talk.

That’s not always easy. The more experience you have, the more you might be inclined to just talk.

Before you start talking, sit back and listen. You might be surprised how powerful this approach can be.

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Lob und Komplimente

“Net gschimpft is gnug globt.” sagt der Volksmund.

Wie geht es uns, wenn wir gelobt werden? Wenn uns jemand ein Kompliment macht? Fühlt sich das gut an? Oder werden wir doch eher verlegen und schmälern unsere Leistung lieber?

Ich wuchs in einer liebevollen Familie auf. Trotzdem hat es Jahre gedauert, bis ich ein Kompliment oder ein Lob einfach annehmen konnte, ohne entschuldigend darauf hinzuweisen, dass es doch eigentlich gar nicht sooo besonders war.

Ich meine, dass es sich lohnt, zu lernen, sich über Lob und Komplimente zu freuen. Wenn ich mich darüber freuen kann, ist das angenehm für mich. Und ich glaube auch, dass es für mein Gegenüber schöner ist, wenn ich mich nicht aus dem Kompliment wieder herauswinde, sondern es einfach annehme.

Heute sagte jemand zu mir: “Deine Präsentation war großartig. Ich war beeindruckt.”
Und ich habe mich bedankt und mich ganz ohne Hintergedanken einfach nur gefreut.

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