Why I think women should be the ones redefining leadership

Why I think women should be the ones redefining leadership

Sara – October 2018

Why women? We get asked this a lot at CoWomen, and I have many answers. To discuss this topic, it’s necessary to generalize. So, just to be clear: We’re all individuals, and men can be feminine and feminists, and women aren’t feminine or feminists just based on the fact they’re women. However, a new rise of feminism in the West is showing that there are still many issues for women to tackle. But, getting back to the initial question: why do we at CoWomen focus on supporting women? One reason that has continued to occupy my thoughts for weeks now is that we need to have more women working in jobs with higher managing responsibilities, but – and this is important – we need them there for the right reasons. Fairness is an issue connected to it, but it is not the most pressing neither the most interesting issue to me. Having more women in decision-making is about much more than fairness.

Tarana Burke during her opening key note at the Bits&Pretzles Founders Festival in Munich this year said that while companies often understand they need more diversity in their teams, they often don’t understand for what reasons they should invest in it aside from equal numbers and maybe some higher productivity. 

My answer: It’s about PURPOSE. I’m becoming more and more confident that there should be more women in positions where decisions are made because they think differently. Over the past weeks, I’ve been to so many inspiring events, conferences, and places where it has become clear to me that women don’t just fight for their own equality in fields they’re a minority in – women fight for more. A friend forwarded this interesting article by Jessica Tillyer for Fast Company to me, stating why women can be better designers. She names ten behavioral shifts that underlie the decision-making process of female founders and designers. These values enable them to not just think of better solutions for women, but better solutions for everyone: 

From a focus on few to the inclusion of many
From focusing on functionality to embracing beauty
From self-protection to vulnerability
From top-down dictation to all-around collaboration
From reliance on reason to consideration of intuition
From designing for profits to designing for purpose
From taking credit to amplifying voices
From rigidity to adaptability
From protection of status to advocacy for others
From acting with fear to leading with love

As she says: “These 10 shifts will enable the next generation to be, not just design leaders, but designers of leadership.”  

Among those ten shifts, I see a lot of intersection with how we’ve been designing the CoWomen space and the community around it. But this is just a small example. These shifts should also play a much bigger role in designing our job market, our products, and our quality of life. We see similar arguments also in the dynamics of rethinking classic leadership. New work developments expect leadership to be more than just expertise and experience.

In a workshop with Nora Dietrich at CoWomen last week, we discussed, that leaders are more and more expected to be emotionally intelligent and empathetic. They are asked to act as strong individuals within a company and take on own perspectives instead of being micromanaged from a higher level. All of this is necessary in time of great uncertainty and complexity. Leaders of the future need to make a lot of decisions that are not based on existing data. They need empathy, adaptability, and intuition. These are traits classically attributed to women, but it’s by having more female leaders that they can become something men and women alike strive for – creating a better future of work for everyone.

Summer of Stories

Summer of stories

Sara – August 2018

Thanks to my incredible team, I was able to take a few days off and get a real change of setting. Before I left, I was struggling to take in and process any new information since we have been learning and working so much over the past months. I was sure that I needed some quiet time at the beach to get my thoughts sorted, and I wanted to read and write and think.

Looking back on my time in Portugal, I did, more or less … none of that. Instead of alone time, I decided to travel with friends to places full of interesting people from all over the world. We hopped from one hostel to another, socializing with awesome people. Our generation, traveling as much as we do, we have all experienced those kinds of trips where you stay in colorful hostels, sleep in large dorms, and meet new people every day. So we know it. We’ve always loved it, but at some point we might tell ourselves that we need quiet and privacy on holidays in order to get a balance to our day-to-day stress. But is quiet and thoughts about the issues at home what we need to relax?

Moreover, do we need quiet and time alone in foreign places that are exciting and bear the chance of exciting encounters?

What strikes me, now that I am back, is that being on this kind of trip where you get to know new people every day did not tire me down, but built me up. Listening to other people’s stories forces you to think less about your own problems. But even more importantly, at the same time, it still helps you analyze your own story.  You quickly get into the practice of pitching yourself and processing people’s reactions to it. My friend very wisely said that these encounters help you to reflect your own life in a way no friend or coach could ever do.

For me this was the first time staying in hostels since I founded CoWomen. Looking back, I have to say that I was talking much more enthusiastically about our dream project at the end of my trip than in the beginning. Maybe because I gained energy from the fun things we did or the awesome people we met, but maybe it was just very helpful to get out of the ecosystem in Berlin where everyone is a founder and where I was in a similar setting. Don’t get me wrong, I could not wish for any other place to live at the moment, or any other community than the one I surround myself with, but on this trip, I learned that a change of setting can also mean a change of community for a few days. And this change can help you forget the daily issues and instead work on the bigger picture of your own story.

Even though I felt completely filled up on impressions when I started the trip, I feel refreshed and ready to start a new week in the chapter of CoWomen now!

At CoWomen, we want to strengthen the exchange and cooperation between networks. I now know once and again that having a colorful community is extremely important for your own development and this can only be achieved by being open and merging networks together. I’m looking forward to put this in practice. Let’s start cooperating!

"We just started playing."

„We just started playing.“

Sara – June 2018

Time really flies. We realise that at the end of each day in our CoWomen space. Is it possible that the day ends, we have worked on one task after the other – hardly thinking about food or even breathing – and still there is a feeling of not having achieved anything? Our last energy fort he day is spent cleaning up the kitchen dishes and I get a memory of childhood days in my head: It feels like the time back in my childhood, when I ran over to my friends house to play first thing in the morning and was devastated when I was called home for dinner. Is the day really over, yet? We just started playing!

If you have exciting and fulfilling tasks, the day passes particularly fast. An interview with a fascinating student, talks about women in leadership and the future of work with coworkers in our space, reading a good article and posting it on our Facebook page, designing t-shirts, filling our workshop program with exciting content that strengthens women in their jobs… At the end of the day, we’re left with disappointment about stopping to do what you enjoy doing. And we are exhausted, but at the same time there is certainty that it was a good day.

The highlight of my week has clearly been the visit of a great role model: Brigitte Zypries visited us for coffee and exchange in our CoWomen Pop-Up. The former Minister of Justice and Economics is also the author of the manifesto „Strong Women, Strong Economy“ and has been campaigning for women at work and female founders. A great honour and a visit that made it particularly difficult for me to hide my nervousness. Ms Zypries has listened to us. She was interested in our concept and gave us valuable input and feedback. Through meetings like these we learn again where we stand and where we are heading with CoWomen. And above all, we learn that we are not alone with the vision of more women at work and the creation of the perfect space for the everyday life of aspiring women.

We just started playing!

What coworking feels like

What CoWorking feels like

Sara – May 2018

Here we are. Our space on Bergstraße is open for business. What a huge step in CoWomen’s short history. A step I am very proud of and at the same time steps you work for when you work for your own business are only opening up new tasks and new goals to work on afterwards.

So for us, that meant right after furnishing and opening our place we had to focus on the program, which we offer, and running everyday life in the space. We could just open the space up and change the flowers every once in a while. But for us running the place means offering a full program in order to make a women’s every day perfect and lighten up work with sessions for body and soul. We are absolutely amazed by the awesome trainers and yoga teachers and coaches, who approached us and we are willing to offer them our space to bring joy and ideas as well as guidance to our CoWomen. It’s going to be an exciting time!

And on the other hand, we are happy and a little proud, that we managed to make the space as cozy and beautiful as we hope for and the first two weeks, we not only enjoyed working there, but we really live what we preach and used all the synergies of coworking in a place that makes us feel at home. We enjoyed each class and workshop and event. We got to know awesome women and are ready for more to come and join the community. Coworking to me for the last two weeks meant interesting input from women of other fields of work on branding ourselves. It meant concentrating on my body and my inner voice next to others. It meant being able to focus on my work and at the same time feeling comfortable at my workplace. I really feel empowered. Now, I would like to transport this feeling to many more women and make the magic happen in our space!

So let’s get started together!

Countdown: How it feels to found a business 600 km from home

Countdown: How it feels to found a business 600 km from home 

Sara – April 2018

There is a countdown on our homepage now. A countdown to an event we have been looking forward to for a long time, and we are extremely excited about: The CoWomen Pop-Up launch!

The day on which we are opening our doors and start the CoWomen legend. To all of us this means all the theory will fade into the background and practice will take over. We will need to concentrate on really living and implementing our ideas. To me it also means implementing, working, and being away from home even more. I live 600 km away from the place CoWomen’s ideas will call home and which will soon be the starting point of a blooming community.

At CoWomen we believe digitalism is not all you need in order to build a sustainable community. We believe in the magic of real-life encounters and the importance of the right place and space to be in. The right space is crucial to meeting the right people. The right place however, is crucial in order to take the right steps on the way to a functioning business.

I think there are at least two aspects that make Berlin the right place for CoWomen to grow: It is the ecosystem represented by the many women who are familiar with our concept and ready to get started. I am sure there is a trade-off for many businesses between being the first one with the idea in the place on the one hand and fitting into a system on the other. With CoWomen in Berlin, I think we are both.

And the second aspect is that I have the right partners in this place. With my amazing cofounder, who is based in Berlin, and the amazing partners we found here, CoWomen is in a perfect place to start. It feels much more like flying a jet than taking baby steps. It feels great! So I think, when founding a business, one needs to be flexible in terms of location. Within the starting phase, especially. Look for the right place – even if it sounds complicated at first to found a business away from home, which means additional costs for travelling and living and a lot of digital coworking. It can be worth the energy and the money as long as it develops and as long as it feels right. So, I would recommend everyone while possible, stay flexible in terms of travelling for work or changing your location every once in a while. It opens up the possibility of being in the best of all places. The place that fits your business.

The thought of really starting in practice makes me excited, because I will build a home away from home to share it with great people!

Not dying a wasted talent

„My greatest fear is to die a wasted talent.“ – Alyssa Shelasky

Sara – April 2018

I absolutely adore this statement as it transports so much power and self-confidence. I would love to state the same fear, but mine is probably more down-to-earth, more German. My greatest fear, I think, is to be economically dependent (and not to be able to party as much, to be honest). These first three months of 2018, though, I worked extremely hard on making things happen, filling new professional roles and to step up. Fear? What’s fear?

I am proud to be able to announce that I am managing an IT project, managing a team at the same company, and started an own company this year which has two awesome partners already! For me, this is only possible because I can concentrate on the tasks I am doing 100%. Switching between different roles is clearly structured and transparent. This way, I can be the best employee, as well as the best founder, I can be. The new challenge from April on will be to shift focus in terms of time. I read a statement by strongandgirl on instagram yesterday that said, „We all have the same 24 hours, no excuses.“ For me, it is not only a positive statement, but it brings out what the essence of results and probably success is: Spending the right amount of time on the most relevant tasks. A challenge I am not even close to mastering. But I am shifting time now. It is official and organized, but now it really has to sink in in everyone’s minds so people know how and when they can reach me. And so I can be good at it as well.

Taking on three different roles does seem a lot on one plate sometimes, but I haven’t felt as free as I am feeling now for a long time. I love the many very different tasks, and I love being busy. Besides, no matter how much there is on my plate, I listen to my mom who ends every call with „And treat yourself well, too, ok? Do something nice today as well.“ She has the wisdom. No matter how many roles and tasks we take on, we have to watch out for ourselves. Otherwise we cannot perform. In the end, being a project manager, team leader, and founder is not much different to the roles people take on in their private lives. I am full of respect for all working and single moms, for all people who take care of others. Alyssa Shelasky overcomes her fear by acknowledging the time she spends with her daughter. I will overcome mine by having very different jobs at the same time. It feels good to make more time for CoWomen! And we will see, maybe next year I will have a greatest fear as self-confident and powerful as worrying about one’s own talent.

Read Alyssa’s article in the Lenny newsletter.