Monika Dech and Margit Dittrich founded the “Frauen verbinden” (Connecting Women) network. They both realize that many of the discussions we have about gender are no longer necessary. We asked them what women can learn from one another.
The network founders Monika Dech, deputy managing director of Messe München (l.), and business woman Margit Dittrich (r.) with moderator Katarina Barić.
MM | Monika Dech, you’ve been a member of senior management for many years and a num- ber of the world’s leading trade fairs in Munich are headed by women, such as the construction machinery fair bauma, which in terms of square footage is the largest trade fair in the world. However, many outsiders regard trade fairs as a man’s domain. What’s your reaction to that?
Monika Dech | Messe München is not a male-dominated business. On the contrary, more than 60 percent of our employees and 40 percent of our managers are women. Gender has not played a role in my career at Messe München. I think it’s important to find the right person for each position at the right time.
MM | What can women do better than men in the business world? Or is there ultimately no difference between the sexes, as many feminists maintain?
Dech | Women generally put a greater emphasis on relationships and perhaps have a better feel for how to carry people along with them. These are useful qualities in our modern, sometimes challenging business world and in the era of digitization.
Margit Dittrich | We take a different approach to problems and are more inclined to be guided by our curiosity. Women need to be brave enough to highlight these differences.
„As an executive coach, I always tell my clients that they do not have to behave like a man in order to be noticed.“Margit Dittrich
MM | Let’s be honest: Isn’t the gender balance much better than it was in the past?
Dittrich | It is the role of women in society that has changed. I no longer need to compare myself with men in the same position. Women in management often try to copy men. But it would be a mistake for Monika, for example, to act in just the same way as a man on the management team. As an executive coach, I always tell my clients that they do not have to behave like a man in order to be noticed.
The initiative launched by Margit Dittrich (left) and Monika Dech aims to connect and support women.
MM | But there are still pay differences. Do you think that women ask for too little?
Dittrich | It’s true that women don’t sell themselves as well as men in relation to their own performance. But there are also societal reasons for the pay gap. We live in a world where women have only recently been able to negotiate a five-year deal as a managing director. Women couldn’t sign an employment contract without the consent of their husbands until 1977. This sort of inequality didn’t come about by accident. But I firmly believe that we will be able to put this behind us by 2030.
"Digitization plays into women’s hands in a professional context."Monika Dech
MM | With regard to 2030, people are now saying: “The future is female.” Do you agree?
DECH | That is definitely not meant literally, because it would involve going from one extreme to the other. It’s more about exploiting women’s potential, but we also need to improve the basic conditions, such as the work-life balance. Women still do more of the childcare and housework. That’s why I believe that the current changes in the world of work are playing into women’s hands. If we just take digitization as one example, it means that we don’t need to spend eight hours in the office, which is a blessing for all working people with families.
MM | Is society missing out because women are not playing a greater role in shaping its progress?
Dittrich | We are faced with a huge shortage of skilled workers, which we will not be able to make up by 2030. That’s why we need to exploit all the available potential. Nowadays, there is nothing that women cannot do as well as men. We finally need to throw out all the outdated ideas and stop thinking about whether we should be thinking about something, such as women’s boards or quotas, for example. We simply need to start doing things instead of discussing them.
„For a long time, society was not prepared to accept that a woman could hold a management role.“Margit Dittrich
MM | Have we been focusing on the alleged glass ceiling for too long?
Dittrich | In the past, I would have answered yes to the question of whether we need a quota or whether there is a glass ceiling. For a long time, society was not prepared to accept that a woman could hold a management role. That was not because it wouldn’t have been possible, but because our mindset didn’t allow for it. Today, women are even turning down management positions. And that may simply be because the company has a poor record in the field of corporate social responsibility.
Dech | At the same time, parts of the business world are still dominated by men and companies where women are unlikely to be found on the management team. But it has been demonstrated that mixed teams, consisting of men and women who have different skills and different approaches to work, are the most successful. However, things have improved a lot over the last few years.
MM | So why do we still need a women’s network?
Dech | We need a platform where women can discuss issues and give each other support. As Margit has already said, many women know the feeling of having to assert themselves, change the way they work, or take a different approach. Women are still faced with specific challenges in the business world and we want to be able to talk about them and help one another out.
Dittrich | When women get together, they feel comfortable. They don’t need to look attractive or be strong and they can even sometimes admit that they can’t do something. I don’t think I’d be able to behave like that if men were around. But actually, I didn’t ever want to found a women’s network [she laughs]. It’s just that we keep realizing that society hasn’t yet made as much progress as we would like.
„We need the right people, not large numbers of people.“Monika Dech
MM | What successes has the network had so far?
Dech | I now know a lot of my customers at Messe München much better and I’ve met some new, inspiring, and very special people. I’ve found it very enriching and also a lot of fun on a personal level. It’s also made Messe München more visible. The network is an important part of our employer branding and brings our slogan “Connecting Global Competence” to life.
Dittrich | A lot of productive relationships have developed within the network. Our members often say how grateful they are for the new and surprising encounters that they would not have had without the network.
MM | What are the next steps for the network?
Dech | We are frequently asked what our membership target is. We don’t have one. We need the right people, not large numbers of people.
Dittrich | Exactly. But we still have a lot of ideas. One of them involves connecting men. Perhaps our network should be called “Connecting People” [they both laugh].
Monika Dech and Margit Dittrich founded the “Frauen verbinden” (Connecting Women) network in 2015 as a platform for female managers. It now has more than 500 members from fields such as politics, academia, and culture. The events it holds give women the opportunity to talk, network, and discuss new ideas. But it also raises awareness of wider issues. For example, in October 2017, at the initiative of the network, five buildings in Munich, including the headquarters of Messe München, were lit up to highlight the global campaign to fight breast cancer.