Women’s careers need strategic alliances with influential men

An interview with Eva Faenger, Inclusion & Diversity Manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Ms Faenger, your company has been leading the field of top employers for women’s careers for years. What do you do differently from others?

Every company certainly has its own formula for success here. For us, the following applies: you have to keep at it, show perseverance, show a certain tenacity and above all, you must not be discouraged. The following four aspects are therefore crucial to success: De-emotionalisation, concentration and seriousness, endurance and corporate culture. The questions “why” and “for what purpose” must be at the centre of attention. Many still do not understand that without women we will not be able to master the digital transformation. This is not about quotas and women’s issues, but about our future. For this we need more than hectic activism and good will. It is about creating structures and at the same time initiating a change of thinking in people’s minds. But all this happens in a very measured way. We give ourselves time. It is not about counting, measuring and weighing. It’s about a process of change that ensures that women not only reach the executive floors, but also stay there. We also ask ourselves the question: do we have the right cultural environment? This is basically a plea for change and helps enormously to have an open dialogue, to try things out and create real added value.

To what extent can digitisation lay the foundation for improving career opportunities for women? Where is the concrete connection here?

Women’s careers play a major role in this context, a crucial one according to some Harvard professors. It is often forgotten that the changes that digitisation brings with it are not only technical in nature. The biggest force is cultural change. Faster and faster development cycles, new business models, changing values, more personal responsibility – all these factors place high demands on the ability of companies to change. Promoting women’s careers challenges the status quo, breaks with traditional patterns of thought, opens up deadlocked structures and clears the way for the necessary changes. I see the promotion opportunities for women particularly at the interface with the customer. It is less and less about the product itself, but rather about a solution developed together with customers and partners. The tasks are becoming more complex, social and communicative skills are becoming more important. This is where the strengths of women are particularly in demand. Anyone who ignores this is gambling away their digital future.

It must be obvious to the decision-makers, who always say: “We’re looking for women, but can’t find any.” What do you think the problem is?

That’s a statement I’ve heard many times. And not without good reason. Career always needs a clear decision. For us it is clear: women want to take on responsibility. What they often lack is the courage to consistently take the necessary steps to achieve this. That’s why we start where the path to a management career is decided – in practice. For our female employees with leadership potential, for example, we have created the workshop series “Female Talents Explore Leadership”. The women learn first-hand what is important as managers, what personal decisions they have to make and where they are actively challenged. Mentoring programs deepen this experience.

So it’s up to the women themselves who need to make their position even clearer for a management career?

No, that would be too easy. The reasons lie in a mix of fear of leaving the comfort zone, doubts about one’s own abilities, lack of access to the decisive networks and traditional thought patterns, such as “think manager think male”. Therefore, in addition to clarity of decision and encouragement, what is needed above all is strategic alliances with influential men. Candidates who are willing to lead often do not make it into management positions on their own, even though they have all the necessary professional and personal skills. Lack of visibility, insufficient networking with decision-makers and poorly developed promotion skills are decisive obstacles. This is precisely what our Female Sponsorship Program addresses. The program opens doors, makes female leadership talents visible and ensures that they get the next chance. The intended side effect: sponsors experience first-hand where the chips are down.

Finally, let’s talk about the Women’s Career Index. Why do you think that management-relevant measuring instruments such as the FKI have not yet become widely accepted in the economy?

Here I can only speculate. But I think loss of power and fear of alienating the men certainly play a role here. Personally, I find initiatives like the FKI very important. The FKI provides us with an instrument that supports us in making career development in a digital working world fair and innovative.”

Mrs Faenger, thank you so much for the interview.