She Means Business - An interview with Karin Nordmeyer

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4th Apr, 2018
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She Means Business: Join the Conversation at IMEX 2018 in Frankfurt

Gender equality and female empowerment have never been higher on the news agenda and these issues are now, rightly, being given the due recognition they deserve – across the meetings and events sector – and society at large. At a new conference during EduMonday at IMEX in Frankfurt, pioneering women will share their experiences, provide valuable advice and inspire action.

Inspirational women from around the world will share their perspectives on the current climate at She Means Business, taking place the day before the show on Monday 14 May. Meeting and event strategists – both female and male – are invited to network and learn from a packed programme of highly influential speakers and mentors.

Karin NordmeyerPioneering women

The speakers are inspirational women from diverse backgrounds and sectors. What unites them is that they have overcome challenges and broken boundaries. The day starts with ‘Women in space’, where Major Nicola Baumann, one of Germany’s only three female Eurofighter pilots, and Laura Winterling, a former astronaut instructor and CEO of Space Time Concepts GmbH, will be delivering the keynote.

Female business leaders from backgrounds including tech, finance and the UN share their personal perspectives on issues including empowering women in the workplace, eradicating the gender pay gap and increasing leadership positions held by women.

The UN’s Women's Empowerment Principles are a set of guidelines for businesses on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. Chairwoman of the UN Women National Committee, Germany, Karin Nordmeyer explores these in her session, part of the Women in Business strand.

Karin will speak at the first She Means Business conference taking place on 14 May 2018, as part of IMEX in Frankfurt.

The Women in the Event Industry survey has revealed that there are still too few women in leadership positions. For example, 63.59% of women want more female leaders. 90% women apply for training as an event trader, but only a few then make the leap to management level.

Do you see a need for discussion between men and women, given these results?

Men need to be aware that women often want to use other means and ways to achieve their goals, visions and ideas. This difference in perception points to a need for discussion between men and women. Men must recognise that there is not only "their way"- the "masculine way" - to shape life and work.

I want people to consider this appeal: "Listen to me and my ideas and consider them as an alternative option. In other words, think in new ways."

I remember conferences in which I brought ideas that did not resonate ... a few minutes later a man communicated the same idea - in "male language" - and aroused interest. We need to move on from this and work on perception of women and their ideas – this is very important to me. Men’s perception of women impacts on their behaviour - women feel they have to still behave "tougher" than men. Here I would like to encourage women not to throw their ideas, ideas and visions aside in a "male context" but to advance the ideas. Women - believe in your strengths and shape your plans!

Too often we hear the sentence anchored in the stereotypical family image: "my wife does not work" - which actually only says: my wife is not gainfully employed. These misleading utterances are structural hurdles that we need to overcome.

Can you please tell us something about the UN Women Women Empowerment Principles campaign? Do you see starting points for the international meeting industry here?

The Women's Empowerment Principles are 7 principles for empowering women in business. More than 1,700 CEOs worldwide have already signed this commitment. The initiative offers ideal starting points for all sectors, as it aims to change structures and mechanisms of action. When UN Women emerged as an independent institution, the aim was to create new, altered structures so that women had the opportunity to bring their full potential to life. It’s about putting the communication of women and men on an equal footing - on one "level". The next step is to encourage and enable women to use these new and changed structures. This sequence is vitally important. The existing language in existing management levels is very masculine - we want to change that.

These "Women Empowerment Principles" can be transported to any industry. The task is to break down this approach to individual industries and environments - such as the meetings and events industry - and to change structures and develop models so that women can live to their full potential and strengths.

What do you think of a women's quota in companies?

I think the women's quota is a very important door opener and an efficient vehicle - it is not, however, a “miracle drug” but serves to change thinking and promote fast action.

You have three children, have you ever had the feeling that you have to choose between work and family? And how did you master this challenge?

I grew up in a professional world that was strongly influenced by hierarchical structures. When I had to decide between "children or career", I found an option in between and worked part-time. After I retired, I became fully involved in my unpaid volunteer work at UN Women.

Did you have a mentor in your career?

No, I had no mentors in my career - that was not common at the time. However, I did have mentors in the social environment - my mother and my grandmother have always helped other people and shown me how a good, respectful togetherness can look like.

And are you a mentor for women, especially for younger women?

Yes, I support young women and young men where I can and I like to be a counsellor. Precisely because I did not have a mentor, I would like to pass on my experiences and ideas. I see in what constraints young women and young men experience today. It’s important for me to give them advice and guidance and to show them possible changes of perspective.

Discovering your own career path is a challenge, particularly for women today. Whereas previously, women had a lack of opportunities, today there is a "multi-option dilemma".

What would you like to pass on - be it professionally, in a social environment and also as chairwoman of the German Committee for UN Women?

My advice to young women is this: carefully consider what you want to accomplish. Ask yourself, "What can I do? And where and how can I apply this knowledge in the most effective and meaningful way?"

This then leads to ideas that can be implemented. I am well aware that this is a very difficult and sometimes painful process - to recognise and work out one's own potential. To honestly ask the question: "What and where do I want, what can I do, what would make me happy and content?"

I want to urge all women: "Embrace these tough questions! Research and review ideas, discard them, look for role models. There are many stumbling blocks on this path - you can exceed them if you become aware of your abilities and goals, if you think of a "common thread". Not all leadership positions are worth aspiring to, other professional positions are valuable too! Whether it's unpaid volunteer jobs or becoming a role model/mentor. Or developing a completely new model - with or without children...

My advice, especially to young women, is this: “do not let these important life decisions slip from your hands!”

This applies across all sectors and internationally. But not all women have the same starting conditions. This is where UN Women comes in. Our projects, for example, our aid project "Oases" at the Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, enables women to learn to read and write and practice a craft so that they have the opportunity to help themselves and their families by building an economic foundation. Our credo is "Strengthen women by instilling their meaning in life." The world needs women to survive - women are changing the world!

How do you rate the understanding of leadership, do you see a paradigm shift in the face of global change?

When it comes to leadership, we must realise that this term will change significantly. Leadership will no longer be possible in hierarchical systems only. In the face of globalisation and digitisation, I see entirely new employment opportunities for women. We’ll have access to more and more opportunities for flexible working. This is a huge opportunity for women who continue to suffer the difficult reconciliation of paid and unpaid care work!

Karin will speak at the first She Means Business conference taking place on 14 May 2018, as part of IMEX in Frankfurt.

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