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Heike Gäbler

#ChangeAgent Heike Gäbler: “Complexity can never be answered with one-sidedness.”

Heike Gäbler is the founder of the Female Co-Founders initiative, which strives to promote more diversity in founding teams, especially in the German start-up ecosystem. The focus is on networking opportunities for women and men who are looking for a female co-founder. In regard to our focus topic this week – “Emotional Agility” – we asked Heike about her perspective: What is her opinion on the widespread assumption that women are better able to show and use their emotions in a work context?

Dear Heike, this week we are talking about emotions and their importance for good leadership and innovation in organizations. Empathy, humility, and being a good listener as new leadership skills – these are abilities that are more often attributed to women. Are female leaders ideally equipped to guide organizations through this complex world?

In my opinion, the best way to tackle a complex world is to have a diverse team that is able to contribute a variety of perspectives and brings together the necessary skills. Because complexity can never be answered with one-sidedness. Emotionality plays a significant role here, along with other skills. For me, it primarily means being in touch with your own feelings and the feelings of others and using them sensibly. In my opinion, it is an attitude derived from education and awareness, which conversely means that all people can have effective emotionality and that it is not only female territory.

With your network „Female Co-Founders“, you consciously introduce more femininity into the professional world. What are people that join your network looking for? Which skills are sought-after? And are there more men or more women who want to work specifically with women – and if so, what do you think are the reasons?

Female Co-Founders brings women into the founding teams of start-ups, thus increasing the number of female and mixed founding teams. This number is currently only at about 30 percent. People who come to Female Co-Founders already have a business idea and are looking for a female co-founder. Their search is initially filtered according to hard criteria such as the professional background. In the context of co-founding, marketing and technology skills are especially in demand. Of course, the search for a female co-founder by male founders is also accompanied by the hope of harvesting the fruits of diversity – such as more innovative ability, creativity, and competitive strength. These teams want to shape their corporate culture from the very beginning, starting with the first management team. But also the product or service itself may require a woman to be a part of the founding team. Especially female products (e.g. Female Health) or services that are often purchased by women (e.g. HR) make the presence of a woman in the founding team sensible, if not essential. But there are also women who prefer founding a company with other women in order to be among like-minded peers. Ultimately, this is also one of the reasons for the 70 percent purely male founding teams.

Networks around “Female Empowerment” have sprung up like mushrooms in the past five years. Taking stock, to what extent would you say have they noticeably changed the professional world and where is there still a lot to do?

With regard to start-ups, I see more and more women setting up new companies – especially in my bubble. At universities, I notice – at least in Berlin – more female and diverse teams. This is partly thanks to networks and programs that promote female start-ups in particular. But I also see media sources sending out newsletters on the subject of start-ups, in which only stories and photos of male founder teams appear, and also that university start-up services in other regions continue to produce almost exclusively male start-up teams. Therefore: There is still a lot of work to be done, with a focus on cooperation between networks and inclusive offers for women and men. Because it shouldn’t be “us against them”, but “together for society”. It is also important to raise awareness beyond the boundaries of the start-up hotspots in Germany, such as Berlin, and to increase the diversification of women. Because women are not all the same. Women are founders, employees, experts, generalists, technicians, managers, philosophers, politicians, artists – each one with their own challenges, needs and desires.

Thanks for your inspiring thoughts, Heike!

In our #ChangeAgents section, we introduce people and companies that encourage us to tackle and change things. Strong minds that are passionately committed to a more humane working environment, who initiate new ways of thinking and actively shape change processes. Our #ChangeAgents are role models, trailblazers, multipliers, and doers.

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