WHU General

FEM. - Female Leadership at WHU 2023

A conference dedicated to shedding a light on the obstacles that hinder women as they climb the corporate ladder

FEM. – Female Leadership at WHU invited guests to the campus in Vallendar at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management for their annual, student-run conference, this year billed as “Mission Possible – Breaking the Glass Ceiling.” There, the topics discussed included female empowerment and how women today can plan their careers successfully and not get stuck beneath the glass ceiling.

Journalist Brigitte Wallstabe-Watermann, herself a company founder, hosted the conference, which featured many guest speakers, all of whom gave insight into their professional lives and spoke of best practices. Sylvie Nicol, Executive Vice President of Human Resources at Henkel, shared the ups and downs of her personal and professional life and encouraged her audience to follow their own path regardless of any possible resistance. Her unplanned pregnancy, she noted, neither discouraged her nor impeded her career planning. She offered this anecdote as an example of how to reconcile home life and a career following the birth of a child. “You cannot be successful as a lone wolf,” she said, making clear how important it is to surround oneself with those who can offer support regardless of the situation at hand.

A panel discussion with Carina Garbe, Katharina Wagner, and Dr. Robert Hauber focused on addressing the challenges, both visible and less apparent, that women encounter on their way up the corporate ladder. Garbe, of Monitor Deloitte, cited the scarce number of female leaders in male-dominated industries, such as management consulting, require good male role models to foster and shape female careers. She also pointed out the irony that mentoring programs are often female only. “People felt I ‘needed’ their help simply because I’m a woman,” she explained. Dr. Robert Haube echoed these sentiments, having had observed similar scenes in his everyday professional life. He attested that women tend to air on the side of humility, even when there was no apparent reason to do so.

Outside the learning opportunities to be found during lectures and panels, the event offered participants a chance to connect directly with representatives of various companies present at workshops run by EY, McKinsey, Strategy&, and the Boston Consulting Group. This included job interview trainings with today’s experts and strategy sessions on being presentable, where guests received helpful tips on how to network successfully.

The entrepreneurs in attendance also walked away having learned something new. During a discussion with Sophie Frères (LiSA), Dr. Annika von Mutius (EMPiON), and Nathalie Schwarzkopf (Investment Associate at BlackFin Capital Partners), all of whom are founders themselves, discussed how to change the process of starting a company in the future, such that it is more attractive to women. When it comes to funding rounds, they noted, businesswomen today don’t tend to be as successful as their male counterparts. Frères often asks herself one important question to figure out which investors are truly interested in her company and which ones only superficially: “What is their vision for our company?”

After an exciting day with many surprising insights, FEM invited all conference participants to a gala dinner in WHU’s vaulted cellar. The organizers then held an after-party in Andernach, bringing the conference to a celebratory finish.