What would a world look like where women and men alike take responsibility in key positions and make decisions? The women's movement and equality laws have already achieved a lot, but there is still a long, rocky road to equality. The gender pay gap, the risk of poverty among women outside the workplace, the still mainly male board members and the day-to-day discrimination against women in the workplace are still present. On the occasion of International Women's Day, alumnae of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) organized a conference from 6 to 8 March on the Düsseldorf campus of WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. There, they sought new impulses for an old question: How can women and men succeed in shaping our world and our thinking with equal rights?
More than 60 female managers, young talents and academics from various professional fields and at various stages of their careers followed the call of the three initiators Anna Guth, Prof. Dr. Fabiola H. Gerpott, Chair of Leadership at WHU, and Dr. Caroline Surmann to Düsseldorf. In impulse lectures, barcamp formats and group as well as individual discussions, they discussed various questions concerning the topic of equal rights.
Empowerment and disempowerment of women were the main topics of the conference. Top-class speakers, accompanied by moderator Johanna Schwarz, shared their personal life stories with the conference participants. Keynote speeches were given by Dr. Annette Julius, Secretary General of the Studienstiftung, Prof. Dr. Karin Lochte, Director of the German Marine Research Alliance, Prof. Dr. Anke Uhlenwinkel, visiting professor at the University of Salzburg, Dr. Neena Gupta-Biener, entrepreneur and professor, and Dr. Franziska Thomas, management consultant.
The mutual exchanges proved to be another source of inspiration for the participants. Each participant brought her own story, shared experiences from her professional life, from her everyday life, and took interest in what everyone else had to say. Situations that had caused helplessness and loneliness in the past could thus be illuminated in hindsight by the combined wisdom of the group member. Strategies and solutions for future encounters of this kind were discussed. For, there was no doubt among the participants that such experiences would repeat themselves. Sexism in everyday life and career will remain a topic in the coming years, especially and at the very latest when women have fought their way up to the upper management levels.
It was important to the initiators to deal constructively with the conference topic. They motivated the participants to exchange views on female leadership styles and to reflect on their own leadership role and creative power. Together the participants asked themselves the questions whether women can and want to identify with the prevailing concepts of leadership and power, how old role clichés can be disempowered and how women can be empowered by new leadership models.
Meanwhile, the conclusion that was drawn from all the discussions was a recurring theme throughout the event: Women who want to take on responsibility must network. Solidarity among women is a particular challenge when it comes to opening one's mouth when injustice is present - not only towards themselves. For female power still has its greatest impact when it is shared and experienced and fought for in groups.