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Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

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Women Breakfast Club Meets In Berlin

Co-founder Lea Vajnorski (L) and founder Nora Stolz (R) with their new WBC logo. Note the quiet M in the background: Men are welcome to listen and contribute, but the club is predominantly in service of women.

Roll call for role models who impact careers & communities

Berlin’s techno club scene is well-known across Europe. But lately a different sort of club experience is quietly blooming in Germany’s capital. Less techno, more tech. Much more impact.

The Berlin-chapter of the Women Breakfast Club (WBC) is an initiative co-run by Nora Stoltz and Lea Vajnorsky. It centers on supporting, empowering, and learning from female professionals across industries. The founders at WBC are curating an international forum that welcomes women to build on each other’s ideas and empower everyone.

The need for this support echoes globally, as all-women groups like the Wing band together to invest and create community. The value from such communities relates to what Melinda Gates calls a ‘social vaccine.’ It reduces the risk of women missing out on educational, leadership, business or societal opportunities.

We can all play a role in this social vaccination. Lessons from this Role Models session of WBC can empower careers and bring beneficial change in the workplace.

Role Models: Breakfast Session in November 2017 at Rent24 Coworking in Berlin

Roll Call for Role Models

WBC Berlin’s November session at the Rent 24 co-working space in Mitte focused on the importance of role models, something either of the WBC founders easily embodies.

Nora and Lea moderated a panel of three business experts who reflected on topics of leadership and self-awareness. Together they dissected how women strengthen their skills when they share knowledge. They offered reflective questions and the guidance summarized in this post.

With the Women Breakfast Club’s early-morning timing, participants receive insights and inspiration to carry straight into their workdays. Over coffee, croissants, and fruit, around 3o women gathered to hear fresh perspectives that challenged the status quo and unearthed important topics for future sessions.

Introducing the Strong Women of WBC Berlin

Power combo: Lea Vajnorksy (L) with Nora Stolz (R)

Nora is CEO at Cadouu, a lifestyle technology company she founded in 2016. From a decade of experience in the London financial industry, Nora has both hard-earned insights and an innovative perspective.

Her passion for encouraging female leadership & equal opportunities drives her company as well as the WBC initiative. Nora says we need more ‘life hacks’; we need cross-vertical sharing of passions and strengths to make all aspects of our lives run better – job opportunities, flat recommendations, etc.

Lea works full-time in business development for Redstone VC, managing large global funds and strategy. She provides consulting to corporations through an innovative digital fund that supports startups too small for M&A. She had a hand in organizing the NOAH conference in London and Berlin. Juggling 5 languages adeptly, Lea speaks from experience when she describes WBC’s community as “No pity; We are strong women.”

Do Everything They Say You Can’t

Nora and Lea both turn traditional business on its head. Nora recounted how she did everything that men said not to do, or predicted she couldn’t do. She grafted her financial background onto the innovative tech space with her gifting platform, already used in 22 countries before it launched earlier last month.

She recounts hearing people wonder aloud: ‘Who needs yet another women’s club?’ This is absurd to anyone even remotely tuned in to the #MeToo movement or the topic of diversity in tech; the gender pay gap alone is reason enough.

It’s especially easy to understand the need for such a club after listening to panelists Luisa Scheel, Julia Rabkin, and Tracy Prentiss provide lessons and engage in a Q&A from the women gathered together that day.

Three panelists from left: Luisa, Julia, and Tracy on Role Models, with Nora moderating at far right.

Defining a Role Model

Let’s start as Luisa did, by briefly defining a role model: a person or behavior, or example of success that can be emulated by other people. Models can be male or female, young or old. According to panelist Julia, it’s important to distinguish between mentors and sponsors: A mentor is a more experienced person whom you look to career-wise. A sponsor is someone who advocates for you behind closed doors.

In an ideal situation, you benefit from a mix of these types. If you are raised not to ask for help though, it can hinder you later when you realize that you may need strategic alliances to succeed in business and life. Learning how to navigate this give-and-take was a big part of the morning’s discussion.

Key Takeways

  1. To know where you can grow, understand your strengths and areas where you still need refinement. This honest assessment helps in plotting your goals. Take time to understand what you need or what drives you rather than feel compelled to make career moves. Having a role model helps you see yourself differently, often helping to set yourself important milestones.
  2. Look for role models early in your career. It doesn’t have to be one single person. You can blend, pick and choose characteristics from different people to model your own path. For example, perhaps a peer knows how to negotiate well, or another provides excellent coaching. Maybe an intern knows a ton about the latest social media technology. Take a bit from each. You don’t have to know a role model personally either; you can look up to someone famous or not, from afar.
  3. Celebrate other women. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that if one women gets a promotion, you won’t. You could too. Julia says, “We can all rise up.” Changing your mindset away from ‘if I get it, you don’t’ makes for more room at the top.
  4. Diversity extends beyond gender. Tracy says when we focus only on a limited scope of diversity, we miss the point. “We should also think of race, color, creed, orientation, age, etc.”

Life Hacks: In difficult situations, how do you communicate clearly?

Articulate: Communicating your skills and strengths as a women in the business world is a key tool for landing a job, getting promoted, and earning trust from your colleagues. This article reframes the importance of vocabulary and articulation about yourself.

Pitch: Consider the elevator pitch: Learning to give a generally positive impression when assessing your projects can shape how colleagues view your performance. Even if you face challenges as everyone does, add an active solution when speaking with top management. This helps move the dialogue forward and generates trust in your ability to problem solve.

Contemplate: Learning to not ‘shoot from the hip’ but instead calculate your responses can help you frame your achievements and avoid getting too deep into commitments. Consider talking to an executive coach about how to adjust your language to best match the culture with which you are engaged.

Multipliers: There’s hope!

Tracy recommended a book by Liz Wiseman called Multipliers, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, which points out that some leaders have the ability to multiply their team’s intelligence. This allows us to work at our peak, to feel smarter, and to uplift others — exactly what we want in our new communities.

And community-building is a hot topic. Just look at WeWork’s recent acquisition of Meetup, a platform devoted to creating communities around mutual interests and skill-sharing.

Social media and grass roots communities are breaking up old patterns in business and speeding up the ability to seek inspiration. Groups like WBC not only meet in person, they have private Slack channels for sharing tips, links, and resources. Their website is updated with reading suggestions and they have active Instagram and Facebook pages.

The tech world is still predominantly male, even more so than the financial world. In order to crack that, we need more events like this that encourage women to network and hear practical tips for thriving in their careers.

The next session for WBC may focus on “playing it right” — tips on how to apply, interview, and negotiate. As Nora says, “No one has a linear career.”

Nora mediating the panel on Role Models

Inclusivity: About that faint “M” in the WBC logo

A comment about seeking men’s input from the discussion: Men who support or advocate for these women were especially commended. Male role models can serve as great mentors if good at what they do and inclusive in their efforts. It’s a broad sweep, but men are often skillful at negotiation and compartmentalization.

The idea here is to take a positive behavior from anyone and tailor it to yourself. Embrace what you are good at, adapt behaviors from others, and bring your own style.

Logo + Breakfast

The Failure Mindset

We wrapped by talking about everyone’s favorite buzzword, ‘failure’. One panelist said of her experience in a big corporation, one of her “biggest learnings is that people can get used to living the failure mentality.” When companies and cultures shift to accepting risk and failure, they open the door to creativity and fearlessness. As Nora reminds us: “the strength you gain will outweigh your fear.” Here’s to that attitude in 2018.

Many thanks to the organizers and panelists for sharing their insights! Please feel free to share with your networks.