I don’t have the single solution or trendy ‘top 10 hacks’ on how to empower women leaders — despite having worked with many female founders from across the world over the past years. The three main recurring challenges women face when founding their own business though are: 1) lack of visibility of female role models to be inspired by 2) lack of access to finance, and 3) lack of a connection to a supportive ecosystem.
Although women are now very well educated and have the potential to contribute to economic growth, scientific research, technological advances and sustainable innovation — they are still disadvantaged and left out. This is inherent in our patriarchal system, which has manifested limiting ideas of masculinity and femininity in which masculine characteristics are more highly valued. We live in the 21st century, exploring emerging technologies geared to design better futures, but we haven’t managed to overcome the imbalance between men and women? This is a problem. Everywhere.
I took a closer look at how female founders are empowered in Berlin. In the past years there has been a steady increase in conferences, programs and accelerators, investment funds and networks specifically targeted at women.
Many formats aimed to inspire women to step up their game and explore new business opportunities especially in fields of sustainability, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Attending them all would be a fulltime job. Berlin is one of the startup capitals of Europe, and these days it seems like it is becoming a hub for female empowerment as well. In 2017 the percentage of female founders increased to 14.6% (which is still shockingly tiny!). On a global level, women are speaking up via the #metoo #LeanIN as well as the #HeforShe and #WomenInStem movement. Women such as the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, are powerful protagonists who set new examples — she took maternity leave and was the first woman who brought her infant to a UN general assembly in New York. Their actions inherently create new female narratives that empower more women to become aware that they too can level up, become their own boss and shatter the glass ceiling. The diversity of all these actions augments into a sense of new revolution. The feminine is here, it is rising.
“Imagine the impact of unseen new approaches and solutions designed with a female perspective.”
This also made me take a closer look at personal stories told by female leaders and founders to understand what it was that flipped the switch and fueled them up beyond support structures such as events, programs and investments. Strikingly, all female leaders I had the pleasure to connect with on a more personal level have one key lesson which marked the most impactful turning point in their life in common. It was the moment they learned: I have power. Their stories reveal that it is the most empowering, yet at the same time most vulnerable, manifestation. Powerful, because there is nothing more powerful than being centered in your own truth and authenticity. It triggers women to become an entrepreneur, study what they want and choose their own path. Vulnerable, because a novel path creates uncertainty and constant realignment. The magnificence of vulnerability is that it is the birthplace of creativity, exploration and playfulness. It entails professional and personal growth that feeds right back into the power loop. Every woman levelling up inspires another woman to follow. Collective wisdom and courage is unstoppable.
Yet at the same time these actions and stories are often discouraged as somewhat feminist. In order to find balance between men and women living in the 21st century, we need to explore and talk about women’s role in leadership. This does not mean women are in any way superior or more important, but simply that they so far have been neglected and have not been equally empowered. Imagine the impact of unseen new approaches and solutions designed with a female perspective — after all, woman mark half of our population.
The inspirational effect of female role models is possibly the true trickle-down effect of economy. I believe embracing female leadership might lead to a new balance, rather than a new kind of dominance. It’s already happening — the very presence and actions of strong female leaders are exploring and shaping a new wholeness. I am curious to see how it will unfold. Ultimately, every strong female leader makes the patriarchy crumble with her mere existence; and hopefully inspires others to follow.
Anna Lässer co-founded Impact Hub Berlin and built up its sustainable innovation consultancy. She is an innovation expert with a track record of more than eight years consulting people, startups and organisations to embrace transformation. Passionate about education, she is also a Design Thinking Coach at HPI School of Design Thinking. Now she is researching the potential of emerging technology as a gateway to design new systems as an associate editor for Delphi, an interdisciplinary journal on emerging technology.