by Molly Moylan Brown
On October 12, 2016, The American Women’s Club of Berlin (AWC), in cooperation with the DRIVE Volkswagen Group Forum, hosted Women in Leadership: The Path Ahead to a full house on Berlin’s Unter den Linden. The keynote speech was delivered by Kimberly Marteau Emerson, Member of the Board, Human Rights Watch; USC Center on Public Diplomacy Advisory; and spouse of US Ambassador to Germany, John B. Emerson. Emerson spoke passionately about the underrepresentation of women “at every level in the corporate pipeline” in both Germany and the US and made clear that the “lack of parity between men and women is not only a pressing moral and social issue” but “also a critical economic challenge”. As Emerson made clear, “[t]he bottom line is simple: when more girls go to school, human capital increases. When more women join the labor force, economies become more sustainable and more diverse.”
AWC’s president, My-Linh Kunst then moderated a dynamic and thought-provoking panel discussion among Berlin-based women leaders from a broad spectrum of career paths such as NGO leader, entrepreneur, single mother, and senior corporate executives in Finance, IT, and Diversity – CEO/Co-founder Anna Alex of Outfittery, Karin Klink of Siemens, Nancy Voke of Motorola, and Uta Menges of IBM – to learn how these women have navigated their extraordinary professional journeys in concert with fulfilling private lives.
The panel discussion was followed by a spirited Q & A session with the multicultural audience, which made evident the relevance of and hunger for just such an intimate, conversational forum to exchange ideas and insights about how women can make their aspirations manifest in the professional world. The discussion covered a wide range of topics: unconscious bias, confidence differences in men and women, diversity and leadership training, policies to accelerate gender equality, unequal treatment in tax codes, inequalities in pay and promotion, attributes of a good leader, differences in leadership style between men and women, and the value of role models, mentors, and sponsors. Personal stories of overcoming challenges gave the themes and ideas under review an impressive resonance for the audience, while inciting essential questions about the female experience of gender inequality.
- How is the systemic resistance to and limitations on women’s development expressed in the professional world?
- What skills and tactics can be extracted from the lives and achievements of accomplished women, such as the panelists – whose innate resources and passion have enabled them to rise above the station society reserves for women – to serve all women whose intentions are thwarted by the mere fact of their gender?
- How will gender neutrality allow the exploration of self and society necessary for every woman, not just the innately gifted, to realize her potential?
- And the fundamental question: if truly innovative and resilient leadership can only exist in a gender neutral environment, how do we foster that environment and what would such leadership feel and look like?
After the relaunch of the AWC Berlin less than a year and a half ago, the organization’s membership has grown in number and diversity, owing both to the vitality and vision of its leadership and to the fact that membership has been opened to all women (not only U.S. citizens) who “embrace the American spirit.” The intercultural exchange thus available to AWC Berlin’s membership is one of the most enriching features of its new configuration and expanded mission. Women in Leadership: The Path Ahead was envisioned as the inaugural event, not only for members, but for the larger public to enter into the deeper investigation of where women find themselves currently on the aspirational continuum, to promote an ongoing and expansive conversation about women’s place in the world, and to develop ideas and practical skills for empowering women to fully realize their potential as individuals and as a collective in the workplace, in the home, and in society.
In future AWC Berlin forums, supported by experts in their respective fields, in formal presentations, open discussions, and practical workshops, the AWC Berlin will continue to explore gender-equality issues from different perspectives: legislative, policy and corporate, as well as looking at women leadership in diplomacy, non-profits, and leadership development for young women. This intiative will seek to establish a robust forum to examine the challenges, express the ideals, build a mutually cooperative community of change agents armed with practical tools to build a collective future that represents, inspires, and is worthy of, all women.