Women in European Business 2014: Switch to the fast lane – Taking a chance on economic change
In today’s economic environment, attributes such as trust and empathy, as well as networking abilities, are key contributors to business success. That was the general tenor among speakers and female executives attending the 15th Women in European Business (WEB) Conference. During the event, participants discussed the risks and opportunities in the shifting economic landscape and how companies can navigate them.
More than 270 female executives from 16 countries took part in the conference in Frankfurt on March 4. They were welcomed by Angela Müller-Valkyser of Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management and Gerlinde Siebert of Private & Business Clients, members of the WEB Steering Committee, who set the scene for the discussions under the theme “Switch to the fast lane – Taking a chance on economic change”.
In his keynote speech, Paul Achleitner, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bank, described seven fundamental trends – and challenges – of the economic and social environment. Among those, he named de-leveraging in both the public and private sectors.
Referring to diversity, Achleitner said it is a key factor in the global “war for talent”, which has employers seeking to recruit the best candidates irrespective of gender, religion or nationality. “Unless we put our best brains and talents to work, we will not be able to cope with the challenges. Diversity is a critical element of the whole solution.”
During the following session, Jonas Ridderstrale, Co-Owner and Chairman of the Swedish Management Group Mgruppen, also noted the importance of companies hiring the right staff as they deal with developments such as “explosive information growth”. In today’s “weconomy”, collaboration is becoming increasingly important and networking is crucial for business success, he said. Moderated by Melinda Crane, chief political correspondent of DW TV, the session also featured entrepreneur and author Anders Indset, who argued that trust and empathy were the key factors. Leadership, he said, is about serving the people – and about being authentic. An ad-hoc survey among the audience showed the majority of female executives agreed with both Ridderstrale and Indset on the drivers of success.
The message to future female leaders
Simone Menne, Member of the Executive Board and Chief Financial Officer of airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and Elke Strathmann, Member of the Executive Board of tiremaker Continental AG, then joined Ridderstrale and Indset for a panel discussion, debating the importance of key aspects such as internationalisation, leadership and diversity in their respective industries. Asked by a member of the audience what their message to future female leaders was, Menne said women need to “speak up” and show what they are capable of. Agreeing, Strathmann added that it is also an employer’s responsibility to foster talent and enable female staff to succeed.
Reflecting on the implications for Deutsche Bank in his closing remarks, Stephan Leithner, Member of the Management Board, noted the importance of adaptability amid changing external factors such as regulation or market dynamics. The Bank has to constantly monitor and, if necessary, optimise its product offering, capital position and cost structure as a result, he said.
“Unless we put our best brains and talents to work, we will not be able to cope with the challenges. Diversity is a critical element of the whole solution.”