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diversity as business case - an interview with the female factor founders

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

“More women in leading positions bring companies countless advantages”, according to the co-founders of the female factor Mahdis Gharaei and Tanja Sternbauer. Read on to learn what these advantages are and how the leadership of the future must build on them in this article published in CASH magazine.

© Tamás Künsztler
the founders of the female factor © Tamás Künsztler

With the words, "my connection is not great at the moment, but I’ll quickly turn on my camera so that you can see me at least once", I am greeted by Tanja Sternbauer as I meet with her and Mahdis Gharaei for a virtual interview; she refers to me right away with “du” (the informal use of “you” in German). Working remotely in these times is not unusual.

For both founders of the female factor, however, it was a part of their everyday life even before; one of them in Vienna, the other in Cyprus, their Network stretches across the whole world. The female factor is a global community for a new era of female leaders; it offers tailored career and business opportunities, and counsels companies on more diversity.

CASH: You are strongly committed to women in leadership positions with your work. Apart from the gender gap -there are, for example, only about 14 women for every 192 board members in Austria- why do we need more women in management positions?

Tanja Sternbauer: Many studies have already shown that more diversity in the management team brings economic advantages and that is the primary goal of most companies. Women not only improve the working atmosphere and employee loyalty, but they are also creative and innovative. On the other hand, women make up 50 percent of the population, and we have our own interests and needs. This requires women who are representatives at a decision-making level.

Mahdis Gharaei: We no longer just see diversity as a charity project for equality, but as a meaningful business case. It's about effective hiring processes that not only find good talent but also keep these talents for an appreciative company culture. When diversity is embraced at the top, you can see the most success. That's where we come in and provide support.

If women are so important from an economic point of view, why aren't there more women in management positions, or rather, what does it take for them to get there?

Tanja: This is a good, but a very complex question for which unfortunately there is no simple answer. We always try to break this down into three levels.

In order to bring about long-term change, there needs to be change on social, systemic, and individual levels, all of which must also work together. This means, abandonment of classic role models; looking up to young, female role models in tech companies and boards of directors, and breaking up the patriarchy.

Men should also be able to take parental leave without being ridiculed. On the individual level, we orient ourselves around three Cs: Confidence, Competence, and Connection..

How do you specifically provide support here as the female factor?

Tanja: At community level, we offer training programs for the next generation of leaders, check CVs, provide access to digital skills and develop negotiation techniques. We have a worldwide mentoring program with 200 decision-makers who coach and help with networking.

Mahdis: We also work directly with start-ups, SMEs and corporations, offer training for management teams and actively help find and retain new talents as a kind of HR platform. The companies commit to implementing and striving for gender equality and diversity goals.

You work with different industries, including retail and the food industry. What are the particular challenges here?

Mahdis: The retail industry is struggling with the part-time work trap and a high gender pay gap. Many women work in essential professions, but not many women are represented in decision-making and leadership positions. Unfortunately, especially at the management level, there are mainly men. But we are happy to provide support here as well, and we are ready for discussions on more diversity.

Women and diversity go hand in hand with you. Shouldn’t you call yourselves “The Diversity Factor” instead?

Mahdis: As with any topic, you can't move forward if you don't focus. We’re looking forward to the day where the female factor is no longer needed, we will then be the first ones to rename ourselves. But as long as we still have such a low quota of women in business, we will remain as the female factor.

Tanja: The female factor is not only about women, but about a person's female factor, about soft skills in leadership, which we also like to call power skills. It's about empathy, resilience, coaching and teamwork, which we foreground as leadership qualities.

What does a leader of the future look like?

Tanja: She must have strong power skills and rely on coaching and collaboration. Openness is very important to move away from the silo mentality. It is less about competitive thinking and more about cooperation so that we can move forward and change something together. It is also about climate protection, changing consumer behavior, and making the world a better place for the next generation.

Mahdis: We are also big fans of dual leadership models. You have supervisory authority, but also one direct sparring partner and exchange. Such models and more dynamic work paths also benefit women with their flexibility. Job sharing is one of the nicest trends in the new business world.

Finally, what is your advice to all women for their career path?

Mahdis: Say what you want, set goals, surround yourself with the right people in your environment who support you and believe in you, and build a network. And very important: It's not always about being liked, but about advancing something that benefits us all while remaining authentic. That is diversity in business.

Thank you for the interview.

This interview was published by the CASH magazine and was translated from German.


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