New Work and Female Leadership: 5 questions for Franziska Gerle (Unicorn Workspaces)

June 30, 2021

What do you think female leadership stands for?

I think the purpose of female leadership is getting rid of the term itself. I’m simply a “leader” rather than a “female leader”. We have to learn how to think about leadership separately from gender. With that in mind, I’m less concerned with the unique attributes of female leadership. Rather, I see this leadership as an instrument to initiate change. We have to get society – and particularly businesses – to change, so that leadership will no longer be connected to gender. We’ve still got a long way ahead of us before that’ll happen. And until it does, we have to stick to objective arguments for diversity amongst those in executive level positions, so that women, as a still marginalized group, become more visible and attain more power. My colleagues Johanna and Inga have already shared their interesting insights here regarding their approach to leadership and what female leadership means to them.

For my position, which is in the department of People & Culture, it’s important to continually stay alert and acknowledge when someone tries to hinder female leaders solely for not being males. And if that occurs, there’s only one course of action to take: address the issue, communicate, and do my part to ensure that things will change for the better – for my colleagues and myself.

How’s the current situation regarding female leadership?

I think we’ve made tremendous progress in the last few years in respect to re-thinking leadership, and there’s a lot of great research available out there on this subject. Particularly inspiring for me is the work of Brené Brown, whose research and writing focuses on vulnerability and leadership. From Brown and her work, I’ve come to realize that having values and being connected are key elements of the company culture that I want to be a part of. I’m driven by my vision and firm belief that people of all genders can be incredible leaders. Every company profits from having the right person (with the right experience) in the right position. If we allow ourselves to be blinded by prejudice, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to give our companies more enrichment. Unfortunately, there are still some people who haven’t realized this yet – but the changes seen in the last few years give me a reason to be hopeful that leadership will be broadly re-thought in the future.

How do New Work and leadership influence each other?

Leading my own team and being responsible for People & Culture at Unicorn is for me “New Work”: to create structures and a culture within the organization which allow everyone to fulfill their potential while giving them access to the resources they need. This means, amongst other things, creating the right mixture of freedom, support and appreciation, along with a sense of belonging and effectiveness. By the way, this is something I’ve experienced again and again with New Work methods and leadership: it’s incredibly important to ask the right questions and really listen to the answers you get.

How do you assert yourself as a female leader?

One of my strengths is that I’ve learned to lead with a pretty awesome combination of being flexible and being determined. What that exactly means is: I consider why a particular decision is the best for the company, my team, and my position. I can assert my opinion while remaining open and ready to integrate other viewpoints. Everyone’s input is valuable,  so we communicate with each another to arrive at a “win-win-win” strategy: for myself, for the others involved, for the company. In my leadership role, I recognize the significance of mistakes, I acknowledge that I don’t know everything and can’t be expected to, either.  That’s why I consider communicating on equal terms as an important key to success.

Who has inspired you and what advice would you give to young, aspiring female leaders?

I now have a position where I can – as a young female leader – influence and improve not only my team, but also the management. I always have in mind the inspiration I’ve received from women who’ve already mastered the challenges I’m now facing or have faced in the past. So my advice is: learn from and with each other. The newly published works from Lindo Bacon (“Radical Belonging”) and Dr. Devon Price (“Laziness does not exist”) have also recently helped me to recognize what matters for me – privately and professionally. Both have influenced me as a person, and consequently, have also changed me as a leader.