New Work and Female Leadership: Questions for Lisa Zaiser (DEAR DARLING BERLIN)

March 1, 2022

Describe your business in a few sentences:

Dear Darling Berlin features sustainable, responsibly crafted fine jewelry. Our designs convey a modern, youthful elegance and demonstrate the compatibility of sustainability and style. Our jewelry is responsibly and locally produced at our German and Italian sites with recycled gold and silver.   

What’s your role in the company?

I’m the founder and CEO of DEAR DARLING BERLIN

What does female leadership mean to you?

Quite honestly, I have mixed feelings about terms like “female empowerment”, “female founder” or “female leadership”. I think it’s important to get more women into executive positions, to loosen up traditional role models, to finally have equal pay for the same work, to create better retirement plans for mothers, to implement flexible working models. I’m passionately committed to these issues and I want to set a good example with my company. Yet these terms themselves can be restrictive. I recently read a sentence that summed it up well: “Feminism means equal rights for EVERYONE”. I doubt that everyone feels addressed by the term “female”, (and when it’s the other way around, the way women are addressed implies that they’re “also being mentioned”). The characteristics that I would attribute to female leadership wouldn’t only apply to women, but in general for all good managers: excellent team players, decision-making abilities, empathy. 

At a time where women make up only around 16% of all company founders, I certainly think we should be talking more about female empowerment and leadership, or even better, about female visibility – beause I don’t believe women just need to be ‘stronger’ (well, okay, maybe in some areas, such as politics). We’re already strong in many ways and there are so many fantastic entrepreneurs, founders, mothers and much, much more. But what we still need is the visibility and the equal opportunities and rights which we’ve duly earned. In the long run, I hope that the term will simply become ’leadership’, and we won’t require a “feminine” or a “masculine” definition for it. To just have a word that’s free of stereotypes and focuses on what really matters: a good management style. 

How do New Work and leadership influence each other?

We try to engage people for our company who are purpose driven, and for them it’s important to know what a company stands for, which values it represents and how it operates. I think that these types of employees also have new requirements for their “workplace” – it should be meaningful and flexible, enjoyable, plus offer opportunities for personal growth. We have, for example, permanent employees and freelancers from all over the world working together. To ensure that leadership works properly in this situation, we use a variety of apps and systems like Slack, Asana, Google Drive, Zoom, etc. The work itself is based on trust and results as well as regularly maintaining contact. 

During your years as a female leader, what obstacles have you encountered? 

I’m speaking here as a business founder: one of the biggest obstacles female leaders are still facing is getting a sufficent amount of capital, especially if you don’t have a tech startup. If you do, there’s millions in funding and entire investor groups eager to transform your business into a unicorn. Yet there continues to be less investment in female-led enterprises not associated with the tech sector. That means many women have to use their own savings to start their businesses, just like I did. But sooner or later you need capital, and if you’re not able to draw it from your own cashflow, the flexible options available out there are still way too few.  

How do you interact with your employees and try to strengthen them?

It’s important for me to have a trustworthy relationship with our employees (and our suppliers and customers). I create this trust with open and clear communication and by letting staff take part in the development of the company. We talk about which goals and milestones we want to reach and everyone knows what they can contribute for reaching these goals. I think that way everyone gets their own area of responsibility, where they can experiment and grow. I also believe that we’re only able to grow together. That’s why I believe mutual, balanced feedback is crucial: both positive feedback as well as where there’s room for improvement. At the same time, I also want to receive active feedback for myself – since no one is born as a manager or leader, I, too, have to learn to find my own way as the “boss”. I want to build a large, fantastic team and a sustainable, good (and profitable!) company with heart and soul, a company people enjoy working for – that’s what I want to accomplish. In order to strengthen our staff, I’m making an effort to offer them flexible work arrangements. At DEAR DARLING BERLIN, we have working students in our Wedding office who are regular employees, as well as freelancers from other parts of Germany and other parts of the world. That’s what forms a dynamic team with a variety of strengths. 

How can women mutually support each other within a business?

There are a lot of great opportunities for doing that! For example, we started our own FEMALE FOUNDER STORIES in December 2020.  Every month, in the blog within our online shop, we introduce a female founder and her vision in a compact interview format. We also share these stories on our social media. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved: our customers can find out about other cool brands, while the founders have a platform to introduce their businesses and perhaps gain a new target group. And last but not least: we can reach and encourage those who are considering starting a business to find their own path to entrepreneurship. :-) Our team is still relatively small, but generally speaking: establish networks, stand up for one another and if something inappropriate happens, call it to attention. For example, if someone is interrupted while speaking, point it out in a friendly manner. Appreciate one another and express it. Someone has done a good job? Tell her! Encourage one another. Someone has a good idea, but doesn’t have the confidence to put it out there before others? Support her! 

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

I find movers and shakers like Tijen Onaran or Delia Lachance inspiring. My advice for upcoming female leaders would be: have confidence in yourselves, don’t be afraid to screw up once in a while, and think big! Not just a bit, think really BIG! And then get out there and go ahead with it :-)