Interview Andera Gadeib, Startup founder and board member of the German Federal Association for IT SMEs (Bundesverband IT-Mittelstand e.V.)
Andera Gadeib started her career in 1999 with the foundation of her digital marketing research agency Dialego. Today Dialego works for international companies such as Nestlé, Allianz, BASF and Bayer. In 2012 she founded the start-up SmartMunk, a scalable technology company for cloud-based customer intelligence, and completed the portfolio two years later with the online animal therapy practice lets-balance.de.
She has been appointed to various boards and committees, including the chair of the German Federal Association for IT SMEs (Bundesverband IT-Mittelstand e.V.).
Experts in the business world often refer to career women being confronted by the glass ceiling. What has your experience been?
The glass ceiling does exist, although I did not discover this for quite a long time. Shortly after I graduated in business management and informatics – when the New Economy was kicking off – I set up my first digital company Dialego and encountered absolutely no problems in the male world of technology. Quite the opposite: I could not comprehend the call for positive discrimination to promote women. In retrospect I think this was because I was able to create my own company and entrepreneurial environment and be entirely independent. I never felt there was any lack of respect or acceptance on the side of my clients.
But the first time I took part in an official meeting, I immediately bumped up against the glass ceiling. It was like experiencing the vibe in an executive board meeting of a major corporation. Who’s in charge of representing what? Who’s setting the agenda here? I knew that my male counterparts respected the fact that I had been effective and successful in project realization but it was implicitly made clear to me that I needed to watch my step, as in "Don’t confront or attack me; I’m trying to get somewhere here". In the beginning it took me some time to learn how to deal with this in a professional manner. It did get to me at times, but it also helped me grow.
Based on your experience, are there any good tips for young women pursuing a career in the digital economy?
Just go for it! Actively seek out and take on responsibility. And be confident that you can make it. The important thing is this: never give up. Don’t let anyone convince you that you aren’t good enough for the task, and be sure to pat yourself on the back for every success along the way. Even if things don’t seem to be working out at first, just keep on going.
I think we need to start trying to get girls interested in digital technology earlier on. Finding creative solutions to problems is something we’re really good at.
There are often special moments at the outset of one’s career, or at some step along the way. What memorable moment can you recall?
As a student I had the chance to work on an interdisciplinary project. There were various projects and I applied for the WWW Project without really knowing what it entailed. At the time I was already using MausNet and Fidonet and thought: Why not discover what it looks like behind the mail box?
The organizers tried to persuade me to opt for another project but I was determined to be part of a technical project.
The outcome was that I found myself working with a mechanical engineer and an information scientist on Germany’s first commercial web server and was thus there right at the start of the Internet. It was a great experience, and without it I may never have got to where I am today as the boss of a digital enterprise.
What is your personal view on how an organization can ensure more diversity in its own ranks?
Companies must make it a key goal. I dislike discussions in which it is claimed that there are not enough qualified women for the job. Women simply sell themselves differently. They don’t push themselves into the limelight. Just look at the many all-male panels in our sector. It would be good to see a bit of variety and a completely new standpoint on the stage. Women would automatically achieve this because they set other priorities, perhaps because they feel more confident about trusting their instincts and feelings. This, after all, is highly relevant in every purchase decision a client makes. I am surprised that we still mainly focus on functional aspects and product development in our discussions, despite the fact that it is the product experience that truly appeals and inspires.
We need a good mix. And if we’re talking diversity, then this should also apply to other groups, people from other nations, people of various skin colours, religions, etc. It might seem easier to put together a homogeneous team, but then it should not come as a surprise that the results are less than exceptional. Friction and inspiration are needed in order to step beyond one’s own horizon and create something remarkable.
Do schools and universities prepare students well for careers in the digital economy?
Definitely not. We need to get children interested in digital technology much earlier on in school. We need to show them that creating digital technology can be much more fun than passively using it. But instead of using cellphones as a pocket-sized source of information in the classroom, they are banned. That is what happens in the school attended by my eldest child – and it is a high school that specializes in the natural sciences. At best tablets are used as an alternative to school books – that is as far as it goes with modern technology. But just switching over to new media is not enough, either.
I think that some extent parents, teachers and school principals are sceptical about digital technology. It is still new territory for many, so we must educate and inform people about digital technology. And it takes more than just a one-off seminar to fix the situation.
I am actively involved in several projects addressing this issue. One of them is digitalkunde.de. In this first half of the year we will be running a pilot program in eight schools in Germany – schools of every type. Teachers are being provided with co-teachers. There are some great projects in the making.
Read the other interviews of the series "Four women - four careers" here .