“Embrace Equity” as a Leadership Principle at IBM iX

Author: Isabell Schwanke

Collage of 8 person from IBM iX leadership. Tanja Waldeck, Daniel Simon, Christina Schiffler, Dominik Multhaupt, Markus Dietrich, Sanja Bozicevic, Jens Sulek, Elke Röttgen

We want gender equity, and we want it on all levels. On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, we sat down with IBM iX employees and asked them questions about women in leadership positions and male allies. The feedback makes us hopeful: Everyone spoke out in favour of equal opportunities and gender equity.

We need to stand up for gender equity. Although this topic has been on the table for quite some time, we keep finding that we are not yet where we would like it to be: The gender pay gap, few women in leadership positions, and biases still exist.

The study Women in leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline and what to do about it by the IBM Institute for Business Value, which was published at the beginning of March, shows once again that when it comes to female leadership, perception, and reality differ. While respondents perceive that they are closer to a gender-equal business world, in reality, still only 12% of C-level positions are held by women. In addition, 41%of male respondents believe men are a better fit for their jobs. All this despite the clear advantages of gender-balanced leadership. In terms of performance alone, the study’s samples with gender-equal leadership showed a 19% higher revenue growth. Equity in leadership also drives innovation, employee retention, and overall diversity, according to the study.

On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, employees from the different IBM iX DACH entities including Croatia took the opportunity to voice their thoughts on the matter. Each of them answered questions about gender-balanced leadership, holistic female empowerment, and male allyship.

“Fulfil your dreams, there’s always a way.”

Tanja Waldeck

Check out their answers here:

Tanja Waldeck, Co-Lead IBM iX DACH on LinkedIn

Where does female Empowerment start for you? 

For me, it starts in childhood. In my family, we were supported in our dreams, and gender didn’t make a difference – I was a girl, and my brother was a boy. I try to support my girls in the same way. They are 12 years old now, and I make an effort to tell them: find your passion and strive for it.

And if there’s something you need help with, ask for it. Just try to keep fighting, and then enjoy your success. Fulfil your dreams, there’s always a way.

The recent IBV study showed that the leadership pipeline for women has hollowed out in the middle age group. What is being done at IBM iX to fill the gap? 

Well, in this particular gap, family often plays a role. We at IBM iX support young leaders with flexible work environments, training, mentoring, and allies. Most importantly, we listen to their needs because they are individual. And we also lead by example: We have fantastic female leaders who share, encourage, and help everyone fulfil their dreams.

Jens Sulek, Co-Lead IBM iX DACH on LinkedIn

How do you ensure that women move up into leadership positions?

The best approach to help people, in general, get into leadership positions is through coaching. I dedicate a lot of my
personal time to helping the next generation of leaders find their way. This is particularly true for our female colleagues, whom I actively mentor.

The recent IBV Study showed that we had not come as far as we assumed when it comes to women in leadership – where can we do more on a daily basis? 

For me, the answer is to dedicate more time to coaching our female colleagues. In these sessions, we need to listen carefully to our colleagues to find out what they are struggling with personally. Then, find pragmatic and flexible ways to deal with these struggles and overcome them so that in the end, everybody can fulfil their personal dreams.

Elke Röttgen, Chief Operating Officer IBM iX Berlin on LinkedIn

How do you aim to inspire other women for a job as a leader? 

I try to inspire by being authentic and approachable. I want to show that you don’t have to be a role player to become a female leader. Instead, it’s great to have the responsibility and to have an influence on where your company is going.

How do you motivate employees at IBM iX to deal with topics like “women in business” and “women in leadership positions”?

We have formats for this. For example, we have our Diversity and Inclusion team which addresses gender equality and makes sure we follow up on our topics and goals in this regard. We offer “Lunch and Learn” formats for all our colleagues, and we also have the “Women at iX” group, where young professionals can ask female leaders about their experiences. This happens in a safe space, which is what I find most important.

“And as a father of three young ladies, I can say, I see a lot of ambition and doubtlessly a bright future ahead. Let’s tackle this together.”

Daniel Simon

Daniel Simon, Chief Design Officer IBM iX Europe on LinkedIn

How would you like to inspire women for your job?

Honestly speaking, not so much. I would say I want to motivate and encourage them to follow their own intrinsic intuition. At the end of the day, it’s not so much about following other archetypes or trying to fulfil others’ expectations. It’s really about looking at what you are good at and being yourself.

What makes you hopeful about women in leadership positions at IBM iX?

A lot, because I already see dramatic changes compared to 10 years ago. And this is a big shoutout to all the women already taking over the role and fighting for it in a good way. That makes me hopeful. And as a father of three young ladies, I can say I see a lot of ambition and doubtlessly a bright future ahead. Let’s tackle this together.

Christina Schiffler, Executive Director and IBM Design Principal, IBM iX Berlin on LinkedIn

What makes you hopeful about women in leadership at IBM iX?

When I think about it, the main things that come to mind are energy, enthusiasm, passion, and pride in the projects, in the teams, and in what we deliver to our clients.

In that respect, there’s no difference compared to men. But, in my eyes, there is a different awareness of performance. A colleague recently told me that while searching for the right work-life balance, she decided to give up her leadership position. Simply because she realized that this was the best thing for her, and for her team. That made me very proud, because that’s exactly what I meant: Women have a different awareness of what is possible.

Markus Dietrich, Chief Executive Officer IBM iX Dusseldorf, Austria, and Croatia on LinkedIn

How can men better support and advocate for their female colleagues? 

There are a lot of things men can do in order to support women. I would like to mention two topics. The first one is to create a safe environment. Men can definitely help create a safe work environment and eliminate harassment and other forms of mistreatment. The second point I would like to mention is a shared responsibility. Men can support and share responsibility, especially when it comes to unpaid jobs like taking care of children, the elderly, or sick family members. This work is still often done by women. There is still a lot to do here.

Sanja Bozicevic, Senior Marketing Manager IBM iX Croatia on LinkedIn

Where does female empowerment start for you? 

I believe female empowerment starts in our immediate surroundings, whether through strong women in our family, friends, coworkers, role models, or mentors. By listening to their stories, their experiences and discussing how they have become the women they are today, we gather inspiration to reach the same heights or climb even higher. But although stories inspire and empower, it is up to organizations to truly drive change, to create structures and systems that work both for women and men. I’m very proud to see such systems being created at IBM iX. We are breaking down prejudices and hiring more and more women.

Here at IBM iX Croatia, 30% of all employees are women. They are developers, scrum masters, business consultants, experience designers or product owners. Many are leading their departments and on their way to future leadership roles. To all the women out there who are hesitant to start their career in technology: Don’t be! We are at the forefront of change. We are heard, and we are celebrated.

Dominik Multhaupt, Executive Director Public IBM iX Berlin on LinkedIn

How do you make sure to be an ally?

Well, we humans tend to pigeonhole each other pretty quickly because we think it helps us better face the complexity of everyday life. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. We are all very different – whether it is gender, sexual orientation, whether we are neurodiverse or neurotypical – all of that must be taken into account. There’s a wonderful quote by Ernst Ferstl that says, “Pigeonholing is the jaundice of the mind” – I think that’s very beautiful.
As an ally, I, therefore, try first and foremost to listen and understand as much as possible, and to learn what defines the lives of my fellow human beings. So that at the end of the day, I manage to do justice to their individuality, but at the same time treat them as equals. And to do so, you have to listen a lot, and understand a lot.

One thing all statements have in common is their support for gender equity and equal opportunities. Although IBM iX is already working on the matter in many ways, and motivating women for leadership positions, all participants are committed to continuing this path until equity is achieved. Gender equity and female empowerment need to be part of the conversation – everywhere and every day.

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