Thoughts about International Women’s Day

March 2021 – The Hamburg Commercial Bank takes the subject of equality seriously. And not just on the institutionalized occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8. Diversity Management has been a fixed component of our guidelines and daily conduct at the Hamburg Commercial Bank for many years.

4 arms building a star

Progress can sometimes happen at a snail’s pace. In 1911, socialist icons of the global women’s movement established March 8 as “their day”. Since 2019, it has been a statutory holiday in Berlin. After the end of the first world war, in January 1919, women were allowed to vote and be voted for in the German national constitutional assembly for the first time. But it took another four decades, until 1958 to be precise, before the legislative body decreed equality between men and women – and for the first time women could open their own accounts and take responsibility for their personal assets.

“International Women’s Day” on May 8 should now be a purely symbolic ritual to mark the fact that women have access to all the same rights and opportunities as men, in both their personal and professional lives. A great deal has no doubt been achieved in the past years, but there is still a fair way to go, as various studies repeatedly show, when viewing the continued minimal presence of women in management positions or the “gender gap” – the pay gap between women and men for equal work.

woman is holding a compass

Diversity Management is well established at HCOB

Katrin Waechter, the new Diversity Manager at Hamburg Commercial Bank, is delighted with what has been achieved so far as well as the current awareness and commitment of the Bank towards the subject of equal opportunities and equality. There has been a full-time equality officer at HCOB and its predecessor institutions for almost 20 years.

But what do the female staff members at the Bank think about the topic and what feelings does International Women’s Day evoke in them? We asked five of them to speak on behalf of the great many talented and committed female staff members at the bank:

“I was lucky that it was only relatively late on that I encountered people who discriminated according to gender, faith, background or skin color, something that is completely unthinkable for me.”

Maren Thiele, Product Manager in Business Operations:

At first I was skeptical when I was asked to contribute. Personally, I don’t really know where to start with these kind of institutionalized days. For some inexplicable reason it sadly still seems necessary to highlight certain things on a regular basis. The first thought which came to me spontaneously was a quote that my grandmother (born in 1896) wrote in my poetry album when I was eight or nine years old: “If there be a faith that can move mountains, it is faith in one’s own power.” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)

As a child, no doubt I didn’t understand what she was trying to pass on to me with these words from her own experience. My grandmother lost her husband at the end of the first world war after being married for just a short time. As a master milliner, she founded her own company and ultimately had 20 employees and several shops. If anyone knew how important it is to have faith in oneself, then it was this energetic and strong woman.

I was lucky that it was only relatively late on that I encountered people who discriminated according to gender, faith, background or skin color, something that is completely unthinkable for me. But the “free spirit” in me was already too well established for any of the “faith in my own power” to be permanently shaken by anyone.

“Trust in yourselves! Show yourselves! And learn to recognize people who will support you on your journey."

Rieka Meetz-Schawaller, Member of the Supervisory Board of the Hamburg Commercial Bank:

“Whether or not a man offers me his seat on the tram is irrelevant. He should be offering me a place on his Supervisory Board.” (Käte Ahlmann, 1958).

Käte Ahlmann lived from 1890 to 1963 and for decades managed the oldest and largest industrial operation in Schleswig-Holstein, the Carlshütte ironworks in Büdelsdorf near Rendsburg. After the death of her husband, in 1931 she took over management of the iron foundry and was proprietor of Ahlmann Carlshütte KG. She was a member of numerous politico-economic, socio-political and cultural-political boards and founder-member and first president of the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU).

The quote by Käte Ahlmann moves me because it is more than 60 years old and still relevant. Women are still put in their supposed place in subtle ways which perhaps even superficially appears to be politeness. I too have experienced bosses who have spoken to me almost exclusively about home and children rather than about professional matters. Luckily, though, there were also other types. Those who supported me in becoming a manager, while raising small children, with flexible working hours – something that was not a given 25 years ago, and still isn’t today. On the subject of challenges in your working environment, whether your job is as a specialist, manager or board representative: Trust in yourselves! Show yourselves! And learn to recognize people who will support you on your journey.

“:-)-: You decide!”

Kim-Olivia Lietzau, member of staff in the Board Office of the Hamburg Commercial Bank:

I think that your inner attitude can have a major impact. Although it’s good to take some time out in your comfort zone now and then, I am convinced that people grow through their work. It is important to me that I continue to develop and take responsibility. When it comes to change, I look for opportunities that go hand in hand with it, for new tasks, to develop further and for cooperation with new colleagues.

I draw my energy from working in a cooperative environment, something which has been reinforced in these times of the coronavirus pandemic. I am already looking forward to times where we can effortlessly bump into each other in the office. Until then I choose :-)!

“If They Don’t Give You a Seat at the Table, Take a Folding Chair!”

Katharina Könches, Expert in the Digital Excellence Center at HCOB:

Shirley Chrisholm, the first African-American woman ever to be elected to US congress, who later also ran as a presidential nominee, succinctly brings many things together with her quote. The table which appears to have no place for her can apply to many situations, in particular in a professional context. I am also familiar with the feeling of not belonging to an exclusive club.

But what I love about the quote is the invitation to take a folding chair On the one hand it’s an encouragement and challenge to take the initiative yourself and not to wait until the place is actively offered to you. On the other hand, I like the imagery of the folding chair: “Be creative and do things differently to others, as a folding chair always manages to fit in and ultimately makes the board significantly more versatile!”

Unfortunately it will still take some time until the tables of our society are equally and diversely occupied. Until then, I hope for you and me to have the courage to take along our own folding chair and claim our place in the boardroom – this is the only way we can enrich the tables in different ways.

Young, blond, feminine...and assertive!

Kathrin Lemke, Expert in Loan Agency and Public Funding:

Who hasn’t experienced prejudice?! Whether in our personal or professional life, it follows us everywhere. It’s not always the spoken words that make the prejudice apparent. Sometimes looks or reactions are enough.

Prejudice also presents itself in unconscious behavior, which is deeply ingrained and based on a person’s own experiences, environment and values learned in childhood. This is why I am aware that there are some unconscious actions which don’t represent ill-intent. They reflect experiences. We should remain positive and motivated to help others to also gather many positive experiences. For me, valuing and respecting one other is a crucial part of living together, regardless of gender, age, background or other characteristics. It is all about diversity!

In my professional life, I have experienced a few situations in which I encountered prejudice. Comments like “the little blond one” or “what does the young thing want to tell us?” are just a few examples which can be hurtful. But how should we respond to this? I took the decision not to respond to these kinds of comments and enter into a debate about stereotypes, gender or similar, instead countering them with content and performance. It is extraordinary how often discussions took a quick turn and the prejudices quickly faded away. The result: being accepted as an equal business partner. These situations show me that society’s opinions are already in the process of being revised. The first steps have been taken, even if there is still some way to go.

Together we can change a lot and help each other identify new prospects to enrich our lives. So, let’s continue to motivate each other on this issue. It affects us all – the same, equally and diversely!