The interview was conducted by Frauke Tietz, Marketing and Sales Manager at Liebich & Partner Management- und Personalberatung AG, Baden-Baden. September 26, 2019
"I want to be at the top where Mrs. Falk just stood," these words get under the skin of the freshly selected CIO of the year 2019 after the award ceremony. They make it clear how much women benefit from other women in terms of careers. We talked to Brigitte Falk, who yesterday received the award in Berlin as part of the "Woman in IT" award series, moved and overjoyed. We talked to her about leadership responsibility, female shift, women's networks and her personal goals.
L&P: What does winning the CIO of the Year 2019 award mean to you?
Brigitte Falk: It is important to show who the women are who have leadership responsibility and, above all, how different their career paths are. There is no one ideal path. I myself am a career changer in the IT industry. I actually studied art and education, but have always been interested in the natural sciences. And that's how I ended up in IT. My core interest in my studies was innovation. I also wrote my diploma thesis about creative people, processes and products. Basically, it was an anticipation of the design thinking methods - long before the corresponding tools were described under this term and generally accessible.
Especially today, when everyone is talking about digitization while small and medium-sized businesses are still quite helpless about the topic, there are countless opportunities for women who want to take on a leading role in IT on the basis of an agile approach - especially if they approach the duties with confidence and business management expertise.
L&P: What do you see as the added value of awards especially for women?
Brigitte Falk: Unfortunately, we live in a time in which something like this still has to exist. I imagine the future of these awards to be a bit like the history of microcredit in Bangladesh, which aimed to bring poverty to museums. So I see the awards for women as a necessary intermediate step until society realizes that it can move forward much better with diversity than with just one category of people, preferably white men. After all, it is a very limited circle that manages the really big companies. As things stand today, I think it is important that awards for women in Europe should also promote competition among themselves. It feels good not to be the only one who has found her professional home in IT.
L&P: An award ceremony is also a good opportunity to network. Women are often assumed not to be good networkers when it comes to business. How do you see this and do you have experience especially with women's networks?
Brigitte Falk: I myself am a member of the top women (Spitzenfrauen) in Baden-Württemberg (federal state in Germany). There are only women who either run a company themselves or hold a position in senior management. The network is industry-independent and there are hardly any IT women among its members. This gives me an insight into other areas. What interests me most is how I can pack business knowledge into IT. I wouldn't feel so comfortable in a pure network for IT managers, especially since it would be pretty lonely there. There simply aren't enough top women in MINT professions yet. Besides, I don't want to miss out on the exchange with men. I go to specialist conferences and build up my network, which is admittedly ninety percent male. I am very proud of the award, but I would like to warn against using women's networks as snail shells. It is emancipated behaviour to move at all levels. And the IT industry has been male so far, so I have to assert myself there as well. I am also interested in the people themselves. Is my counterpart an innovative type, what drives her, how does she deal with leadership, what projects has she done from which I can learn? It doesn't matter whether I'm talking to a man or a woman.
L&P: What do you see as the special challenge for women who want to advance professionally, especially in technical professions?
Brigitte Falk: Many women were brought up to be well-behaved. Unfortunately, this is still the case today. If a woman takes action, she is suddenly the goat, while the same behavior brings respect to a man. I experienced that myself. Strategically sensible procedures and appreciative communication are a matter of course for me, even if I had to give notice for operational reasons or stop a project. However, a consistent approach in management does not correspond to the role clichés about women. That's why I had to make myself independent of the opinions of others and leave the prison that was also in my own head. Meanwhile, I don't care if I violate the norm. That was the biggest challenge for me.
L&P: Female or gender shift is one of the megatrends of this century. Against this backdrop, what do you advise companies to do to position themselves in terms of personnel and organization? Keyword: People Strategy.
Brigitte Falk: Many companies treat their employees like children. You have to ask for everything and beg. In some companies, employees aren't even allowed to go to the bathroom. So the first step - completely independent of Gender Shift - is for everyone to grow up. Managers need a positive attitude towards people. For the further development of a company it is essential to assume that its team wants to do a good job and that I, as a manager, am responsible for creating the structures within the scope of my possibilities. Companies would do well to give their employees more freedom and welcome ideas. SAP is very exemplary in this respect. There are tandem positions for managers that ultimately lead to silos and role clichés being dissolved. Homeoffice is a matter of course and without first asking the boss. Even part-time work should not be a model only for women, especially against the background of taking care of children or the sick mother. No, the reasons don't matter, whoever wants to work part-time for whatever reason should of course be able to do so - whether man or woman.
L&P: What are your next personal and professional goals?
Brigitte Falk: I am currently looking for a new challenge and would like to work more strategically. It is important to me that these strategies fit the company and can be implemented accordingly. I see myself in the role of the extended management board and would like to take on the topic of digitization there. Because this topic runs through the entire company, so the person who is responsible for the topic should also be involved in all decision-making processes. In some companies this position is called Chief Digital Officer (CDO), but as CIO I can also do that. Such a position can also be an interface that touches on marketing and communication. There are many opportunities, for example for New Work and Change or HR, to make digital progress there. For an interesting option, I can be contacted at any time via LinkedIn or Xing.
L&P: Congratulations on the award and good luck. Thank you for the interview.
Brigitte Falk with be attending our CIO Europe event in Zurich, Switzerland which takes place on Thursday 5th December 2019. To learn about this event and our upcoming 2020 events, please follow the link here to our CIO events calendar.
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