Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what your company does?
Louisa: I am in my mid-thirties, mother of two small children, 5 sisters, born in the Caribbean, grew up on an organic farm, actually an Islamic scholar and screenwriter by training, does not like Brussels sprouts, I have a weakness for flea markets and real estate, unfortunately little patience and no pets.
My resume is every baby boomer’s nightmare. No stringency, no Dr. title, diploma, permanent position or collective agreement. If you had to find a common theme in my life, it would be that I love stories, people, cultures and communication and I have always had something to do with them.
From university I went straight to journalism and from there to agency work. With my first company, I produced content for companies, but then I found that it is much more exciting to help companies find out who they are, what they want and how to translate that strategically.
In the meantime, I advise companies, ghostwrite speeches and lectures, teach design thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute and founded THE VIELD together with my husband.
THE VIELD is an offsite innovation space outside of Berlin – an old cowshed expanded to experience New Work. Here, teams can rent and do everything from a pure team day to strategically curated off-site that brings them out of their setting and into a new mindset. We offer learning formats and events related to New Work with various partners.
We have planned for 5 years, collected financing, overcome severe setbacks and above all built. We are currently in the final acceptance stages and want to start our beta test phase in May at the latest.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
Louisa: Ask yourself who you want to be in 5 years and what you are doing today to achieve that. Care more about who you want to be than what you want to be. And: If it is no longer important in 5 years – it is not important.
How do you think does your female perspective contribute to you being a successful leader?
Louisa: I am not a good manager, I saw that and structured the company accordingly. I think this insight is very feminine. Unfortunately, it is often also feminine to not feel capable to take on leadership, even if many women are better at it than I am (and than a man who would not admit that).
In your experience, do women lead fundamentally different from men and where are the most significant differences?
Louisa: Everyone leads differently and we have to realize that it is an art form and a craft. That means that there is talent to lead and that you can learn the things that make you really good at leadership. Some of these things are traditionally more feminine, others more masculine.
I doubt the fact that women lead fundamentally different than men. In any case, there is a lack of diversity on management levels.
Do you think there are equal opportunities for women in your field? Did you ever face challenges because of your gender?
Louisa: In my industry, I regularly look into different companies and I also find in my network that the problems are the same. Rarely (not never) is there a person who actively hold women back. Such people exist, there is sexism and of course I have already encountered it and it is unacceptable. The big problem is primarily a structural one. The structures rarely allow different types of people, backgrounds, life concepts and experience. Career paths and opportunities for participation are open to those who can be integrated into the structures. The economy and every company would benefit if different perspectives were really incorporated. In short, equal opportunities have no economic impact and have nothing to do with diversity if they come with the price tag of always behaving like a white man in his early forties, who has not children and gives priority to his career over anything. Companies should consider how they can make their structures more open and how diversity can work within their organization.
What advice would you give women that want to start a company but haven’t yet?
Louisa: You will never be ready. There is no perfect moment. It is always a decision to jump and hope that it will work. Despite business plans, despite research. No one can guarantee you success. Not even if you wait longer. So look for a first, feasible goal and just get started.
As a role model for many women in your own company – what is your key message that you would pass on from your experience?
- Turn the usual calculation around: ask yourself what you want from life, what is important to you, what your capacities are, what you can give and what you want to change in the world. Then set ambitious milestones instead of visions that completely exhaust you.
- Constantly expand your network but try to fill it with people who you enjoy, who broaden your horizons, challenge and encourage you and understand who you are.
- There is always a Plan B.
How do you think that sourcing freelancers can contribute to the success of a startup?
Louisa: We work almost exclusively with freelancers. I like that they think with an entrepreneurial mindset and bring a lot of input and experience from different projects.