She Said: Interview with Frederike Probert from Mission Female

She Said: Interview with Frederike Probert from Mission Female

For our new column She Said, we had the honour to speak with Frederike Probert. We asked her for insights into female empowerment in the workforce and business context. Her insights are powerful as they shed light on work environments characterized by male overrepresentation. Yet, her dedication to challenging the homogeneity of these environments through the empowerment of females in leadership positions leaves one hopeful that gender equality at the workplace will increase. We regard her as a role model for the next generation of female leaders and are excited to showcase her positive impact on her community. 

Frederike Probert is a digital entrepreneur that has initiated an executive network of female managers in 2019 to empower women in business, cultural and political leadership positions. Through her work at Mission Female, she aims to make female leaders across different industries more visible in public life and helps turn them into role models for increasing gender equality within a future, more heterogeneous work culture. Thereby, the primary focus is to help women build stronger connections with one another to enable exchange and both personal & professional growth. Mission Female’s network currently operates across the German-speaking world and includes leaders working in consulting, the media, retail, technology, transport, travel and many other areas. 


You have worked in the digital sector for years and have been employed by big American corporations including AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo. Quite quickly, you progressed and made your way into leadership positions. How has your personal leadership experience contributed to your desire to found Mission Female?

The foundation of Mission Female was the result of a 15-year-process. I started my career at big corporations and then went over to the startup world because I thought I could contribute more personally there and just move things quicker than in the corporate world. Thereby, I brought big technology startups over to Central Europe from the US. You can probably imagine that especially in the tech industry is responsible for advertising technologies for digital media, there were mostly men around me. This was fine because I can perfectly work with men, but it bothered me that I was mostly the only woman at the decision-making table and on conference stages. This bothered me so much because I think there are great women out there with great expertise and something to say. 

Being the only woman in the field contributed to me feeling a little bit lonely. That was the moment where I decided for myself to invest in my own startups and to build up my own companies, mainly driven by women. As the CEO of these companies, I saw myself as a role model for other women in the tech industry and therefore felt I had a responsibility. I was able to recruit great women that worked for my companies, and that was the moment where I realized that you could really do it if you really want it, even in a very male-dominated industry such as technology. I was lucky enough to be able to sell one of my last companies and to take a year off in 2017, which I desired to think about an alternative career outside of the technology sector. I just didn’t want to continue my career in that sector anymore but also didn’t know what else to do. While travelling with my camper through Europe, I left my routine behind and started having the best ideas. During this year off, I had time to talk to a lot of women across different industries, who all told me about how they felt like they had to work so hard for their careers while having to manage more in their surroundings than men. This led many to not having time to build a sparing’s partner network, simply because they felt they were just working all the time. 

And that’s how the idea of Mission Female arose. I thought I need to bring together successful, very powerful women across different industries that feel the same way, and that will enable empowerment within the group. Since many do not have the time needed to create such a professional framework, we help bring together female leaders through different formats. Additionally, we organize and manage an efficient schedule around them, which enables them actually to invest time into networking. Looking back, I needed the experience of 15 years from the corporate world, startups and from founding my own companies to realize that being the only woman can be challenging. During my time off, I then realized that a lot of other women are feeling this way too, and I developed my solution to the problem, which is Mission Female.

 

When you founded Mission Female in 2019, your intention was to build an executive network operating under the motto of #strongertogether. Do you think female leaders are often perceived as lone fighters and if so, how does that impact their perception by work peers?

Not only women but also men are quite lonely at the top. That’s just what the job position brings with it. When you have a lot of responsibility for an enterprise, or corporation, that is challenge number one. In most of the cases, the women that have successfully climbed up the ladder and that are in top executive-level positions are probably even lonelier because there are not that many role models or sparring partners around them. 

This is why it’s so important to bring them together because they need to have sparring’s partners, they need to be able to talk about business topics, professional experiences, and even sometimes need help in making decisions. If you as a woman are all by yourself, you can’t really make these decisions in a way you should be. That’s why it’s so important not only for women but also for men in top-level positions to get together and exchange their thoughts and ideas with each other.

 

Mission Female organizes peer groups, events and trainer-workshops for members in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In your opinion, what is the power of networking and how can participation in your network help empower both females already in leadership positions and the next generation of women on the rise?

I think networking is enormously important. If you are actively networking, and you want to get the most out of it, which is more business success, then you need a specific setting. Especially when you are on the top executive level already, this setting has to include personal meetings. Only through personal meetings can you build up the trust you need with business partners. That’s why the events Mission Female organizes are all personal and held within small groups. This makes the atmosphere feel very reliable and trustworthy because our female leaders can speak openly as they know the conversation will not exit the room. Recognizing that the creation of an intimate and trustworthy atmosphere is necessary for building stronger connections, all our events, including workshops, dinners and off-site conferences, are organized that way.  

When talking about the next generation of leaders, I believe they not only need role models, but these role models also need to be visible and approachable to them. Again, it’s very important to have a personal setting for connecting current and future leaders. If you don’t know the person you are coaching or mentoring, then it is not going to be as intense as you really need it to be in order to create meaningful results. In our Mission Female network, we recognize our social responsibility towards younger women that want to strive in their careers and are eager to become successful. More importantly, we also actively engage with selected younger female leaders and support them in a mentoring program. 

 

In the case of Jacinda Ardern, we have seen that visibility is not the only factor needed to increase gender equality. Apart from such, what other factors do you consider contribute to changing the mentality of an unequal society? 

At the end of the day, it is about success. A company that is more successful can deliver better results. These are enabled by the inclusion of different opinions, histories and experiences in the decision-making process. Heterogeneous groups of people need to contribute, and diverse people, including men, women and people of colour with different backgrounds need to be equally spread out across company levels. Overall, not only females need to be empowered for businesses to become more successful, but also steps need to be taken to achieve greater overall diversity in the workforce. When considerably better results are achieved through diversity, mentality across society can change. In the case of New Zealand, for instance, you see that it is important to be heard. When you are visible, you get the reach, and you get people listening to what you have to say, so it’s a combination; you also have to deliver the results.

 

In June 2020 you published your book “Mission Female: Frauen. Macht. Karriere”. Therein, you discuss different hurdles specific to female careers, including but not limited to assertions of being too bossy. Drawing on your experience, what advice would you give women to avoid falling victim to such barriers?

I wrote that book in my time off in 2018 as I could think extensively about what women, society and companies needed in order to help empower women into leadership positions and into decision making. I found out that it’s important in every stage of your career to make decisions in certain ways for yourself. Additionally, there are also ways by which companies, society and politics can support women at these different stages. This can mean splitting up females into different groups such as the Fighter Group with females at the beginning of their career, and those that are already in either middle management or top executive level management in order to focus on the very different needs they have at different stages of their career. 

With this in mind, I would like to tell females in the earlier stages of their career that being bossy is actually a good thing, particularly because it is not as common a feature as in men, and at least in my career in the tech industry helped me progress. Another advice I would give is to stand up for yourself. Many try not to be too pushy or too bossy and instead focus on just delivering results, but at the end of the day, that is not enough. I would just love to see more women in the younger generation be bossy because being bossy is not just okay, it also takes you places. Women need to realize that they have something to say and are good at what they are doing.

 

What advice would you give to all those women who are on their road to success, but encounter challenges on the way and are an exception within a male-dominated company? 

First of all, stand up for yourself, be really good at your job, obviously, and have the right network that can support you and your career plans. That’s a pretty short answer, and of course, we could go into detail, but I think it also depends on the very individual situations of the specific women we are talking about.


This column is co-authored by:

Svenja Kirsch is a Masters in Public Policy (MPP) Candidate at Harvard University and previously studied International Relations at Jacobs University and Sciences Po Paris. She specializes on business and government policy and focuses particularly on corporate government affairs, CSR, female economic empowerment and sustainability. Before joining GRI, she worked in academic reviewing, political campaigning, think tank research and corporate sustainability management.

Mickela Vucetich is an ambassador to the World Literacy Foundation, currently pursuing an MSc in International Development at IE University. Prior to joining GRI, she worked as an advisor to Spain at the United Nations in New York. Mickela holds a BA in International Relations and has experience working at UNICEF Cuba, promoting women’s rights and at the Peruvian Office of Commerce, assessing governance practices and frameworks.

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