Spot on! A special on female power @ Chemovator

with Veronique Schwartz, Lisa Raschke and Leoni Dalferth

Taking the step to become a founder or co-founder takes courage, dedication and certainly a lot of time spent on developing the venture. While this is true for all entrepreneurs, female founders often come across additional challenges. Having quite some female founders in our camp, we decided to specifically dedicate not only International World Women’s Day to them, but the entire month of March. We support and appreciate diversity always and therefore had a chat with some representatives of our women power. Here’s what they had to say.

Personal experiences, differences in treatment and significant carrier barriers as a woman in the startup world

Veronique: My personal experience has been very good. Women in biotech startups are much more common than in other areas. I don’t feel any disadvantages as a female founder in this scene. Different treatment happens but is very subtle. There have been some male colleagues in my corporate surroundings, who probably feel threatened by women and women quotas in their career opportunities. Occasionally, I have heard some comments that what I have achieved is not due to my competencies but due to the fact that I am a woman and have been promoted into this position because of my gender. One gets very easily characterized as a “career women” or “business bitch”. However personally, I have not experienced any external barriers in my career and this is not at all a topic in my team.

Lisa: For me, the biggest hurdle was to convince myself to take the step to become a co-founder. Although I felt like it, I had doubts about it. I asked myself whether I was good and strong enough to lead our venture to success. Women tend to be critical of their know-how and skills and to underestimate themselves. That’s a pity because diversity leads to teams becoming more successful. And these barriers were only in my mind. Joining BOXLAB as a co-founder was radical for me. But now, this completely new experience is exciting, educational, and incredibly satisfying every day. At BOXLAB, neither my gender nor that of my colleagues plays any role. Commitment, performance and fun count. I think (and I hope) that this is the case in most startups. It pays to be brave and to overcome the first (personal) hurdles.

Leoni: In the environment of Chemovator and in my venture team Corbiota all team members are treated equally. We embrace our differences and benefit from our diverse team regarding gender, age and professional background.

Reasons why the startup scene is still male-dominated

Veronique: I believe that there are 2 main reasons and many smaller reasons. First, there are many startups in the tech area, which is traditionally male dominated. Second, founding is not a very family-friendly job and it’s more difficult to combine family life and your job even though one has much more freedom on how to organize it.

Leoni: Many (well-known) startups have ideas connected to rather male dominated industries and subjects (STEM). Founders in these industries are often men. Thus, to build a balanced team, these founders need to focus on recruiting diverse team members and potential co-founders. There are many good examples for such teams at Chemovator.

Change that still needs to happen

Veronique: In general, gender equality in tech areas starts with education. There are already good programs in Germany to promote STEM subjects at school or universities, especially targeted to women. I participated in some of them. Still, much more needs to be done to increase the number of female students in the tech area in terms of dedicated female MINT marketing, scholarships, and trainee programs. More importantly, we are still missing some very good female role models to show and encourage others to pursue their own individual directions. Especially with regards to organizing family life and job. Last but not least, childcare in Germany is not very well organized. I see a lot of my friends struggling to combine career opportunities and family life, simply because it’s difficult to have a full-time place in a childcare facility if one is not so fortunate as to have a family network in the close surroundings. In contrast to other countries in Europe, women and mothers with a fulltime job are not very well recognized by their peers and by society. A lot needs to be done here from the political side and one can learn from our European neighbors.

Leoni: Founding a company is a full-time job. To combine this job with a family is difficult, especially for (young) women. Politics need to provide more and better solutions to be able to combine startup job and family (e.g. more childcare options). In the end, this would not only benefit women, but all parents.

Progress in gender equality throughout professional career based on personal experience

Veronique: I can see a lot of progress in terms of flexible parental leaves from both sides, which is good and gives women the opportunity to return faster to the job and pursue further career opportunities.

Lisa: Before I started with BOXLAB, I worked in the field of human resources for several years. This job cluster is quite female dominated. Now, I am in the male-dominated startup scene, so I saw both worlds. I think there is a lot of progress concerning gender equality, but we still have way to go. In general, we have to be more open for other opinions, characters, and people. We cannot be satisfied with the fact that everyone at our table agrees constantly with us. We should not only accept other opinions and personalities, but we should even look for them. We can do a lot better in that.

Leoni: Although I’m rather young and cannot look back on many years of a professional career, I experience a stronger focus on gender equality throughout the industries. More and more people speak up and acknowledge that there is a gender gap. They actively discuss solutions to create more equality, even at a simple lunch break and between colleagues. To highlight the importance of gender equality by talking about the gender gap is an important first step. However, actions need to follow.

Advice to a next generation of female founders

Veronique: Don’t be afraid to try something new and make sure you have a good team to rely on.

Lisa: If you need a little push to be brave enough, use your community, ask colleagues for feedback, and involve family and friends. It helps to hear multiple opinions from an outside perspective. Further, I believe that it’s very important that women support each other. Let's be a courageous community - whether at work, in private life or on social media.

Leoni: Be brave and just do it. Speak up for yourself and your ideas. Do not hesitate to ask for support where needed. No one is perfect, founding is an adventure for everyone and can also be challenging.

Role models

Veronique: Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Independently of her political role, I believe that she demonstrates well how female leadership is possible by combining empathy and sternness. Moreover, while being acting prime minister, she started a family and actively fosters flexible parental leave models.

Leoni: Lea-Sophie Cramer. She started her career in the male dominated software/e-commerce industry and founded her own company in a niche of this industry as a young woman. She often talks about the challenges of her journey (e.g. being taken seriously) and how her male co-founder and herself always focused on being treated equally. Moreover, she was able to combine founding a company and growing a family. Nowadays she is supporting young (female) entrepreneurs herself and shares her experiences and learnings.

Interested in finding out more on female power @ Chemovator? Check out our stories from our Venture Teams and Chemovator Team.

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Veronique's, Lisa's and Leoni's Background

As co-founder of faCellitate, Veronique was within the first team to join Chemovator and has been working on developing the idea into a scalable venture. Lisa started out as HR responsible within Chemovator and joined Boxlab Services last year as a co-founder. Our third representative Leoni jumped the venture train with Corbiota some months ago and is now heavily involved in pushing the way forward.