Prejudices against female managers are just one of many topics discussed at the annual meeting of the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs. Even the German Chancellor came to learn more about women in business.
The more than 300 women entrepreneurs greeted Angela Merkel with standing ovations. "If you should want to go into business for yourself after your chancellorship, we would be happy to have you as a member," joked the president of the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU), Jasmin Arbabian-Vogel. The VdU counts 1,800 female entrepreneurs among its members who employ a combined staff of 500,000.
"You can't do business without women, at least not successfully", said Merkel and was excited that the number of new enterprises founded by women in Germany is growing. Nonetheless, female founders are still a minority: only about one third of those self-employed in Germany are women.
"We need more ambition for equal opportunity," Merkel stressed — perhaps also with a vie to her own government.
Looking to Scandinavia
"Women have a more difficult time getting access to capital. The tax system is outdated and women are still a minority on the boards of major German corporations," Arbabian-Vogel told DW. "We still have plenty to do on the way to equality."
VdU president Jasmin Arbabian-Vogel (left, in a talk with DW's Manuela Kasper Claridge) is an entrepreneur herself. She runs a business in the social care sector with 150 employees
Arbabian-Vogel is active in the VdU association because she feels that women should organize themselves to change the business world.
The VdU is turning 65 years old this year, an anniversary the entrepreneurs are very proud of. They aren't happy with the framework conditions in Germany, however. Some of them longingly look to Scandinavia where child care is organized better and makes it easier to combine motherhood with running a business.
Role models needed
Larissa Zeichhardt runs a medium-size enterprise in the transportation industry together with her sister. She also has two daughers, three and five years old.
"Yesterday was one of those days again: a meeting that continued until after 7:15 p.m. and then my husband who wanted to drop off the children with me because he had a business appointment as well," she remembers. "How do you set priorities in such a situation? After all, his work and mine are equally important."
Larissa Zeichhardt, a mother of two, was thrown into the cold water of running a business after her father suddenly died in 2015 leaving the fate of his family business in the hands of his two sisters
Zeichhardt says, meetings traditionally tend to be scheduled later in the day and she wishes that would change. The young entrepreneur is an engineer with a master's degree in business. The company she manages is called LAT-group, which provides communications and satellite technology to German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, and other clients.
Being a member of VdU, she cherishes the organisation for its expertise and an exchange of experiences. After all, at VdU meetings she is part of the majority. "My industry is dominated by men but I need role models as well", she says. "Role models are motivating."
Alone among men
Countess Susanne Kesselstatt often felt completely alone, too. She became a partner in her family's business 25 years ago.
"Road construction is something wonderful. We have a good working atmosphere and 60 apprentices," she says. But the people working in this industry are almost all men. "The demands made on women continue to be much bigger," she says. "You need perseverance."
Susanne Kesselstadt won a "Best Employer" award with her company, J. Friedrich Storz Verkehrswegebau, which is based in the southern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. This is something she's particularly proud of
She also uses the event in Berlin for exchanging experiences. "Innovation and creativity" is the motto of this year's VdU-meeting. The focus is on digitization and creative industries and on startups run by women — plenty of food for discussion over the next few days.
But many women also use the event for quick chats away from the official panels. Networking is particularly important for female entrepreneurs. For Larissa Zeichhardt, being an entrepreneur has turned into her dream job. "If you don't shy away from responsibility, you have a lot of freedom," she says excitedly and runs off to the next appointment.