"We don't need to discuss the shortage of skilled workers and look abroad to recruit competent employees there. We have many highly educated women in Germany. We just need to create family-friendly conditions for them in which it is attractive for them to work."

- Jeanette Gonnermann
Since 2021, Jeanette Gonnermann has been at the helm of the Waren-Verein der Hamburger Börse e.V.. In an interview with Paul M. Müller (PMM), the CEO talks about why women are important in the working world, what she advises young leaders to do and how to combine a career and children.

PMM: Ms. Gonnermann, you have been in office at the Waren-Verein der Hamburger Börse e. V. for one and a half years. Being a managing director in a traditional industry - a curse or a blessing?

Let me put it this way: A male-dominated industry offers great advantages and I feel very comfortable here. First, why advantage? I have been permanently underestimated as a woman. Some people didn't want to see that I had studied law and was a department head at an early stage, and I often felt compelled to justify myself. At some point I realized that being underestimated is an advantage and benefits me, because then you can only surprise people in a positive way.

Second: Women have charm and are engaging. I find it good and profitable to lead cooperatively and humanely instead of strictly hierarchically. I've always done well by staying true to myself, even though an empathetic management style opens up flanks. You have to be able to deal with that, too.

Women in leadership positions are still a rarity. Do we need more of them?

Oh yes. Women in leadership is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time, and of course I would like to see more of it. I've never regretted my decision because it's always been my drive to go into a leadership position. When the opportunity came up for me to become a managing director at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, I was pregnant. Originally, I thought it wouldn't make sense to throw my hat into the ring. But my courage was rewarded: I was appointed Managing Director - and with the appointment I entered maternity leave at the time, a minor sensation at the time! The deal was that I would come back full time after six months. It was and is a balancing act for me and doesn't work without family backup.

What can companies do here?

Companies need to modernize and move with the times. We don't need to discuss the lack of skilled workers and look abroad to recruit colleagues there. We have a lot of great women, we just have to create conditions for them that make it attractive for them to work. That means implementing models that make it possible to combine family and career. In the Scandinavian countries, this seems to be working out well, and I would like to see us create such constructs here as well.

Apart from that, we at Waren-Verein have noticed that companies with a modern image, especially in the area of websites and social media, are much more attractive to young specialists and managers. If a company is not online in some form, it simply does not exist.

What are the reactions to you in a leadership position today?

Young women who are doing their training come up to me and compliment me. They think it's great what I do and how I do it. But they also tell me that they want children. I can only reply that it's possible to do both, but you have to accept prejudices and the fact that you'll reach your limits. With the Young Leader:innen project of the Waren-Verein, we have created a network of young professionals - female and male - from the industry. Here we talk about new work, digitization, but also about such major future issues as sustainability. The fact that we discuss these topics ultimately benefits both genders. In my opinion, mentorship is also a big issue and incredibly important. I already had a mentor in the Chamber of Commerce. It's good to have your own behavior reflected, to see what's important in leadership - and what you should avoid. Young leaders also benefit from this.

How important are networks in general?
Insanely important. Women use them far too rarely. It's not only important to cultivate women's networks, but also to attend events and (management) seminars in general. Discussing things with each other, talking things out, finding open ears - that's so valuable. I enjoy that I now know who to call and ask for advice with confidence. And as a result, one hand washes the other.

Would you like to be a role model?

I find the term role model difficult because I know what it means to combine children and a career. But I like to see myself as a source of inspiration, showing that a path like mine is possible and that as a woman you can dare to take it.

Do women need more courage?

Yes! I come from the Rhineland and address things very directly anyway. Apart from that, you have to be a bit of a "Rampensau" to assert yourself and confidently hold a leadership position. You have to stand out, whether it's with an opinion, your appearance, or the way you dress.

Finally, the crucial question: Do we need a quota?

I agonized over this question for a long time. In the end, I decided in favor of it. There has to be some form of compulsion to clear the first hurdle. After that - I hope - automatism sets in. What I don't like is when women are called token women even though they are top performers. You would never say that to a man.

Personal details:

Jeanette Gonnermann has been Managing Director of Waren-Verein der Hamburger Börse e.V. since 2021. She is a fully qualified lawyer and previously worked for nine years at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. She has several years of experience as a managing director and, as a proven trade expert, is also internationally positioned.

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