Petra Scharner-Wolff is Head of Finance, Controlling and Human Resources on the board of the German Otto Group. FashionUnited spoke to her via email about the leadership style of women compared to that of men, about showing more guts and about the culture change in her company.
Could you describe your career in your own words?
“I never focused on the obstacles, but on the next steps I wanted to take. I’ve always thought it important to create. Before joining the Otto Group I was a management consultant. I started at Otto as an employee in controlling. Every two to three years I was able to expand and change my area of responsibility – from holding company to operational responsibility. Classic commercial, or towards sales and logistics. I like the different perspectives and focus points and the challenging transformations. Fortunately, I have been able to count on my husband’s support and encouragement in all professional steps. Of course it helps that he is self-employed and can organize his working hours more flexibly than I can. ”
Which qualities make you particularly suitable for your current position?
“I like to set things in motion and make use of creative space. I also like to interact with people, to try to understand and sometimes conflict with them, to bring up topics that really matter. If you want to change something, you have to be able to make difficult or unpopular decisions. Thanks to my professional expertise, I can trust myself and my decisions because I can actually trace and justify them. Last but not least willingness to change also plays a major role. In the Otto Group, we have been in the midst of a culture change 4.0 for almost five years that has changed our entire way of working, our thinking, acting and attitudes. This new way of working together prepares us for the future, but it has demanded a lot from all colleagues – especially the managers, I can say from my own experience. It is difficult for someone who is not flexible or who cannot handle criticism well. ”
What changes has 2020 brought to your job?
“Like many others, my professional life this year was all about working remotely: in mid-March we switched from one day to the next to digital work where possible – with great success. It showed me that the Otto Group was technologically and culturally in a very good position for these extraordinary corona-related challenges. ”
“New ideas and formats have been developed everywhere to further improve our virtual collaborations – from daily stand-ups and team workshops to virtual learning formats and bar camps to digital staff events and international management meetings, which will take place even more frequently than usual because no one has to travel. I was positively impressed with how close we got to each other despite the distance. We want and must maintain these group-wide and collaborative partnerships. When I look at my personal working conditions, this year was actually quite special, as my role as head of the corporate crisis team has necessarily taken up much more space and time than usual and has entailed challenging topics such as the challenge of to keep colleagues in the best health while keeping business operations as consistent as possible. ”
You are the board member for Finance, Controlling and Human Resources at Otto Group. How do numbers and people go together, and what do you like more?
“I am passionate about both subjects, because one cannot do without the other. It is mainly the people who are responsible for the economic success of the Otto Group. In my opinion, it is actually a great advantage to maintain a close connection between these two departments, which at first glance seem contradictory, especially when difficult projects are underway. ”
Do you think women have a different leadership style than men? If so, how do they differ from each other?
“The role of management, and therefore also of managers, generally changes a lot. Until now, masculine characteristics such as rationality and willingness to take risks have been preferred in many corporate cultures, and there has been a lack of female role models. But when we think of new buzzwords such as agility and empowerment, as a manager now and in the future it is no longer about command and control, but much more about creating a shared vision, trust in the team and transferring responsibilities. I see a lot of opportunities for women in this, because qualities that are more often attributed to women, such as empathy, social skills and willingness to communicate, can be useful in this. ”
“The comparison between women and men is only one side of the coin. Experience shows that mixed teams always make better decisions and develop more innovative ideas. Diversity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. We need diversity in every way to be economically successful in the long term. ”
Do you exchange ideas with other women in similar positions? What topics do you discuss in these discussions?
“Certainly. A good network is the most important thing. Above all, it helps to tackle important topics. My role as HR director is very much about empowering women, equal participation and overcoming social influences. I am committed to ensuring that this discussion is conducted in an interdisciplinary manner – with representatives from business, politics and society. Companies are often given a great deal of responsibility. We are happy to accept this, but also make visible where the preconditions in general have to change. For example, the topic of women and careers cannot be discussed without asking why men still earn much more and are seen as heads of families. And this raises the question of who stays at home with the children – certainly in the stage of life between thirty and forty, when the most important career steps often take place. A strong awareness of the different levels of female and male careers is crucial to create truly new perspectives. The more women and men talk about it, the better. ”
Do you see yourself as a mentor to other women? How do you support them personally?
“Yes, that’s important to me. Women still lack role models, and in this case I see myself as a role model. In terms of content, I am particularly interested in reflecting on learned female behavior, which often seems defensive in a professional context, and motivating women to break with these patterns. Take career planning as an example: men approach gaps in their knowledge with the attitude, “I can learn everything I can’t.” We women, on the other hand, need to learn not to focus too much on obstacles and see potential failure as opportunities for personal development. My appeal to women is therefore: have more courage to fail! Have the confidence to learn new things and also to raise unfamiliar topics. The same goes for visibility. Women don’t necessarily negotiate worse than men, but they are more likely to believe that goal-directed behavior can appear artificial or boastful. In this way, they fail to highlight their achievements and miss out on recognition and opportunities for further development. Ultimately, good mentorship leads to better self-reflection: those who know their own strengths and weaknesses can develop much better into an authentic and successful manager. ”
The Otto Group has a group-wide diversity management. What is being done there?
“These colleagues are anchoring the theme of diversity group-wide and strategically. They initiate group-wide development programs and projects, for example to promote young female managers. Mentoring is also an important part of this. You are a networker and source of inspiration for the individual group companies and, together with the contact persons, you develop measures to achieve the set goals in the field of diversity – recently also within an umbrella diversity community that has just been established, because of the broad impact and relevance of this topic to further enlarge. ”
There is also a separate culture change department. What’s happening over there?
“The culture change process initiated by shareholders and management at the end of 2015 ensures the future viability of our company. The central culture change team plays an important role in this process because it stimulates the group companies and the local culture change teams of the Otto Group to make areas of action visible and to implement change processes. If
multipliers in enablers they support colleagues across the group, for example by developing collaboration tools, formats and structures and by networking with local experts. In fact, the team is working hard on its vision of disbanding within a few years. ”
What tips would you give your younger self in their twenties (or current graduates) regarding their career?
“The American psychologist Norman Vincent Peale came up with a saying that I like to quote:”Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. “I think we should all heed that. We live in a time where we can try things out, listen to our own intuition, bring our own perspectives and ideas forward. It helps to give in to positive restlessness, feel like moving forward, show yourself and raise your hand, for example when it comes to presenting results or immersing yourself in a whole new project. trust is rewarded and will always benefit your career in the end. ”
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.de. Translation and editing from German: Nora Veerman.
Homepage image: Petra Scharner-Wolff. Images: Otto Group
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