Posted on 25/06/2019 by kathrin
Zurich, Switzerland, September 2015
Bea picks me up from the airport in Zurich in a taxi. We had almost missed each other. Her train coming from Lausanne arrived late and without our cell phones, we wondered how would we have ever found one another. We laugh about this later, when Bea realizes she forgot her cell phone in the taxi from the airport to her office.
‘Somehow we used to still manage before, even without cell phones.’ Bea is now trying it out. At least three days without hers. This is how long it will be before the finder of her phone will have sent it to Berlin.
‘This will be adventurous, a completely new experience.’
We had met in Berlin, where Bea had ‘Max is Marie’ on exhibit at her townhouse.
This was in May. We had agreed to meet in Switzerland, where her company Zattoo International is located.
Bea had attended a congress of the IMD (International Institute for Management) in Lausanne the past two days. Two days with other high-ranking women in executive positions. The topic at the congress was ‘Women is higher management’. She is so moved by what she experienced and learned from other women during this time that our conversation will be marked by it.
‘The things you hear…I still have to process it all. I had no idea what kind of world I was entering as a woman and how bad things really are. It is truly unbelievable.’ Bea objectively states that it is very easy to integrate women.
‘This is a simple change management process. It makes sense from an economic point of view. Moreover, women deserve this respect: after all, they create life!’
After fifteen minutes we arrive at Zattoo, the company that Bea founded in 2005 with her former business partner. Back then, under the name of Beat. Zattoo is the first Swiss web TV provider. Today the company has 70 employees. ‘I listen to my people, and they listen to me, that’s why we’re still here.’ Bea is familiar with the tough world of entrepreneurship from both sides – the male and the female. In 2012, Managing Director Beat took a break of several months and came back to the company as Bea.
It’s Sunday, we’re alone in the building. Bea doesn’t have an office here; she travels too much for it to be worth it.
She makes coffee and we take a seat in one of the meeting rooms.
After the congress of the last two days and the stories she got to hear there, Bea is more preoccupied with the gender issue than ever before.
Something specifically is on her mind: ‘Many years ago I was responsible for a team at IMD that was in charge of LEGO. I even put this team together myself. I met these colleagues from back then again now. Someone was missing. I knew there were five of us back then. But I couldn’t remember who the fifth person was at all. That completely irritated me. How can it be that I simply forget a person who was on my team? So, I sat there for a day and thought, WHO was it, who didn’t come to mind. At some point I realized: it was a woman. The only woman in this team.’ Bea is still completely stunned. How could this happen to her of all people: to remember the men and forget the woman?
‘I was a feminist! I was an activist! That can’t be true! What group-dynamic processes are at work here?!’ Bea sees this as a typical example of what happens in the male world and what prevents the equality of women. ‘On a project men are like wolves. They fight really hard. A woman who has no desire to engage in these fights excludes herself.‘
That’s exactly what happens to her now and then.
‘At times I’m just invisible to the men in the team. Ah, I think, so that’s how it feels. That would never have happened before. And all I did was change my gender.’
This is a completely new experience of teamwork for her.
‘I have noticed that there also are different forms of “being invisible”. There is the completely normal “invisible”, in which a woman in a male team is simply not perceived. And the disavowing feeling of being invisible, where the men pretend to allow a woman to express her concerns and then the concerns are acknowledged with the shaking of their heads; “She just didn’t get it.”
Then you are the obstructor. The fact that the concerns could also be justified is not considered at all.’
‘A woman alone is pushed to the side in men’s teams.’
That is why Bea is in favour of the women’s quota in areas where ‘weighing, decision making, and risk management are at stake’. On the other hand, however, one must also recognise gender-typical abilities.
Physical boundaries are quite obvious, but difficult for men to understand.
‘Quite simply: my muscle strength is now reduced. I can’t lift as much anymore. The men around me think that I am now one of those women who expect to be served like a princess. But the fact is: it just doesn’t work anymore; my strength isn’t as great as it used to be. Carrying a suitcase to the umpteenth floor is much more strenuous than before. It’s nice when a man can help.’
Spatial thinking, muscle strength… differences that cannot be denied. ‘If we were to introduce a women’s quota in occupations in which typical male skills are needed, we would do ourselves a great deal of harm. When we restructure, we also have to re-examine gender variance: ‘Sometimes a line is drawn in occupations that are measured by male abilities. This means that women are out of the picture. Look at space travel. It was decided that one had to withstand the centrifugal strength of 9-fold gravity for a short time. The female body may not be able to withstand this. Today, space is made accessible with fewer centrifugal forces and women can be included. Exclusion still exists in so many areas.’
Bea’s yesterday at the conference was full of reports about arbitrarily drawn borders, about meeting experiences of women in male packs, about being invisible.
What helps the gender topic is the fact that men also have daughters.
Would a father say to his daughter: ‘Play with Barbie dolls and take a good look at them, then you know what men want in women; learn to put on make-up and then catch a rich man? Hardly. Nobody wants this life concept for his or her daughter. You should ask a manager who has daughters of his own and who tells a woman after her maternity leave that she must now decide between a career or being a homemaker, to look at himself in the mirror.’
‘But men also get a lot of stick. They don’t talk about their feelings. There is a very fitting Swiss nursery rhyme: Es schneielet, es beielet, es got en chüele Wind. D Meitli leged d Händsche a und Buebe laufed gschwind. (It’s snowing, it’s drizzling, a cold wind is blowing. The girls put on gloves and the boys runs fast.) That’s really how it is: boys run fast, each on his own; girls protect themselves, maybe take each other by the hand, help each other.’
‘Women could help men see how rich life can be.
The experiences that men and women have are fundamentally different for hormonal reasons. Life offers a thousand bright colours. But men see only a fraction of them. They run through their lives in search of success. There’s hardly room for anything else. Professional success is an essential part of their survival. And they miss everything else. At some point, they reach their late 50/early 60s and wonder whether that was it. There is no more common ground with the wife, she had wiped the slate clean a long time ago, he didn’t notice anything, she leaves him and everything collapses.’
After our conversation, Bea has to return to the airport – she will fly to Berlin. Another two packed days await her. Bea is part of a EU research group on cross-media annotations, which will meet in Berlin.
During the middle of the week, she will continue on to Amsterdam, where she will take part in a major conference of the TV world, the IBC.
‘I want to change the TV world. We spend six years of our lives in front of the TV. It’s a huge industry. At the conference, however, I can only last two days. It is so completely overwhelming. You always think you can change something and then you stand in this mass of people, flooded with information and realise that you are just a small cog in a big wheel. We are all not as important as we think we are. Actually, we are drifting through our lives like tumbleweeds in the desert.’
Bea: ‘I am a colourful businesswoman’