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Over 200 participants attended the Forbes Women’s Summit. Ruxandra Rosu, IT Business Analyst at UniCredit Services, was one of them and shared her impressions and experiences of the summit with us.
March is Women’s History Month - a time when we recognize women’s contributions in science, art, business, sports, social movements, and so many other fields. For centuries women's contributions in these fields were often overlooked and omitted from history. It’s important to use time like these to teach generations about those women we all know and learned about and those women whose names we don’t know as well - women who played a crucial role in building our society. As we recognize them and learn about their contribution, we can start writing future codes with the everyday women who make communities, our schools, our families and our economy so strong. It is heartening to know that Forbes DACH convenes the doers, the changemakers and the disruptors women in their respective fields in a a summit that aims to foster game-changing ideas that lead to ambitious actions. After reading this year’s speakers agenda of Forbes Women’s Summit 2019, I found myself wondering about who these incredible women are, their success stories and if they had guidance along their paths.
Forbes DACH organized the Women’s Summit 2019 event that took place at Park Hyatt Vienna hotel on March 21, 2019. I was astounded to see the charming venue for this conference – a superb former bank building dating back to the early 1900’s in Vienna's historic city center. The inspiring event reunited 200 successful women entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and changemakers who came together to discuss challenges, build bridges and to redefine power. This summit combined a series of interactive breakout sessions, engaging keynotes, mind-opening discussion panels, networking opportunities, international and local speakers who informed, entertained and moved the audience. The event featured speakers included: cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, digital transformation expert and entrepreneur Sunnie Groeneveld, CERN scientist Edda Gschwendtner and Baloise Life Liechtenstein CEO Angela Matthes.
The guests were welcomed in the prestigious conference room by the opera singer Angelo Pollak, Forbes 30 Under 30 DACH region, accompanied on piano by his sister Fiona. They performed a piece composed by Clara Schumann, who was married to the famous composer Robert Schumann. What is less well known about her is that she was herself a respectable composer and a talented pianist. The Summit was opened by the speech of Area Vice-President of Park Hyatt Vienna Monique Dekker, who welcomed participants: ‘We are sitting in a former bank. Who was working here all these years? Men. Who was doing business here? Men. And how ironic is it, that now I am, as a woman, head of this hotel?’. In her talk, the leader reminded that hospitality industry has been historically male dominated because of the culture and nature of this sector. Fortunately, these perceptions are now changing. There is shift in the hospitality industry’s mindset towards diversity, as now this sector is aware of women’s abilities to excel and lead. At the end of her speech Dekker encouraged women to follow their dreams and to fight with confidence toward their goals. Heidi Aichinger, editor-in-chief Forbes DACH, greeted the attendees in a touching way: ‘Looking at this room full of 200 wonderful women, I created my happy place’.
It was a big surprise to hear Luisa Kroll, the managing editor who oversees Forbes' marquee lists: the World's Billionaires List and the Forbes 400. She talked about the most influential self-made women entrepreneurs and executives. The editor highlighted that from a total of 2153 billionaire who made it to the list, only 10% are women. The summit continued with a keynote of the young student Clara Burtscher, a descendant of Marianne Hainisch, founder and leader of the Austrian women's movement. She spoke about contribution and effort of Marrianne Hainisch to create equal opportunities for Austrian women to enroll for both secondary and higher education. Then, the charismatic scientist and influential TED speaker Lera Boroditsky, shared fascinating insights from her research to demonstrate the relationship between languages and human thoughts. She explained how different languages impact the way we perceive the world. Her TED talk – ‘How language shapes the way we think’ generated over 3.4 million views, being the most viewed online TED Talk in 2018. An example that Boroditsky within the speech was referring to the Aborigines tribe that she studied in Australia: they don’t use terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ but compass terms - ‘There’s an ant on your southwest leg’.
Born in India, educated at Harvard, based in Berlin, Naren Shaam, founder of Omio (former GoEuro) is now one of the leading European tech entrepreneurs. Shaam shapes a new way to approach travelling - his platform allows people to find the fastest, cheapest and best travel options by train, bus and flights within Europe. He engaged the audience through a thrilling story about the challenges he had to face in his entrepreneurial path and also the importance of diversity in his startup. Half of his 300 passionate employees from more than 45 countries are women.
After the lunch break, the attendees could choose among seven different breakout sessions that covered every area of interest. Topics ranged from negotiating, coding the future, recruiting & hiring, leadership, networking, designing teams and making money. I joined the ‘Making money’ workshop, under the impulse of curiosity generated by Luisa Kroll’s statement in her speech – ‘women do not like to talk about money’. Demelza Hays – Fund Manager and Luisa Kroll – Forbes US shared their insights and experiences on how to build wealth from different streams of income. They facilitated a dynamic conversation with the attendees focused on the importance of being financially savvy, laying the foundation for building financial future. Hays advised to start with visualizing goals and save for them, minimize consumption, prioritize savings and build different streams of income. After all the breakout sessions, all the event attendees gathered in the conference room to share their group’s ideas in front of the audience. The Panel ‘Writing future codes’ featured female leaders and scientist from a variety of industries, backgrounds and generations including PMI Head of Corporate Affairs Claudia Oeking, CERN scientist Edda Gschwendtner, post-doctoral researcher Jessica Lampe and the best young lawyer in Austria 2018, Eisenberger & Herzog Kathrin Bayer, with moderation by Klaus Fiala, Forbes Dach. The discussion focused on diversity and opportunities in technology and business.
Angela Matthes' closing keynote was an example of the power of story to touch hearts and move minds. CEO of Baloise Life Insurance in Liechtenstein shared her story of transforming into a woman being 45 years old after working 30 years as a man for Baloise Group. To quote an excerpt ‘I always thought I will go on this journey, and I will invite everyone to come with me on this journey’. Over 4 months she had more than 150 individual and group discussions with her family and within the company, taking about the change. Her consistent efforts were rewarded with support, encouragement and appreciation from the entire community.
After listening to her emotional story, the audience gave Matthes a standing ovation. I still struggle to find words to truly capture how incredible my experience at the Fobes DACH Women’s Summit 2019 edition was. It personally left me thinking about the best ways to start taking action and improve various areas of my personal journey. While all the stories I’ve heard were vastly different and unique, all the inspiring speakers had a common approach in reaching their goals. Thank you to Forbes DACH for bringing women together, we continue our work for writing future codes together!
Author: Ruxandra Rosu