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  • Writer's picturein-manas

Female tech leaders at a crossroads

Woman, thoughtful, digitally networked city in the background

A 2022 McKinsey study shows that experienced female executives are leaving their corporate jobs in large numbers, either because they are laid off or because they leave voluntarily. The reasons for the latter are varied: They range from a lack of recognition and appreciation to a lack of support in one's own career development to the desire to do something meaningful in the second half of one's career. We wanted to know more and spoke to Katja Pischel, who describes herself as a “tech veteran” and also decided to do something different “in the second half of her career”.

Katja Pischel is Germany's leading personal branding expert for managers in the IT industry. She has been in the tech scene for over 25 years. She started in a start-up and ended up in the executive suite at Microsoft. As a successful top manager, Katja has observed that women ask themselves the questions throughout their careers: “What’s next?” and “What am I actually doing with my valuable time?” She also asked herself these questions. And then – in 2018 – she left Microsoft at the peak of her career to found BRIDGE-BUILDER FOR CHANGE. There she sees herself as a bridge builder for change and supports female managers on their path to becoming successful entrepreneurs.

in-manas in conversation with Katja Pischel

Photo: Katja Pischel

in-manas: Katja, according to a McKinsey study, employees with many years of professional experience in the technology industry are particularly affected by waves of layoffs, including an above-average number of women. Many female managers also leave the company voluntarily. How do you see these developments?

Katja: I find all of these developments very worrying, especially since we have been trying hard for years to develop talent and bring diversity into an industry that thrives on innovation. If companies let these women go, a lot of potential is lost!

in-manas: What are the reasons for the voluntary exit? Katja: The reasons are different and varied: women experience too little appreciation for their work, they feel too little supported and encouraged by their superiors, they earn less than their male colleagues (by the way, the difference is greatest in the highly paid positions ) or they miss the meaning of their work and would like to focus on other things in their life.

in-manas: And why are women disproportionately affected by layoffs?

Katja: Many layoffs affect areas in which an above-average number of women are employed, such as marketing, human resources or customer experience. In the technology industry, some companies have hired a lot of new people during the corona pandemic because the demand for cloud-based solutions from the big tech manufacturers has increased so much. Today, for example, everyone knows Microsoft Teams or Zoom. But now there is less need for staff. The rapid development of artificial intelligence also plays a role. Many employees are currently wondering whether their own jobs can be done by AI in the future. On the other hand, in every crisis there is also an opportunity, and many people use it to reorient themselves, for example to train as a coach and then start their own business part-time.

in-manas: You have experienced this yourself and are now working with exactly these women who want to use their know-how to become self-employed and are looking for meaningful employment. What is going wrong in companies? Why do they fail to build “bridges” with their female managers? What conditions must HR and OD create so that more women stay and find “meaning” in their actions?

Katja: For the most part, in my opinion, this is a completely normal development. In my mid-40s, I have different priorities than in my late 20s. I may have already achieved a lot in my career and just feel like doing something new again. Many women also tell me that in the long run they no longer feel like the incredible pace and pressure of working in an environment in which new, fresh, young and highly motivated talents that the tech industry thrives on are constantly emerging. And I also think that's normal: Even if we always act as if we are infinitely resilient, that is of course an illusion. I perform differently in my late 20s than I did in my late 40s or mid-50s, and I also have different issues in my life: my aging parents or my own first illness, for example.

in-manas: Let’s talk about remote work. It is important not only for women with care responsibilities, but for more and more people to be able to work regardless of time and location. Is it understandable to you that companies want their employees back in the office 9 to 5? What opportunities are being missed as a result – keyword diversity?

Katja: As an entrepreneur, I live New Work in my own company: My assistant is in Portugal, the woman who supports me with social media lives in Scotland and I myself have a completely digital business model and work from anywhere, with a focus on Germany , in the USA and in Italy. If companies have the opportunity to offer remote work today, they must do it. This is no longer negotiable for talented people, regardless of age. And for many of the women I work with, the prospect of more self-determination and flexibility is a very important motivation to start their own business or decide on their next white-collar job.

in-manas: Let's change the topic: Co-creation is on everyone's lips - be it within the company or across companies with external parties. Nevertheless, it doesn't really seem to be a reality in all areas and industries. What's it like in the tech industry?

Katja: Co-creation is completely normal in the technology industry. I know my customers, listen to them and involve them, for example, in the development of products and services. By the way, this is a skill that I always need as an entrepreneur. Innovation doesn't take place in secret, but rather in exchange with the people for whom I want to solve a problem.

in-manas: What prevents us from being innovative and investing in co-creation? Why is that? Are we too caught up in competitive thinking? And if so, do you see any differences between men and women? Or is that too cliché?

Katja: I see four reasons

  1. Self-infatuation: I am too in love with my product idea or service.

  2. Underlying fear of rejection: What if no one wants what I want to offer?

  3. Lack of humility: I think I already know exactly what my target audience needs.

  4. Perfectionism: I don't want to go out with something that isn't "finished" and might therefore appear "unprofessional".

Whether there are differences? Good question. At least what I have observed in my work with over 300 tech leaders and companies: I see self-absorption and a lack of modesty more often in men, while fear of rejection and perfectionism seem to occur more often in women.

in-manas: Thanks for the interesting conversation.



  • If you would like to find out more about Katja Pischel : go to her website here.

  • And for everyone who is interested in more topics related to personnel and organizational development: In the knowledge hub for HR and OE in our INNO-VERSE there is enough discussion and innovation space for current topics and challenges like these.

Image link to the knowledge hub for HR and OE


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