Name: Sonja Karbon
Company/institution: Frauen im Brennpunkt; Self-employed management consultant
Professions: Head of FrauenBerufsZentrum Tirol & EU projects with women in focus; management consultant, yoga teacher, farmer;
Trainings: Diploma in educational sciences, university course in psychotherapeutic propaedeutics, internationally trained yoga teacher, master’s degree in International Health and Social Management, master’s degree in Organizational Consulting and Development, course for supervisory board members, skilled agricultural worker;
x It is January 2020. To make a magazine only about women now says exactly what about a business magazine in Tyrol and Tyrol in itself?
There are several options and hypotheses why a business magazine in Tyrol in January 2020 decides to make an issue only about women. The first hypothesis would be in a positive sense: to make women in Tyrol visible. Due to my professional activities, I often meet women in different settings who make me think “Wow, we have such great and competent women here in Tyrol” and I am simply impressed by the potential that is tangible right on my own doorstep. The only question is how much of this potential is desired, how much of it is to be made visible and how much is to be exploited.
My second hypothesis is based more on a critical approach. If we take an honest look at Tyrol from the point of view of “women”, there is still a lot of potential for optimisation here. The Women.Management.Report 2019 of the Chamber of Labour has calculated that at the management level of the 200 top companies in Austria, 573 men (91.8%) and 51 women currently hold 624 management positions out of 624. This corresponds to a percentage of 8.2.
How many women do we know in Tyrol who are in a management position? I would assume that in a survey participants would probably be able to count these women by the hand. The gender ratio for supervisory boards in Austria is currently 21.4%. Although there are signs of an increase in comparison with previous years, there can be no question of a balanced ratio of supervisory board members at present, and I assume that, without knowing the current figures for female members of supervisory boards in the Tyrolean business landscape, the overall picture will also be reflected in Tyrol. A quick look at politics leads to the question: how many governors have there been in the history of Tyrol so far? Zero. According to the office of the Tyrolean provincial government, the first provincial governor was appointed in Tyrol in 1342. Since then we have remained with the man. That makes you think. We can also count mayors by the hand and in other areas such as finance, construction, economy, etc. the picture will look similar. Or how many female chamber presidents have there been since the chamber was founded? Probably some readers now tend to find arguments for this circumstance in their thoughts, in order to explain, relativize or weaken it. With this tempting tendency I would like to invite you to take a look at the Allbright Foundation, which has been dealing with the topic of women in decision making and leadership positions for quite some time and gets to the bottom of these arguments. But in short: there is still a lot to be done.
The province of Tyrol is shaped by its history. From the age of Ötzi to the bishops as lords of the land, from the Peasants’ War in the 16th century and the reforms that accompanied it to the disruption of the land during the First World War, from the separation of South Tyrol to the Paris Agreement and the associated challenge of a “cultural identity for Tyrol”. It can be observed that the Tyrol is supported by its traditions, which also include a traditional understanding of its role. Gender stereotypical thinking, consciously as well as unconsciously, still prevails today and the Tyrol is no exception.
To return to your initial question, I think that the reasons for a magazine to choose an issue devoted entirely to women will be influenced by both hypotheses. As long as women are not taken for granted in the economy, but are perceived as something special, and are not present at all levels in an appropriate proportion of their male counterparts, such magazines are an important contribution to making women visible in public.
x Does a man who has the same position in your company earn the same as you?
Within the framework of my employment relationship, my earnings correspond to the assigned collective agreement. Since my areas of responsibility are financed by public funding bodies, there is no room for negotiation on the subject of salary in this sense, and the fact that no man in our company holds the same or a similar position to me makes it difficult to make a comparison. It would be interesting, however, to take into account the merits of colleagues from other consulting and educational institutions, although I do not know to what extent this will be transparent, as it goes beyond the company. In general, we have a gender pay gap in Austria of about 16%, which is, strictly speaking, too much of a difference of 16%. Looking beyond the Tyrol, the United Nations has set itself the Agenda 2030. Austria also represents this agenda and one of the top 5 goals of the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) is gender equality, which includes equal pay as a goal.
In the context of my self-employment, it is less a question of gender than of my negotiating scope and skills how much I will earn for a job. But thank you for your question! I will be discussing this with my male colleagues and I am looking forward to the response.
It is also important for me to mention at this point, however, that my earnings are not based on a comparison – regardless of whether this is a comparison with a male or female colleague, an older or younger colleague, a more highly educated or less educated colleague or other parameters. I do not want to compare myself by my position, but I focus on my performance. It is up to me to decide whether or not I receive adequate financial remuneration for my performance. In comparison I will always find someone who is better or worse paid than me. This may be good to know as a reference point, but it is not my basis when it comes to money. As good as comparisons may be, they all too often open Pandora’s box and help no one. I am the one who determines how much I am worth to myself and how much my performance is worth.
Women and finance is an increasingly important topic and in many ways important.
x Have you experienced structural or institutional disadvantages due to your gender in your career?
When I look back on my professional career, I have to say no. I have not experienced any structural or institutional discrimination based on my gender and if I did, I was not aware of it. I was allowed to experience female as well as male managers from whom I was able to learn – positively as well as negatively. As far as my professional career is concerned, I am putting my competences in the foreground here, because that is what professional life is all about. Do I have the skills to fulfil the respective task?
Fortunately, I have so far gone my way without this kind of discrimination. I hope that this will also be the case in the future.
x It is a fact that men promote men who are similar to them. When women do the same, things go wrong very quickly. Why?
Is it the case that when women promote women, things look wrong? I’m in networks a lot, especially women’s networks, and I can only speak from my experience now. Both women and men have supported me on my way and they continue to support me. I still have mentors, both male and female, whom I value very much and whom I can ask for your advice on certain matters. I am all the more pleased that I can now pass on this support to women in one form or another. Whether in the form of a mentorship or coaching, but we have not yet looked at it wrong.
If you refer your question to the “Bee Queen Syndrome”, in which women who strive for individual success in a male-dominated work environment tend to distance themselves from women and female junior staff tend to want to prevent advancement, then I see the cause rather in the male monoculture that is prevalent in some areas and not in the person as such. The individual behaviour of women is a reaction to their environment and shows that the structures of a company are designed in such a way that there is little room for cooperation and collaboration. The aim here is to assert oneself. Pixar has this year published a short film “Toxic Masculinity in the workplace” on this topic, which really illustrates very well what is meant by this. The key to success in combating this syndrome is diversity. The aim is to encourage certain behaviours such as support, cooperation, collaboration and to reduce certain behaviours à la egoplayer. By now, it has become common knowledge among most managers that mixed-gender teams are more successful than same-sex teams. At this point, success can be understood in the economic, social and societal sense. If a woman has a “Bee Queen Syndrome”, the corporate culture or structure must be questioned and at the same time the woman must listen carefully to what she needs to promote other women. And if men only promote men, the corporate culture or structures have to be questioned and at the same time pay close attention to what men need in order to recognize that diversity is an enrichment for a company and consequently also to promote women. Today we know from agriculture that mixed cultures are far more sustainable and resilient than monocultures.
x How do you treat your male and female employees? Do you make a difference?
At the FrauenBerufsZentrum im Doppel I currently lead a consulting team consisting exclusively of women, as they also advise exclusively women. In the EU projects, only women work at the moment, although this may change. In my self-employment I do not have a team to lead. Therefore I cannot make any comparison. Assuming I had a mixed gender team, I would like to put a question back to you: What reason should I, as a manager, have to treat my employees differently based on their gender? My understanding of leadership is based on the attitude that my job as a leader is to pay attention to where each individual employee* stands, what he or she needs to work well and what I can support him or her to achieve their potential at work. From this I derive how I treat employees.
x How do you rate young women who follow you in your industry? Do they have it easier than you? Are certain things already more natural for them?
I assume that certain things are already taken for granted for them or that other things will be a repetition of the repetition. I myself am 36 years old, and when I look at the fact that in Austria, for example, we passed a law in 1975 that women no longer have to ask their husbands’ permission if they want to go to work, it was not so long ago. My pioneers have done very good work on many issues and much has been achieved. For this I am very grateful to the women and men of previous generations. How many women are there today who still ask their husbands if they can go to work? It has become a matter of course that women are visible in the labour market. With the high level of education, there will be even more in the future. I do not know whether the next generation will find it easier. They will have to master other challenges, such as reconciling career and family without one or the other suffering and without the double burden of reconciling family and career. Career alone is not everything. As long as there is still the “either-or” option instead of the “as well as” option, we still have a lot to do. Especially on a structural level, as this cannot be solved entirely by the individual. At present, I see the “glass ceiling” as a challenge or rather the task of getting more women into management positions. It would be nice if we could get things moving together for the young women of tomorrow.
x Do we need the quota for women?
As already mentioned at the beginning, the proportion of women on the supervisory boards of the 200 companies with the highest turnover in Austria has increased from 18.5 to 21.4% in 2019. This still does not correspond to the minimum share of 30%. Before I answer the question, I would like to share a few thoughts. If we take a closer look at the predominant male monoculture, the following three questions come to mind: What is the point of having supervisory boards with a very large proportion of men? What does it prevent? What is made possible by it?
I don’t think that the men who currently hold seats on supervisory boards are not competent. What it shows me is the social image on supervisory boards. The higher the positions, the fewer women you will find. The causes are complex and would go beyond the scope of this interview.
So YES! At the moment quotas are needed. Quotas are one of many ways to increase the representation of women in decision-making bodies. As it is currently not a matter of course that women are represented in decision-making bodies, we must all ensure that it becomes one. Not in terms of individual interests, but in terms of the common good. If there is more diversity on boards of management and supervisory boards, the quota will also become unnecessary. In general, I would like to see decision-making bodies become more diverse and for this to be perceived by the responsible decision-makers not as a threat but as an enrichment.
x Is there a difference between how a woman and a man does their job?
Assuming I would assign a task to ten different people, what is the probability that there will be ten different approaches to the task? Probably very high. There will certainly be a difference between how a woman and how a man does a job, and that is a good thing. Differences are allowed, because they make it possible to “learn from each other”. Does it really matter who (gender, age, origin, profession, …) does the job? What is important is what comes out of it. I think you know what I am getting at…
x Do women in Tyrol have it more difficult than in other provinces?
It would help me now if you could specify your question. More difficult with regard to what? I cannot judge how difficult it is for women in Tyrol or in other provinces. I can only speak of myself. I have not lived in any other federal state in order to have any experience. I have spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, mainly in India. When I moved the centre of my life back to Austria 2.5 years ago, I must honestly admit that India and Austria or Tyrol have a lot in common regarding the way of thinking about gender (typically male, typically female). The more we move in rural areas, the more traditional it becomes. We are not yet as progressive as we think we are. Bhutan, for example, is much more advanced in terms of the empowerment and visibility of women!
Without having looked at the figures, I believe that the figures (gender pay gap, representation of women in leadership positions, etc.) in Tyrol do not vary conspicuously with other provinces.
Throughout Europe, Sweden, Norway and France are often cited as good practice examples of equal opportunities and the positive situation of women. At this point it is interesting to see which parts of their system are applicable to us and are culturally accepted. As already mentioned, in my opinion, the collective gender stereotyping is still quite pronounced in our country and I would even say that it would not be possible to adopt the maternity leave model of Sweden or France at this point in time, as our value system would probably not go along with it at the moment. But of course I would like to be proven wrong 😉
x Is the sentence correct: “To work as a woman in my industry is a matter of course.
x What experience can you describe that is typical for working with women in your industry?
In general, I fit in with my professional activities in the service industry. I’ve really thought about it now, but I can’t remember any experience that refers to what you might mean. When I am working as a consultant, trainer, moderator, lecturer or in my capacity as a leader, my mission is what matters to me and not my gender.
Vienna Chamber of Labour: Women’s Management Report 2019, Board of Supervisors quota, the year after. Vienna. 2019. ISBN number 978-3-7063-0769-7
Office of the Tyrolean Provincial Government. Chronology of the provincial governors. 2019 (https://www.tirol.gv.at/regierung/landeshauptleute/)
Allbright Foundation. Berlin. 2019 (https://www.allbright-stiftung.de/)
Michael Forcher. Short history of Tyrol. Haymonn Verlag. Innsbruck. 2019. ISBN number 978-3-85218-902-4
Business Professional Women Austria. Gender Pay Gap. 2019. (https://www.equal-pay-day.at/at/epd2019/)
Federal Chancellery. Goals of Agenda 2030. goal 5. achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls to self-determination. Vienna. 2019. (https://www.bundeskanzleramt.gv.at/themen/nachhaltige-entwicklung-agenda-2030/entwicklungsziele-agenda-2030.html)
Respact. Austrian Business Council for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Goals. Vienna. 2019 (https://www.respact.at/site/de/themen/sdgs)
Pixar. Short film “Toxic Masculinity in the Workplace”. 2019 (https://www.bustle.com/p/pixars-new-short-film-purl-takes-on-toxic-masculinity-in-the-work-place-video-15923579)