“Women are the protagonists of value issues.”
05.03.2021 | General
In our Riese & Müller Unplugged podcast, presenter Jule Jankowski talks to two key protagonists of the outdoor sector about their career paths as women into corporate management, about growth and responsibility: Dr Antje von Dewitz, Executive Director of VAUDE, and Dr Sandra Wolf, CEO of Riese & Müller. To mark International Women’s Day, we have published an extract from the interview below – focusing on the opportunities offered by different points of view.
You are both women managing mid-sized companies. Not just that, but you are both directors in the outdoor sector. You are, so to speak, the sole women amongst men on the management team. You both have a doctorate, and you have another thing in common: you are very focused on the issue of sustainability in corporate management. Is this a kind of “CV blueprint” for female businesspeople?
I also find many parallels in our CVs, but I think we have both gone our own way, and yet our paths are now crossing in the industry. For instance, we also both have four children. We understand these roles and appreciate the opportunities and obstacles that this path through life presents.
Antje von Dewitz:
If there were a “CV blueprint”, then there would be more women in these positions (laughs). I think that women are already, as it were, the protagonists for value issues. The more women really get involved, the easier it feels to introduce these issues into a company. […] I always felt like I wanted to do my part to ensure that there was still a good planet there for my children. So it was very much my strong desire to make VAUDE a totally sustainable company. But that can only happen when people trust you. And transparency is a proven means for doing this, both internally and externally.
Dr Antje von Dewitz is the Executive Director of VAUDE, based in Tettnang, Germany. After graduating in Cultural and Business Studies at the University of Passau, she initially joined VAUDE as Product Manager, and subsequently assumed responsibility for PR and Communication. She completed her PhD between 2002 and 2005 and worked at the University of Hohenheim’s Endowed Chair for Entrepreneurship (SEH).
She became Marketing Director of VAUDE in 2005 and took over the reins from her father Albrecht von Dewitz as Executive Director in 2009. As Executive Director, she has transformed VAUDE into a totally sustainable company and is passionately committed to incorporating environmental and social responsibility into global supply chains.
I find myself wondering: Why are there so few women in management roles specifically in the outdoor sector?
Well now, I’m not really sure if there are many industries where it’s any better. The cycling industry is extremely technical. Products often need extensive explanation. But it’s often the women when you look at who is actually driving forward momentum. From my experience in consulting work in many businesses and corporations, I have gotten the feeling that management positions are very much filled by men. It starts with the clothing they wear. Then women then try to simulate this by wearing trouser suits and skirt suits. I have never really fit in there and always wonder why that is?
I think that women need to make their own statements. And I really wish here that companies would be more open to these statements that possibly women tend to bring more to the table, including value or sustainability issues. Therein also lies the opportunity to emancipate women from traditional management structures. I am strongly opposed to the negative-sounding role of the “male entrepreneur” and think that you can counterbalance that as a woman. We see the world differently. Perhaps also because we watch our children growing up and because we want a different planet. Because we see how important it is to maintain (family) values.
Dr Sandra Wolf is a CEO of Riese & Müller alongside Heiko Müller and Markus Riese. After working as a Strategy Consultant for international clients at renowned branding and design agencies, and managing her own brand agency in Berlin, she has been responsible for the strategic direction of the company since 2013.
During the rapid growth of the company, the PhD-qualified economist focuses on structural and HR work. In addition to dealing with the brand perception of Riese & Müller, she also deals with the challenges of the mobility of the future and the company’s sustainability strategy.
Antje von Dewitz:
The technical aspect also plays a key role in outdoor clothing and equipment. Function and technology are essentially its raison d’etre. Historically, it has always been about “higher, faster, further” – traditionally, somewhat more male-orientated, “conquests”. The balance is now coming with the “more feminine” values, for instance with the yoga and mindfulness movement. There is a far greater need today to appeal to and integrate women. In any case, I am a staunch advocate for the best results, meaningful in the long term, coming from mixed teams. Simply more points of view are considered and implemented. […]
At VAUDE, we have a high proportion of women in management positions – I think around 43 percent. And yet we do not explicitly promote women. But in the last twenty years, we have acquired many good women for management positions. This is linked to our transformation to becoming a sustainable company. But, at the same time, it has also transformed our culture: we have gone from being a traditionally hierarchical company to a company based on a culture of trust with real reconciliation of work and family life. A culture of trust means that a greater share of responsibility is assumed by employees. Our culture means that it is not just a certain breed of person – extrovert, dynamic people – who assumes responsibility. Even more reticent people are empowered to do so as we promote a culture of diversity. We attach great importance to people staying true to what is important to them.