Today I had my first official business meeting on site in Berlin. I met with one of the leaders of a professional women’s networking organization in the city. We met over lunch to discuss the organization and its members in order for me to analyze how they might fit into the target market for my company. This meeting was wildly successful not only in the sense that we accomplished what I set how to accomplish, but also in the sense that the meeting served as a perfect example as how meetings do not always go as planned, sometimes in the best way possible.
We sat down at the table and started off with introductions to get to know each other a little better. From there, I started to inquire more about her organization and her involvement with it. As the conversation continued, it naturally pivoted away from the organization and moved towards a discussion of the greater professional women’s scene in Berlin and Germany as a whole with an emphasis on the impact of the current and long-standing cultural, political, and economic atmosphere of the nation. Germany remains very conservative and resistant to change. As a result, women are still seen in a conservative light, which prevents them from transcending boundaries and ascending in the workforce. Equal pay is a by no means a precedent and as a result, it is one of the current issues on the minds of women in Germany. In addition, most women do not reach the executive level of an organization because there is an overwhelming perception that women cannot be both an executive and a mother. Similarly, it is said that it is unlikely that a company will hire a women in her thirties because she should be a mother if she is not already working. This conflict between motherhood and a professional career has pushed women to make a choice: pursue a career or pursue a family.
In the workforce, women must look the part if they want to be taken seriously. The woman I met with even explained that if she didn’t wear the proper jacket at a function, then she would not be taken seriously as the leader of the organization. As disheartening as this was to hear from me, it was a moment in our conversation that stuck with me as it proved to me that my company could indeed make a difference among the professional women in Berlin as the underlying mission of the company is to empower women in the workforce so that they never have to question or doubt themselves in a professional scene.
Overall, this meeting was not at all what I expected, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that fact. What I thought was going to be an hour-long meeting discussing this woman’s involvement with her professional women’s networking organization turned into a three and a half hour-long meeting discussing how the conservative structure of the country’s culture, economy, and political systems negatively impact women in the workforce. This is the epitome of research and business; it is unpredictable. There is opportunity is what we cannot predict. I embraced the unpredictable in my meeting today and can only hope that my upcoming meetings are just as unpredictable, if not more, as I am eager to see where these opportunities take me in my research.