Without doubt, there has been significant progress toward gender equality in the international moving and relocation business in recent years. But what challenges remain, and how will an increasing number of female leaders change the industry? In five candid interviews, FIDI Focus gets the thoughts of each of the all-female 39 Club Board
Pictured above from left to right: Jackie Stouffer, JK Moving, Alexandra Schmidt, Mexpack Intl, FIDI 39 Club Board President, Morgana Somers, Paxton International; Isabelle Harsch, Heni Harsch HH SA; and FIDI 39 Club Board Vice President, Jessica Deutschmann, Gosselin.
Morgana Somers, Paxton – FIDI 39 Club President
I find myself pondering, why would we wonder if our future is female-inclusive? Do we believe there will be a regression of the current women’s leadership accomplishments or are we anticipating that females will become dominant leaders?
I do not believe that women have ever lacked, nor are we currently lacking, inherent leadership skills. Previously, women have taken on dominant leadership within the home and that has clearly evolved into leadership roles outside of the home. I feel the saying: ‘Behind every great man, there is a great woman,’ has essentially become: ‘Next to every great person, there is a great partner.’
Becoming a new ‘working mum’ has opened my eyes to what it really means to split my time, organisation, and energy between my family and my work family. This is clearly a delicate balancing act that absolutely cannot be successful without true partnership both at home and the office.
People have told me how noble it is to make this ‘sacrifice’ of my time. This statement itself implies that I should feel some sort of guilt for focusing my attention away from my child or away from my career. But my experience has been the exact opposite.
The pursuit of success in both raising my child and continuing my leadership goals professionally, has given me an immense sense of accomplishment. I certainly hope these efforts resulting in me becoming a stronger leader and an inspiration to my son.
Seeing the progression of female presence in our industry shows me that the progressive partnerships I have encountered are no longer a novelty but are becoming part of the global standard.
We have finally reached a path to where women are recognised as equals and therefore awarded the opportunities that may not have been available in the past by creating a flexible workspace that nourishes individuals’ needs.
We are nowhere near the end of this road, though, and there is immense work to be done to reach true equality.
Joining the FIDI 39 Club Board has allowed me to have a voice in the future of our industry, including supporting equality for all diversity groups as well as influencing our industry sustainability. Our survival absolutely depends on our continued diversification, partnership and flexibility.
To achieve a sustainable future, it is essential that the next generation of leaders has an influence on the standards of today.
Jackie Stouffer, JK Moving – fidi 39 Club Board Member
I’ve been in the industry for eight years, and obviously I would not still be here if I did not enjoy the work that comes along in this crazy business. But I can say with equal surety that a large part of what has kept me in this line of work has been the chance to take on increasingly larger roles within my company over the past few years, as well as within our wider industry.
I’ve worked very hard for the position I am now in – starting as a coordinator straight out of university with no previous knowledge of the moving business, to now being the director of our international division. I have been fortunate to have strong female mentors as I’ve developed my career, and my boss, who is male, has supported me the entire way. I am privileged to work at an organisation that has allowed me to prove myself through my work and abilities, instead of my gender. I know that not all women share this experience, but I do believe that we are seeing an increase in gender equality in our industry – our 39 Club Board being evidence of this.
There are still challenges to be faced for women working their way up in any industry. Speaking from personal experience, women are much more likely to be judged on the emotion they do or don’t show, purely based on a gender expectation. People think it’s appropriate to tell you, as a woman, to ‘smile more’ – and would never say the same thing to a man. There is more daily pressure regarding the way you present yourself, and how you dress. If you are single and/or do not have children, you might receive unsolicited comments telling you ‘there’s still time’, as if the path you are on isn’t one taken by choice. Perceptions like this are definitely a challenge that many women – myself included – continue to face in their careers. But these are challenges that have allowed me to grow into an even more independent and confident individual, and that growth has enabled me to reach where I am in my career.
I do believe we will continue to see an increasing number of female leaders in our industry, and it’s something we should keep talking about. There is no denying that we are experiencing a shift towards greater equality, and to not talk about it or to not address the challenges that come with it will only stifle further progress.
Isabelle Harsch, harsch – FIDI 39 Club Board member
Very often, people ask me the same question: ‘You are the CEO of a moving company; is it hard to be a woman in a man’s world?’ (in referencing the moving industry, which is seen as male-dominated). I always answer the same way: ‘It was harder to be young than to be a woman.’ I took over the management of my company when I was 28 years old. Experience – or the lack of experience – has a huge impact on your management skills; being a woman does not.
This being said, I know that I was extremely lucky not to have faced any discrimination as a woman to get where I am now and this is thanks to my father: an old gentleman who was very open-minded for his generation and didn’t make decisions based on gender. He always took into consideration and judged the people according to their capabilities, their involvement and their results. I was raised, and the company was built, with those values, so it was never a question at all – for me, for our employees, or for our customers.
However, with people not familiar with my father or the company, I experience discrimination. For instance, when I have a business meeting with only older men and I step into the room with my male colleagues, very often the first thought of our hosts is that I am the assistant instead of the boss. But I find it funny to see their faces once they understand their mistake and I usually take advantage of this situation to take the lead on the discussion and negotiations.
I think that the most important thing for a career is self-confidence and this is a strength that we build throughout the years thanks to our parents, our friends, our colleagues and all the people who matter to us. This means we can all contribute to help others – women and men – to develop the self-confidence they need to achieve great things.
Alexandra Schmidt, Mexpack Intl – fidi 39 Club Board Member
I am proud of the business that my family has built because we have focused on encouraging women to grow in the company by taking on more responsibilities and by offering leadership roles. As a female business owner, I believe it is important to give equal opportunities to everyone and I am excited to see women succeed when given the chance to prove themselves. As educational systems improve, I expect more women to have opportunities to prove themselves, especially in a country like Mexico. Our company’s make-up may appear strange now, but it will become more normal over the next years.
Our company’s office staff consists of more than 60 per cent women and our packing staff is now more than 30 per cent female. Society will see, as we did, that it is not easy to put women into traditionally male-dominated roles, such as packers; but many of the women who have been hired for these roles have excelled and proven themselves, moving up to be crew leaders, for example.
Twenty years ago, a woman would never be offered the opportunity to interview to be a packer. And female CEOs were basically non-existent. However, what started then will continue into the future: women being offered opportunities and proving themselves. If you are passionate and if you work hard and take advantage of opportunities, no matter what your gender, you will prove people wrong. And people who are proven wrong are more likely to offer opportunities in the future.
I believe that as society continues to evolve, even in a male-dominated society like Mexico, we will see more emphasis on assigning roles according to aptitudes and strengths, rather than on gender.
Jessica Deutschmann, Gosselin – FIDI 39 Club
I think the question is never how women will change leadership, but instead how a person will change leadership. Being a good leader does not depend on gender. Of course, men and women are different, and it is important to embrace and cherish these differences.
As a woman, I was confronted with prejudice at a very early age. I will never forget when a German teacher in my senior year actually said in front of the class that girls who wear make-up cannot be smart. As a well-educated working mum, this teacher should have been a role model to us, leading young women to become their best selves. Instead, she told us if you spend time caring about how you look you must be stupid.
Unfortunately, we hear comments like ‘she only got this job because she is pretty’ still way too often – and sometimes even from other women. I think we all know, especially if you are a woman reading this right now, that it is a lot of hard work, which sometimes continues over years and might take you longer than your equally competent male colleague.
I have never thought of myself as a leader and I enjoy putting on make-up, so I try to work a little harder every day just to prove to myself that I am not stupid. However, I was always ambitious. Standing up for myself and for others who are maybe not able to do so for themselves, was taught to me by my parents. I always liked to try new things, accept challenges, and did not shy away from anything that scared me. This is why I also decided to apply for the open FIDI 39 Club Board position in 2017. I liked the idea that each applicant has to deliver a speech and gets elected based on their proposal on what they would like to do for the club. It sounded like a fair and equal chance to me, whether you were a woman or man. I was up against two other young male leaders and, while I have got better at it a little by now, I was very scared to speak in front of so many people, and in a second language. Apparently, I hit a nerve when talking about social media and staying more connected throughout the entire year and got elected by the members; in 2021 I will take over the presidency.
A year later, another position at the Board opened. It was the same situation, with two men and one woman applying; and once again the members elected the woman based on her speech and the future she envisioned for the club. I did not realise initially that we had written FIDI 39 Club Board history by being the first all-female Board.
But this fact does not matter to me that much. For the past two years, I have had the great pleasure of working with wonderful human beings, who are all ambitious, hardworking, committed and not afraid to try something new. We all equally care about the members of the Club and want to provide the best conference experience for them. We listen to the members and each other and dare to do new things.
Next year, there will be two open Board positions and I am truly excited to see whether we will get some male support, since this is what it is all about – support. We still have a long way to go to truly reach gender equality and we need to support each other – not only do women need to support women, but we also have to look at the truly strong, brave and forward-thinking men that support us and understand the advantages of our differences.