Girls’ Day: Five pieces of advice to a younger me

“When life gets you down, you wanna know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, keep swimming, swimming, swimming” — Dory, “Finding Nemo”

I think this is one of the best quotes ever to come from the creative studios at Pixar. I find it so relevant, because the line from the box office hit is simply telling us: Just do it — or: Do things differently for a change. Challenge the status quo, try a fresh approach. And at the same time experience things for yourself, learn about yourself, your environment and those around you.

Of course, these experiences won’t always be positive. A new approach may lead up a blind alley — but there’s only one way to find out.

via unsplash

We need more (female) role models

We’ve all (often) been in situations like that — and that goes for me too, of course. I don’t mean that to sound negative in any way. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved: I’ve got amazing colleagues and a really fascinating job with Porsche and at our Digital Lab in Berlin. And yet I wish I’d known a few things a lot earlier, in my childhood, as a teenager, or later on as a student.

That’s why events like Girls’ Day are really amazing. They give young girls and women early insights into areas they had never considered as possibilities for an apprenticeship, a degree course, or a career. Or into fields they want to find out more about because they’re already interested in STEM subjects. But the most important thing about Girls’ Day for me is that we bring together girls and women who have set out on similar paths and show how it can be done. In short: We need more role models. That’s why today we’re having a Girls’ Day at Porsche in Stuttgart, too. And just over a week later, on May 7, 2018, we will be inviting high school graduates to the Digital Day for Girls — featuring a science slam and speed dating. The event will introduce participants to our activities, opportunities for work and study, and future colleagues.

Five pieces of advice to a younger me

For my younger self, little Anja, and of course every other girl or “woman in tech”, what I would like to share are these five simple pieces of advice or insights:

1. Follow your interests and believe in yourself

I’ve always been as interested in matchbox cars as I have in Barbie dolls. This later developed into a deeper passion for technology — even if that often caused a few disbelieving looks when I was young. Many people are still convinced that little girls wear pink frocks, prefer playing mommy and daddy games and like dressing up as a princess. Both my mom and dad always worked and shared the housework. So I guess conventional role models are pretty alien to me.

I wouldn’t say these funny looks hindered me at all during my development or career. But they didn’t help either. That’s why I want to pass on this advice to my younger self: It doesn’t matter whether you prefer playing with dolls or toy cars — the key thing is its fun. Follow your interests and passions. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do because of your gender.

2. Accept failure with grace and learn from it

Germany doesn’t have much of an error culture — here; failure is seen as something negative, something to be avoided at all cost. Failures are all too often hushed up or swept under the carpet. But actually we can learn most from these situations. When we try out new approaches, we often run up against a brick wall before finding a new and better solution. The most important thing is to keep getting up when you fall.

Of course, I too have had my fair share of failures. Some have given me sleepless nights. And it took a while for me to learn that there’s no shame in failing, that it’s perfectly normal. It’s always a new start, and one that might turn into something positive if only you give it a chance. So: Make mistakes, fail, and learn from the experience.

3. Talk about your experiences and learn from others

And while we’re on the subject of failure: Of course, it’s important to learn from your mistakes. But it’s also important to share what you learn — so, my advice to my younger self is: Talk about it with others, share your experiences, both the positives and the negatives. Network.

You’ll notice how helpful it can be to learn from others’ mistakes and avoid making them yourself. What’s more, you can develop a more positive attitude towards failure early on — and hopefully make others think about whether a failure is really such a disaster that you should deny that it happened.

4. Find yourself a mentor — and become a role model yourself

I was often determined to solve my own problems and tackle challenges alone. Today I know that that makes things unnecessarily difficult. Instead, what you really need is a mentor — a person working in a similar field, someone who knows the pitfalls and is on hand to provide help or offer a word of advice. If I were able to turn the clocks back, I would have looked for someone like that as early in life as possible. It’s not a one-way street, of course — as a woman with 20 years of experience in the digital industry, there’s quite a lot I would now like to pass on to younger women and girls.

For me, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, would be one such mentor. She sees the goals of humanity as being a little closer to earth: “Teach your daughters to code.”

In this talk at the IAA, she challenges the men in her audience to be good role models to their daughters by lending a hand around the house, for example. Her argument is that daughters who see both parents sharing the housework are statistically more successful in professional life. And she leaves the men in her audience with the following thought: If you want to make your wife happy, “don’t buy flowers,… do the laundry!” All I have to say on that subject is: Thanks, Dad, for doing the laundry!

5. Never stop asking, never stop dreaming

You can only develop your own vision of a better future by constantly asking questions and challenging the status quo. Many would dismiss this as being overly optimistic, but that’s exactly what gives rise to innovation — and I see that every day in my work at the Porsche Digital Lab with prototypes like the Porsche-XAIN Vehicle Blockchain Network or the SoundDetective, as well as in my personal passion for art and mathematics. Smart technologies help me to reconcile that today.

So question everything, develop your own ideas, and believe in them. And remember: “Keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

Girls’ Day & Digital Day for Girls at Porsche

Finally, just a quick but important appeal — and, yes, a bit of publicity: Sharing experiences helps all of us — so talk with the young women and girls in your area and show them what is possible. Be on hand to offer help and advice — and go with them to the Digital Day for Girls at Porsche.

#NextLevelGermanEngineering

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Anja Hendel

Managing Director @ diconium | #Innovation #DigitalTransformation #Mobility | How do we transfer the successful German art of engineering into the digital age?