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  • "Some ridiculed me, others offered me opportunities"

    The Capital Markets and Finance departments at DZ BANK are headed by two female board members. In this double interview, Souâd Benkredda and Ulrike Brouzi talk about their careers.

What experiences have you had as women on your career paths? How did your environment react, for example?

Brouzi: That was very different. I decided very early on that I wanted to become a member of the Management Board, and I said so – even during my traineeship. Some found me arrogant or didn't know how to deal with it, while others were delighted, especially as I got closer and closer to my goal. Who always stood behind me was my family. They simply noticed that I enjoyed the job and that it was not a burden. My desire to become a board member didn't come from an attitude of entitlement: I never thought ‘I want this now and immediately’. I just wanted to learn what it means to run a company and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Benkredda: The question is when the career really started. For me, it was when I started at Deutsche Bank. At that time, I worked long hours. There were a lot of questions from my social environment: Do you really want to do this, you can't start a family if you work so long, and so on. My family, on the other hand, always supported me. At work, I never had the feeling that it mattered that I was a woman, and that's how it should be.

It is important to demystify male dominated areas as such.

Souâd Benkredda
Souâd Benkredda

What aspects and skills were helpful for you?

Brouzi: What was important to me and what helped me was the fact that I took each of my steps together with my family. After all, a career like this always means change for them, too. That's why we talked to each other all the time, and even after taking on a new role, we compared expectations and reality to make sure it was right for all of us. This balance is a prerequisite for me to enjoy my work. What has also been helpful is my ability to tune some things out and not get more upset than I need to about anything. I think that's an important quality to have to be able to withstand opposition and move forward.
Benkredda: I can only agree with that. This focus on the essentials has also been incredibly helpful for me personally, along with the support of my friends and family. In my case, my job was so abstract that my family and, to some extent, my friends didn't really understand what I’m actually doing. Their support was detached from the content. They didn't judge me, they just saw that Souâd enjoyed her job and that was the main thing. That's why I never talked much about it. This separation between the worlds was good for me personally.

Brouzi: What was also essential, of course, was that there were always people who believed in my abilities and supported me. They saw my profile and trusted me with jobs that might not have been a 100 percent fit on paper. As a result, they have always opened up new paths that have brought me closer to my goal.

I just wanted to learn what it means to run a business.

Ulrike Brouzi

What hurdles do you see for women in the profession and what levers, if any, could be pulled to make it easier for them?

Benkredda: I would say that some obstacles or levers affect women and men equally. For example, when you start a family, it's about what kind of support you have, both from your employer and from your family. For example, can you reduce hours or work from home?
After my children were born, I was on parental leave for six months, which is relatively little, but I wanted it that way. I think it's important that there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Support should be tailored to the individual situation. Especially when it comes to such defining phases like family planning or when aging parents aren't doing well. I believe that if you as an employer help to create this balance, it's a win-win situation.

Brouzi: I also think that employees thank you when you give them the opportunity to adapt their lives to such situations. I myself was at home after the birth of my children and enjoyed it very much. I think the relationship I have with them today was partly formed from that time. My husband feels the same way, he was also home for some time then. I share the observation that young men here today have the same issues. Many also want to stay home with their children for a while. Society has changed in that respect. As a company, we are part of this society and have to take these changes into account.
Benkredda: It's important to put yourself in the other person's position. In other words, you should communicate what you want, but also consider what you can expect of your employer. In my view, openness is the key here. For example, after my children were born, I openly told my boss that I wanted to take on a different job because I wouldn't be able to travel as much with young children. I wouldn't have been able to meet my own demands and I also wanted things to continue to work well for my employer. We then found a solution that both sides were happy with.

What advice do you have for women who want to make it in their careers?

Brouzi: From my point of view, the most important thing to be successful in your career is to enjoy your work. And perhaps again on the subject of career: For me, a career is also made by someone who possesses an infinite amount of knowledge as an expert. While we in management have more of an effect on the people in the company, such an expert has an effect with his specialist knowledge. This knowledge is essential for the implementation of ideas.  
Benkredda: I see it the same way. I never planned my career and always concentrated on the here and now. I thought about what I enjoyed doing and communicated that to my superiors. Of course, that helps to plan your career together. At least for me, everything else came naturally.  
Brouzi: Absolutely. In retrospect, I was absolutely right to be so open about wanting to become a board member. Some people smiled at me, but others took me up on it and gave me opportunities, along the lines of: 'You wanted to be a board member, why don't you take a look at the job and continue from there?’ My friends who have followed this from the beginning are laughing their heads off that it really worked out this way! Another aspect from my point of view is to find your own way, even if it doesn't go according to plan.

How can you get women excited about male domains, too?

Benkredda: I think it's important to demystify these male dominated areas as such – and to do so very early on. For example, by going to universities and breaking down the industry or a certain domain into its individual parts. What exactly is being done there? In my view, this is the first step toward addressing diverse groups. And when it comes to hiring, you should also think outside the box and, for example, recruit humanities graduates who want to make a difference in the financial industry.


Brouzi: ... and not pigeonhole women or men and take away their desire to do something they enjoy.

Here is an excerpt of the interview

(Please note: This video is currently only available in German.)