On Friday, July 23rd, Falling Walls began the first day of its annual Female Science Talents Gathering. 43 promising female scientists from all over the world joined us via Zoom for a three hour exercise in empowerment, networking and mindfulness. Sponsored by the Bayer Foundation, we were happy to provide a safe space to talk and share thoughts about career paths of female leaders in science, business and society.
The first day was all about self-reflection on leadership. After the official welcome, our host Magdalena Geissler took the virtual stage and, after a short breathing exercise, asked our talents a very crucial question: Who inspired you on your way to become a scientist or in your life in general? And which character traits does said person possess? The point of this exercise was to figure out who we look up to – and whether we value traits that may not be as obvious as one might think.
We sent all talents into small breakout rooms where they could discuss their thoughts in an even more personal environment and we used the interactive software Mentimeter to find out which traits were the ones most mentioned within the groups. Sure enough, for our talents, the most important traits in a leader were not the ones usually associated with male-dominated leadership. Instead, traits such as empathy, humility and emotional balance turned out to be much more important.
As the talents reflected on their findings in the plenum, it became obvious that there are not yet as many female leaders within the science community, which has led to an askew definition of which character traits define a good leader. One participant recalled how she used to adopt traits from a previous leader, which she does not value anymore. Reflecting on how and why these shifts occur may teach us something about the very nature of leadership – and how to actively change it towards a better, more inclusive one.
How do you juggle work-life-balance?
After the first reflection exercise, it was time for our round table talk. We were happy to welcome three powerful female leaders for an hour-long discussion with acclaimed journalist Louisa Reichstetter: Dr. Monika Lessl, Dr. Ingrid Wünning-Tschol and Dr. Sandra Milligan.
The first day concluded with a second exercise. This time, our talents had to reflect upon leadership styles at their institution: What do they value, what is challenging? And, even more important: How can you contribute your personal leadership style at your institution and further develop your skills? Once again, our talents moved into breakout rooms, before discussing their findings in the plenum. As the participants shared their stories, it became obvious that a lot of the leadership challenges for female scientists are similar – and that reflection and self-reflection are a key element for change.