Barry Blassoples Eventerprise VP of Growth, sat down with Birgit as part of a ‘Getting to know Birgit Thümecke’ Interview series.
Barry Blassoples: What I want to touch on first is just a little bit of what your experience was like in those early years. Partly of in your career in those environments and the kinds of challenges that you faced.
Birgit Thumecke: Just by my pure appearance, looks, that I’m a little bit exotic, maybe Southern Europe. By the time I entered the job market, we had a lot of foreigners in Germany from Southern Europe, maybe from Turkey or Portugal, or wherever, Southern Europe. So they always ask me, “Oh, you’re so tanned,” and stuff. And they maybe thought I was lying in the sun all day, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because I’m from Southern Europe.
They didn’t see me as a person, a biracial person. They didn’t think that I had African roots. But I obviously shared those stories very quickly when I made friends at work because it’s something I’m really proud of.
And I think it’s more my behaviour that was different. But people were, I guess, interested in me, curious to find out more about who I really was. I didn’t feel discriminated at all.
Barry Blassoples: Sure.
Birgit Thumecke: Definitely not for my skin colour. And as my gender is concerned, yeah. I mean, I’m a woman like so many more. And in Germany, I believe most of our graduates are females, but then you don’t find them in the boardrooms of those corporate companies. And that is a problem. And that is a problem which has to be rectified.
First of all, I learned about my career. I was working on my own as a subject-matter expert in the e-learning industry, in Revenue Accounting. Later on, I had staff responsibility with British Airways, I had four or five staff members.
And obviously I’m always intrigued by people from different backgrounds. That was something instilled in me. I don’t know, I’m just…
Barry Blassoples: That’s from being the person from a different background in previous instances.
Birgit Thumecke: Yeah. My first employee, there was a Korean young woman. Then there was a German woman. Another woman, though. And later, as I was allowed to have a third person on the team, it was an Indian gentleman who lived in Germany.
But the airline industry is also very international. So it’s not frowned upon, it’s pretty normal. But later then, when I had 15 staff to supervise, I always supported women, knowing that they, at one point in time, wanted to have children.
I think one thing that adds to the discrimination of women is the fact that eventually, they want to have children, and employers find it difficult because they lose them for a period of time, or they lose them altogether. So, although it’s politically absolutely not allowed to even ask the question in an interview situation, for example, but you can guess if a person who’s in her mid-twenties, just engaged, going to get married, and you want to fast-track that woman, that it will happen sooner or later, hopefully, if she wants to, that she becomes a mother.
Birgit Thumecke: That is obviously hindering the career trajectory. And that is also why you don’t find women in the boardroom. Because there is none to very, very little support from the system, at least I can speak for Germany.
Although it seems such an advanced country in that respect, I think there’s very little support in terms of kindergarten. It’s a German word that’s used internationally, but actually really to find a place, a spot for your child, is quite difficult. And maybe you get a place where you can have your child play with other children in the morning hours, you have to fetch the child by midday. I mean, who can perform a job within four hours. And that’s very critical. You don’t have the support systems in the families anymore because everybody’s moved to other urban places, so there’s no grandmother or mother that can look after your child.
I think the people, the educators that look after children in kindergarten are highly underpaid. And I think if you would really want more children to be born in Germany… it’s a dying nation, there should be a vested interest for them to support that you must facilitate that process, and you must help women to get out of this dilemma to have to choose between a career or a child.
And then by now, you can obviously share your maternity leave between the husband and wife. And he can take a turn and she can take a turn. That has changed and that’s a good thing. But ultimately, two people decide to get a child, if they are together. And in most cases, it’s an expectation of the female to stay at home.