“It’s about very early support, empowerment and thinking apart from stereotypes.” – An Interview with Dr. Anne Seebach
Anne and I first started chatting a few months back, after I stumbled across BIKEYGEES online (more about this later on). We jumped on a Zoom and figured out that we have lots of things in common, one of those being our passion for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in the workplace.
Anne is responsible for all things people and culture at Architrave, who are a company that are redefining asset management. I’m delighted to present this interview with her, where she talks about recruitment, D&I and BIKEYGEES.
Sit back, grab some popcorn and enjoy this fantastic interview <3.
ANNE, WE’RE VERY EXCITED TO HAVE YOU ON WOMEN ROCK. DO YOU WANT TO START BY TELLING EVERYONE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR ROLE WITHIN ARCHITRAVE?
Hi, my name is Anne. Originally, I come from Bremen in northern Germany but live in Berlin since almost 25 years. I am leading the People & Culture team at Architrave. It’s a start up in the Property Technology sector. We help commercial reals estate on its way through digitalisation.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO RECRUITMENT? WAS IT A CAREER THAT YOU KNEW YOU WANTED?
Hahaha. I have had quite a slalom journey: graduated from geography, wrote a PhD thesis in hydrogeology and suddenly found myself in a mobile games company from one day to the other. Rather because I was bored of my previous employment in an engineering office than being interested in working in tech, I took a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity and got hired by Wooga. My job was to be faster than Facebook or Google when it comes to engage students and grads for junior roles in engineering, building sustainable relationships with universities and attracting potential talent at very early stages. I was coordinating interviews and stuff, but refused to interview people since I didn’t feel it’s right to judge about peoples’ professional futures without having any idea about the domain itself… The ‘real’ recruitment started 5 years later on a freelance gig at Zalando – and that’s where I caught fire. Soon, I decided to help other fast-growing businesses grow and planned my career being self-employed and independently, hopping from company to company after a couple of months. However, I failed totally. Because, when working for Architrave, I realised that this might be THE chance to build something up I really enjoy working at, like Wooga before. So, I decided to stay with them. This is almost 4 years ago. In the meantime, we have scaled from 20 up to 110 and it’s an exciting, challenging journey so far. Even though I am an HR person, I do not really plan my own career. I wouldn’t exclude doing something totally different in the future, something with bikes or disadvantaged people. Who knows?
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ARCHITRAVE AND THE STEPS YOU’VE PUT IN PLACE TO ENCOURAGE BETTER D&I PRACTICES INTERNALLY?
Huh, I have to admit that all doors to hire diversely and inclusively were open, from the very early beginning. It all starts with the right mindset you can find in a let’s say first generation of staff, e.g. the founders. I believe that you do not have to necessarily implement initiatives or ‘processes’ when it comes to hire holistically and inclusively. It’s rather about an early buy-in of everyone involved in the interviewing process. You ‘just’ have to make sure stakeholders are educated, trained and aware of unconscious bias, that they do understand the business’ benefits of having a heterogeneous team.
At Architrave, we have almost 20 different nationalities on board, an age range between 22 and 65 and a gender split which is nearly 50/50. I would have to lie saying that we do have gender parity across all teams. I wished we had more female developers and more male employees in rather female dominated roles as customer support or overall ‘service functions’. However, one day I had realised and accepted that every team has its different aspect of diversity – and I like it somehow. Because in the end, it is not about ticking some diversity checkboxes. It’s about an overall culture that allows different opinions, different social and cultural backgrounds, age variety and sure, a healthy gender mix. You can and should steer hiring processes to be more inclusive, of course, but where is the benefit from hiring a person only because of his or her skin colour or sexual orientation?
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU REALISED THAT THE TECHNOLOGY SECTOR HAS ISSUES WITH DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION?
Maybe when I started working in the games industry. But it was not because Wooga didn’t have a diverse and exclusive environment. The opposite: I have learnt quite fast how important it is to build diverse and inclusive teams and to foster a mindset of belonging. It was also part of my role back then, opening as creative recruitment / pipeline strategies as possible. And yes, we did focus on collaborations with Women Who Code, Girls in Games, Berlin Geekettes, only to name a few.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE INDUSTRY APPROACHES TO D&I EVOLVE OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS?
I have seen many events, great speakers and fruitful discussions about how and where to start at all. Overall, I believe the topic became more and more visible on roadmaps and agendas across industry, no matter whether we talk about large corporates or small and medium size businesses. However, there is still a huge difference between a diversity statement written down on a career page or code of conduct and the authentic eagerness to take real action on it. But probably a written statement only might be a first good step into the right direction. I would appreciate if the system allowed more D,I&B initiatives driven by the ones who are affected instead of for example me, a white privileged Head of whatever.
WHAT STEPS DO YOU THINK NEED TO BE PUT IN PLACE TO ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN INTO STEM?
I would say, first it starts with their parents! I suppose it’s about very early support, empowerment and thinking apart from stereotypes. But it is not only about supporting the girls – at the same time, boys should be educated a mindset that girls are equally capable to undertake great stuff and therefore, should have equal chances. Breaking down the boundaries between girls’ games and boys’ games for instance could even help manifest a more holistic mindset somehow.
When it comes to STEM schools, university programmes etc, we will also face the old chicken-egg problem: as long as the pipelines of students remain rather male dominated, we shouldn’t wonder why girls and women might shy away from getting enrolled. Who wants to be the only female in the room?
A great idea to drive more females into STEM has been realised by the HTW Berlin, one of the Berlin based universities of applied sciences: they have rolled out a female only computer science programme. I would love to see more of these creative approaches, at least as a temporary offer until the student pipelines have become a bit more balanced.
HAVE YOU EVER COME ACROSS ANY DISCRIMINATION WHILST BEING AT WORK, EITHER PERSONALLY OR AGAINST ANYONE ELSE?
It happened already in my time as PhD student. I met a guy who I remembered was sitting in front of the room in which I was interviewed for my research assistant role a year before. He said: Anne, you got the job I was supposed to have. You only got it because you are not a man. Boom. That really hurt me.
Other than that, I frequently end up in discussions about whether or not it’s already discriminating (against men!) when you train your Hiring Managers to prefer female or diverse candidates for vacancies. If you find these and can tick certain boxes, it’s nice. But of course I do not want to hire anyone only because of their gender – I want to find great talent that’s capable to face our challenges.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO HAS FELT THIS WAY?
Don’t take it personal – even though it’s tough NOT to take it personal. Maybe I would advise to bring this up, on social media for example. And of course, collect data points, write them down and consult a lawyer. But it all takes resources and energy. A more constructive way might be to find allies, build (female) networks in order to change the entire system to a better, fair (working) world.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT #BIKEYGEES. HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?
It all started 5 years ago when many refugees, mainly from Syria, arrived in Berlin. Back then, many grassroot initiatives were born to support new-comers on their way to integrate here in Berlin. We, basically my co-founder Annette and a group of female bike enthusiasts, thought about how we could help on a very low level. So we decided to offer cycling trainings for female refugees. Why females only? Because they tended to be the ones being isolated in refugee shelters, taking care of the children while the men gathered around, playing soccer, cards etc.
We believed that teaching the women how to ride a bike might not only empower them by learning something they never thought they would ever learn, but also contribute to individual, cost free, CO2 neutral mobility. Since then, we became an official NGO, have realised more than 400 trainings in which we taught more than 1000 women how to cycle, and we have even won a few prizes for our engagement. But it’s not only about physical bike trainings – we teach them traffic rules and basic bike repairing, but even more important: we laugh a lot, celebrate shared success stories and back each other, no matter where the participants come from and what god they believe in – or not.
Over the past years we have handed out more than 300 bike kits to new-cyclists. This increases their independence in all regards of daily life. We operate with a large pool of volunteers who help us with the trainings, some of them even became a bike trainer after learning to cycle with us! Thanks to all of them for their continuous support! Mainly, we are funded by donations, but here and there, apply for support by larger institutions to assure sustainable project planning. However, feel free to visit www.bikeygees.org to check out how we’re doing and drop your donation to support our work and assure many more future trainings.
IF YOU HAD TO PIC AN ACTOR TO PLAY YOU IN YOUR FILM, WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
The Duracell Bunny 😉
Thanks so much for speaking to us Anne, keep rocking! #womenrock
A voice for diversity in tech <3