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Early this month, I visited Bangalore and my meeting with Margit Hellwig-Bötte, German Consul General, who is also a WunderNova Women Leaders’ Club (WLC) member, happened to be the highlight of my trip. It is not often that you get an opportunity to have a chat over coffee with a woman who has spent 28 years involved in Diplomatic Services across countries. Over the 45 minutes that I got to spend with Margit, we touched upon various topics from Indo-German relations, women’s issues, followed by some interesting stories she told me about her life as a working woman.
After years of professional life in countries like Africa, Kenya, Western Europe and now India, Margit realises how important it is for women to connect and talk to each other, irrespective of the age and sector they work in. As we sit in her spacious office in Bangalore at the German Consulate, she narrates a recent experience and how it touched her. “We recently had a meeting in Bangalore where we met women who are founders and work to promote entrepreneurship. It was interesting because we all came from different cultures, professional histories and diverse walks of life, so we looked at a topic from different perspectives and understandings. While one was an entrepreneur from the IOT (Internet of Things) sector, I was from the government sector, someone else was the founder of an NGO.” Margit recounts that although everyone was from diverse areas, the moment these women started talking about the problems they faced in their journey to the present, they bonded as if they had been friends for the last ten years. This is the magic that happens when women come together to talk.
“This shows the need for women to connect on the problems they face in working environments, and to get input from others. When you share experiences, it gives food for thought,”
When I asked her what the most important factor was, which helped her grow in her career, without a blink, she said, “I think one of the important pillars of my career is my husband who has always supported me. He has never asked me to stay at home.” In all these years, working as Foreign Policy Advisor to German Parliament, heading the Foreign Ministry’s Division for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe , and at present, as the German Consul General in Bangalore, she has s had unconditional support from him. She feels that it is very difficult for women to succeed without a husband’s support .“You do not want to convince your husband that you are doing the right thing when you come back home after a tiring day. As it is, women are fighting in a male dominated environment,for instance, Germany has 225 Heads of Mission worldwide and there are only 25 women out of these” she cites.
The support, however, is mutual – Margit has always ensured that her husband is comfortable with the postings she has. She believes that just like marriage is a joint venture, so is having children. Margit insists that women and men both should take this responsibility, especially in today’s scenario. She compares the different scenarios in India and Europe, “In India, you can afford help but that is not the case in Germany. You need to have a partner who helps you in the household as well. Normally, women have lower salaries and drop out from their job as soon as there is a child in the family. However, now I can say things are evolving. These days you find fathers who opt for maternity leave and take care of the children. This was not the case when I entered Foreign Services 28 years ago. This is very positive. In India, however, when it comes to family roles, things are still traditional. An Indian woman is first a homemaker and then a career woman. This also makes it tough for women to get back to work after a break of 10 years of motherhood.”
Towards the end of our meeting when we are done talking about diverse topics from what fascinates her in India and the different areas she is involved in as the German Consul, Margit reveals what brings her to WunderNova, “I come across companies who run accelerators and founders who run startups , and I always try to connect them. As a natural step, I thought that joining a platform like WunderNova would help as I will be able to connect people in a systematic way. There is a good reason to not only connect startups from Germany and India, but also from countries like Kenya or Africa. Hence, I look forward to connecting people from different countries.”
Her excitement at being a part of WLC is evident as she feels this is where she will get a chance to hear fascinating and inspiring stories about women who strive to excel in daring, unusual entrepreneurial ventures and bring them together.