Dec 8, 2021
Ambassadors for change
From a chance encounter to one of Henkel’s most successful internal networks: Katharina Dörner, Tabea Heise and Ekaterina Vorobeva are the founders of RISE, a network seeking to drive an inclusive culture and gender balance across all hierarchy levels. A conversation about what still needs to be done – and how to actually change things for the better.
What is the idea behind RISE and how did it come about?
Ekaterina: Rise started as a casual lunch between colleagues back in November 2019. We shared our professional past, difficulties, and hurdles we’ve encountered – and while we have very different backgrounds and career paths, we saw that the challenges were quite similar.
Tabea: We recognized that we all had different issues that were tied to a similar thing: gender equality in the workplace. Even though the company does a lot to promote diversity and balance, we all felt that we weren’t there yet. And there’s no point in complaining and not doing anything.
RISE is a network designed to promote gender balance within the company, focusing on equal opportunities for women. But it is open to everyone. Did you consider making it an exclusively female network?
Ekaterina: Our mission is to drive gender-balanced leadership and an inclusive culture in order so that everyone can rise. This is why we chose that name. The decisive argumentation on the question of who to include was: Can you really address any issue on inclusivity while excluding someone? I don’t think so.
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Our mission is to drive gender-balanced leadership and an inclusive culture in order so that everyone can rise.
Tabea: Of course, female empowerment is crucial to us, and we all come from a female perspective. But we need men to act as allies and understand that they also benefit from equality. We recently had an online event on the topic of paternity leave. We had so many questions from men worried taking time off would affect their career. We want to be inclusive and partner up, because together, we’ll achieve more.
Katharina: There’s another aspect: We all know how important networking is for career development, especially in a big company like Henkel. There’s data that shows that women don’t network as much as men do. We realized that it is important to connect people across hierarchies, because women are often lacking the right networks as well as visibility.
You took RISE from an idea to a global network with 1,000 members across five regions in less than two years – how did you do that?
Tabea: The process of founding was much less ceremonial than you think. It was very hands-on: identifying specific things we want to change, talking to other people, advocating for taking action. We were surprised how easy it was for us to get support – everyone immediately understood the idea and that there was still a lot to be done. It was more challenging to come up with a plan on what to do with all this enthusiasm and buy-in. It got more official when we pitched the idea to our CHRO Sylvie Nicol. She liked it and connected us with her team.
What exactly does RISE do?
Tabea: RISE has three core fields of action: Awareness and Communication, Networking and Events and Mentoring. Awareness and Communication focuses on raising awareness for the status quo and need for change, so for example, we will share interesting facts around topics like unconscious bias. Networking and Events is currently fully virtual, as we were born into the COVID crisis: Every four to eight weeks, we organize Coffee & Connect Sessions, in which we cover different aspects of gender-balanced leadership, from building diverse teams to financial wellbeing. We invite internal and external speakers to share their perspectives and offer a Q&A for the audience. We try to give advice, which is relevant for all genders, and offer a starting point for people to make their own decisions.
We try to give advice, which is relevant for all genders, and offer a starting point for people to make their own decisions.
Katharina: We also have a mentoring program. Mentors present their skills, location and definition of leadership on a digital platform, and interested mentees can approach them directly. Once they are connected, mentor and mentee set up an individual way of connecting and working together on specific topics.
What are your goals for RISE in the future?
Ekaterina: We want to be the #1 network within Henkel, so that ultimately, we offer everyone at Henkel the opportunity to connect to others. We also want to be a sparring partner for HR and the top Management. We came from within the business and identified challenges on the working level. We provide feedback, we give ideas – but we’re also facilitators: We can pick up things the company is doing and promote them in our group.
What is your most memorable moment with RISE?
Tabea: Something immediately comes to my mind. One of my favorite moments of last year, and probably of all time, was a Coffee & Connect session that we had shortly before Christmas 2020. Our topic was Mental Health. Because, of course, 2020 was an extremely challenging year for many people for many different reasons. And we wanted to take a little time to share experiences, acknowledge the challenges and address how one can take care of themselves. Katharina was one of the people talking; she talked about being a mom taking care of her family and her career at the same time. We had an expat talking about being separated from his family. And we had a new employee who talked about never having met their team in person. And it was one of the most authentic and real and amazing moments for me – because all three testimonials were so raw and vulnerable. They talked about how lonely you can feel at times and that there are days when it’s difficult to motivate yourself and to look ahead. In corporate life, there’s always talk about efficiency and getting results. There’s no space for vulnerability. We all know these moments happen to everyone, but we don’t ever talk about it. For an hour here, everyone put their roles and hierarchies aside and only talked about what they felt and what it did to them. There were tears, but no one thought that was discrediting. On the contrary, the feedback was that it was very powerful, and it made people feel connected. That just reinforced to us that what we’re doing is relevant.