“I believed going out to maintain the kid was weak point”, says Bayer chief

“I believed going out to maintain the kid was weak point”, says Bayer chief

“I want to shorten paths and bring more women to the leadership of Bayer”, says the executive, who has been with the company for 11 years

When you leave a meeting with the global team of bayer, Elke Mittelsdorf, head of women’s health products company, hears from other women what a transparent leader she is. Her weekly schedule includes conversations with female executives who come to her for career advice, as well as meetings with women’s empowerment groups. Women in Pharmawhich she helped to found, and grow, initiative for women in the company. “I want to cut paths for women. I don’t want them to go through the unnecessary things I went through.”

The executive started her career at a time when diversity, motherhood and balance between personal and professional life were not on the agenda in companies. So when she had her son, while serving as a senior product manager for a multinational, she felt pressured. “It was a male environment where male rules prevailed. She thought it was a sign of weakness to go out to take care of her child or resolve a personal issue.”

Giving up her career, even for a period, was never an option, she would balance the dishes as best she could, taking her to the pediatrician on Saturdays and being more available on weekends. But some factors were non-negotiable. “I had agreements with myself. I couldn’t give up taking him to school every day. And I promised to arrive early so I could have some time with him.”

But those plans were often thwarted when his boss at the time insisted that employees spend evenings in the office eating pizza after work. “I had to be home, I wanted to be with my son and I was being forced to stay at the company.”

For more women in leadership

Times are different, but today, at 52, leader in an industry still very masculine, she works to build an environment that provides the structure needed for female executives to reach the top. “My mission is to show that it is possible for a woman to rise to leadership and balance motherhood, exercise and a career relationship.”

And actually take these women to the top. Today, she has 10 managers on her team. All men. And, to change that, he advocates targeted work. “I took over this team a short time ago and my role is to act intentionally, otherwise change will be very slow.”

Despite this, Elke realizes that many women today don’t want to take on these roles for fear of not being good enough. And she didn’t get past the imposter syndrome unscathed either. “I matured, I understood that there are many invisible barriers and I started to know myself and my strengths”.

To circumvent the syndrome and reach the position he holds today, the recipe was to seek self-knowledge, network and take ownership of his career. “Many women wait for the promotion, but nothing falls from the sky. We have to be proactive and seek what we are projecting for our careers.”

owner of her own career

There is 11 years at Bayer, Elke is known in the company for having worked in different sectors of the company – from radiology to agriculture, from consumption to pharmacy. “I learned to look for the paths that favor me. You have to have resilience to be a woman and grow in the corporate environment.”

She has already received feedback that criticized her for being “too emotional”, but today she assumes authenticity and transparency as some of the characteristics that make her a good leader of a team of more than 100 people. “If I’m happy, everyone knows, and if I’m upset, people know too. I don’t pretend and play roles, I am who I am and that’s what makes the team more engaged and motivated.”

career turning point

“That was when I left consumer health at Bayer and went to radiology to become head of the country. I was very used to working in the consumer market, but I couldn’t see my possibilities for growth, and I was very reluctant to do so. When the opportunity arose, I was doing external coaching and I said I didn’t want to go to radiology, but I broke a mental paradigm and this change showed me that I can do whatever I want. And taking over a country, even if in a smaller division, for me was very important. I am where I am today because I went through that experience.”

who helped me

“Who hired me for radiology was a man who was the head of the position in Latin America. He said ‘Elke, you don’t know anything about radiology, but I see potential in you’. This guy bet on me and opened the door for me. And another person who inspired me was also a boss I had at the company I worked for when I had my son. She was always a very authentic person, she was never a man in charge, she was a woman in charge the way she has to be. She was the role model for me as a woman in leadership. I didn’t have many managers and to this day I remember her as an inspiration.”

what i still want to do

“I still have a lot to learn in this life. As long as I am learning and developing I will want to grow in my career. And I want to continue helping women, this is very important to me and that’s why I’m involved in so many things in the company. I want to shorten the path for women and show that it is possible. I hear a lot that I inspire people and I think this is my role so that we have more women in leadership.”

My information

“Business Administration at USP.”

Source: Forbes

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