Interviewed by Montana Cantagalli
Meet WIL Member Audrey Krause-Roehrig, Finance Director at fritz-kola. In this interview, Audrey discusses the impact of her international upbringing on her career, her love for mentoring, and what it takes to be an authentic leader.
From your biography, I gather you had quite an international upbringing. Could you tell us more about that and how it impacted you as a professional?
My grandmother was German, my grandfather French, so there was a strong feeling of being European from the start. My grandparents and my parents were also very interested in discovering new culture .My grandparents both spoke four languages, which was quite unusual in France at the time. I often say that that my parents lived with a suitcase in their hands, because they love to travel around the world: my father would go to Africa or Asia in his free time and come back with all those wonderful stories. We were brought up to be European and got used to meeting people from abroad and experiencing different cultures, and that is probably how my sister landed in the UK, and I landed in Germany. It felt very normal for us to live and work abroad, and I wanted to do so as soon as I could because I thought that when I got married and had kids, I would end up coming back to my home country. But things did not turn out quite like that! You meet people abroad and then your new home becomes somewhere else. You have all the benefit from being a foreigner but also all the advantage of knowing that there are different countries and opportunities, and that the work can be different wherever you go.
You have worked with non-profit organisations such as “Start with a Friend”. Could you tell us more about this?
When the war started in Syria and many refugees came over to Europe, I asked myself how I could really help them. What could I contribute that would be meaningful for them and for myself? A friend suggested that I support someone and help them start their new life in Germany, something which spoke to me as I had also lived through the experience of being a foreigner in Germany and having to learn how things are done. So I did - met and supported two people on the programme and prepared them for job interviews, eg. looking over their CVs. A friend, photographer, helped by taking their pictures for their CVs. Back then I was working at Beiersdorf, a manufacturing company, so I also asked some colleagues of mine to do fake interviews with them to prepare them for the real ones. They learned simple things like the way you sit in Germany, how you start an interview and so on. Once recruited, I supported them with their contracts to check they were okay, and we also discussed what they would do as a next step. One of the men I mentored, who I am still in touch with, has been living for five years in Germany, learnt German and had a family. When you see that, you feel that you have really changed someone’s life by helping them get on the market.
Mentoring is about personal development at the end of the day. It is about discussing with people, supporting them realise what might be holding them back and where they want to go to. It is also about challenging them on their stated objectives and expectations if they are really the ones they are longing for.
Mentoring is about personal development at the end of the day. It is about discussing with people, supporting them realise what might be holding them back and where they want to go to.
You are also a mentor for Step Up and for our Women Talent Pool leadership programme. What inspired you to be a mentor? And what aspects of mentorship do you wish you would have had more of in your own journey?
I decided to start mentoring a few years after I was in a talent programme during which we were asked to write a letter to our retired selves, once we were old and holding a retirement speech. I wrote “When I leave the company, I want to be able to say that I helped grow many seeds; that I helped people grow.” This has followed me ever since and I hope that through all the mentoring sessions that I have been giving I have helped people in this way. Through mentoring, I get the feeling that I can contribute to somebody’s life.
My experience as Tandem for “Start with a Friend” and further experiences as Mentor within the companies I worked for led me last year to ‘Step Up! Karrierewege e.V.’, a very small NGO that welcomes 40 teenagers a year onto a programme. Its goal is to help students from different social backgrounds find their path and show them what is possible. Looking back, I am not sure that I got all the right advice when I was still a student myself. One of my sons is studying engineering, and when I look at him, I often think “That would have been great for me too”, but the idea never crossed my mind. I think it is very important to help young people who might not have the right setup or the right background behind them to find their way and the right career.
Although I did not necessarily pick the right area of studies for me, after that I had a lot of luck. On my way, I have met a lot of people who have supported me and given me advice. And I know that I grew because I had the chance to have all these people in my life. You always need a little bit of luck, too, to find the right people who can support you, and I had lots and lots on the way. Now I want to give back what I have got from others.
What is a change or movement you would like to see towards gender equality in your current sector? And how can companies make themselves more approachable to all, especially women?
What I would really like to see is more women at the top level of the hierarchy, on executive and supervisory boards. We are still missing women there and this has a lot to do with how women make decisions at different stages in life. I respect them all, but I do think that it is important for women to think about what kind of investment they are ready to make to keep moving forward in their career. For example, in the first years when I was working, I had two kids and most of my pay was going toward supporting myself to be able to work in a proper manner, like getting help with childcare. And there was a price to pay because we could not do the far-away expensive holidays and other expensive activities. But in doing this, and being able to progress in my career, I was making sure I was having a return on investment in the coming years. It is important that, in society, people change their views and help even more women to reflect on this and recognise the benefits of continuing to invest in their career. Women also need to make sure that they keep on moving forwards to ensure that they are at the right place when people are looking for them.
There is still a long way to go, and we are not there yet. Nevertheless, there are changes happening that I see on many levels. I see men coming into my company who are part of the new generation, and who are much more open to doing part-time jobs to take care of children. This is very different to my generation. It is great to see because it is not just women who needs to adapt but society, and that starts with the partner. In terms of legislation, I was always against quotas, but increasingly I see a need for them to get things moving in the right direction.
The question of companies being approachable to all, not just women, is something we are thinking about a lot within the management at my company. Because it is not only about women at the end of the day, but also about getting a diverse team that is working well together. On the one hand we want to have more, on the other hand side you cannot force it. I believe that if you have a good company culture then it will bring in the right people at some stage.
I believe that if you have a good company culture then it will bring in the right people at some stage.
Tell us about what it has meant for you to combine motherhood and a career.
I was very lucky to be born in France because there you do not have to make a choice between the two. You think “Okay I have my kids, check the box, I go back to work.”.
It helped me a lot to be abroad. Unlike in France where you have a lot of pressure to go back to work immediately, in Germany you have pressure to stay at home and be a mother. So, in the end I had to find my own way of doing things. I strongly believe that being a mother makes you a better leader and being a leader makes you a better mother. Since I was not the only one looking after them, my kids have grown up to be independent and are used to being in contact with different people.
What has changed in Germany is that, today, we have many more role models of women with kids, something that was always more visible in France. It is great for younger women coming through to see that they can do both, the way men always could.
What are some mistakes or obstacles throughout your professional career that you feel you most significantly grew from?
I grew when I was facing big challenges. When you have a team and they are all young, passionate, just out of university and burning to do stuff, it is not difficult to listen and be heard, because they are already leading themselves. What is more complicated and what really makes you grow as a leader is when you lead people who are very different characters, from young to old, women and men, who have all different needs in the way they like to be led. Leading a team that needed to be convinced, where the individuals might not want to bring their best to start with, is where you grow most. I think I also grew a lot with all the feedback I received throughout my career. At first, I thought I needed to be very professional, to keep a face straight and get on with solving problems; but in fact, being a leader in a company is about being together, being a team, showing how you feel and not only how you think.
I do not believe that anybody has a career without bumps, because the bumps are what make you a person in the end. In the face of challenge, you are forced out of your comfort zone. When everything is too easy, you do not grow. Being an authentic leader is about being able to talk about what did not work: this encourages people to ask questions, and to come with answers.
I do not believe that anybody has a career without bumps, because the bumps are what make you as a person in the end. In the face of challenge, you are forced out of your comfort zone. When everything is too easy, you do not grow.
Tell us more about how your perception and definition of an “authentic leader” has evolved throughout your career, and the extent to which you are encouraged to be authentic in your sector.
As I said, I used to think a leader needed to have all the answers and today I do not think this is the case. For me, the leader is the one who creates the trust so that people in the team feel they can raise issues and show how we can solve them together. I do not want to have all the answers, nor do I need to be the strongest in the room. I make sure that the people in the room can be who they are. This is what makes an authentic leader and ensures that the best is brought out in teams.
I do not want to have all the answers, nor do I need to be the strongest on in the room. I make sure that the people in the room can be who they are. This is what makes an authentic leader and ensures that the best is brought out in teams.
I do not know if people are encouraged to be authentic in my sector, but in my company, it is the case. This is why I chose to work for fritz-kola. Here, the value that the company represents my value as well. I can be myself and I have a feeling that my teams can be themselves too. It is a very creative and bold company, and people come to work here because they believe in what we are working for. The hierarchy is very flat, and people treat each other as equals whatever their position.
Video edited by Juliette Travaillé