Anne Kempa:

Anne Kempa:

“Look for role models who will give you strength”

Anne Kempa has been leading GIZ in Armenia since January 2015. She started her professional career as a personal assistant to a member of the German Parliament and got on an impressive professional path. Regional Post spoke to Anne Kempa about being a female leader in Armenia and about her recipe to stay protected from possible discrimination.

 

Interview : Karine Ghazaryan   
Photo : GIZ

 

What was your experience as a woman who has built a successful career in GIZ?

— I was very lucky to be raised by my parents with the conviction that both my brother and I have the same opportunities to become successful and self-reliant. Both my parents were working, and they always supported us to find our own ways in life and told us that they believe in both of us. I started my career in 1999 as a personal assistant of a member of the German Parliament, and that was a woman. She was a long-standing MP [Member of Parliament], already very successful at her time by being not only an ordinary MP, but also Parliamentary Secretary of State to the Federal Minister of Defense. She taught me a lot, and at the same time she was a very strong role model as a successful woman dealing with all these hard issues. Later I joined GTZ, which is now GIZ, a company where gender equality is one of the fundamental values. In GIZ we are convinced that only if you provide equal opportunities for both men and women you will be able to unleash the potential of all your employees and by this also perform in the best possible way – which makes your work much more successful. From the very beginning in my life I met a lot of successful women who occupied very responsible positions. Now my boss is a woman, her boss is a woman, and the chair of our management board is a woman. So, female leadership is completely normal within GIZ. This is really a surrounding where you know you can succeed, but there is still a lot of work to do: out of 57% of female employees only 38% work in management positions. So, we still get better and we do work on this, as these topics are part of our strategy and annual goals within GIZ as a whole.

Have you ever faced discrimination yourself?

— I’m very happy that I really have to say “no.” For seven years I have served as Secretary to the Boards and Head of the Office of the Chair of the Management Board at GIZ Headquarters; and until the end of last year we had equal representation of women and men in our management board. During my career I have also been supported by many men in management positions who encouraged me as a young woman to become a professional leader. I was very lucky to feel backed by the people around me, and I try to forward this to the new generation of colleagues.

How do you make sure there is no discrimination inside GIZ?

— When we have a vacancy, we look for the best person to fill it – regardless of gender. We know that mixed teams with balanced presence of men and women are more effective, so we always try to ensure this balance in order to bring in different perspectives and experiences. Further, we have corporate principles and a code of conduct which must be followed by every employee of GIZ: we treat each other with respect and fairness and we work together without any distinction in terms of gender, skin color, religion, culture, nationality, age, or sexual identity.

What about GIZ in Armenia? Is it any different?

— Everybody joining our staff knows our rules and values. New employees also get introduced to our corporate guiding principles. I have the impression that many come to GIZ because they know about these values, they know they will be treated equally. In GIZ Armenia 67% of the employees are women. That is really a lot, and many of them are very experienced advisors and professionals in responsible positions.

However, outside our office and our projects the environment is different than in Europe. But I have to mention that also in Europe this is an important issue; there, too, we still have a long way to go. In Armenia we work in three directions: governance, environmental protection and private sector development. And in all our programmes gender equality and equal opportunities are important components. Gender considerations are being integrated in all aspects of our project management. Hence, even if a programme does not address this issue specifically, we always try to take into account what impact a project might have on women. For example, a couple of years ago the Legal Approximation towards European Standards Programme produced a publication in Armenian informing women about their individual rights in the frames of the Armenian legislation. We also actively support women in their entrepreneurial or political activities.

You have been working in Armenia for 3 years already. Have you noticed any changes in regard to gender equality in the country?

— To be honest, in my meetings with partners the overwhelming majority are men, but I am happy to say that there are also some women in leading positions. One of the most striking changes in Armenia was the constitutional reform: for the first time the equality between men and women is enshrined in the constitution. It is very important to unleash the potential of women by supporting them in their economic and political engagement because this can be one of the keys to structural change. For instance, being an important sector of the Armenian economy, the labor market in the tourism sector attracts many women as it offers flexibility to combine professional and private lives. And women make a serious contribution to the development of the field; a contribution which they can make to the growth of any sector. In regard to politics, it may take more time but there may be serious changes as well if, for example, there are more women represented in local governance.

It is also important to understand that in Germany at least several generations worked hard to make it easier for us. Armenia is perhaps on a different stage currently, but this means that women who now have the courage and the power to make their way are very important for those to come after. And there are already some great role models in the country. By the way, I think it is good not to stick to typical “female” occupations and do whatever is interesting and promising.

For sure, if you can manage it with kids and household on your shoulders.

— It is essential to help young fathers and mothers to balance family and a full-time job. GIZ has been investing a lot in this; in Germany our company even provides a kindergarten. Unfortunately, we do not have this in Armenia, but we try to be as flexible as we can.

You have such a positive experience, could you share the recipe of moving forward and protecting oneself from discrimination?

— First of all, unite with others. Get together, exchange experiences, talk about situations, and try to advise. It is always good not to feel alone and to have somebody very strong backing you up.

Also, look for role models who will give you strength in a way. I was lucky to have several such people around me, including my own mother who was a professional teacher long before it was common in Germany that women and mothers work. There are strong working women in Armenia; I know this because we are cooperating with many of them, supporting them and trying to increase their number. So, look for somebody to believe in and most importantly, never stop believing in yourself. Try to trust the capabilities you have if you are a woman or a girl. And if you are a mother or a father raise your girls and boys in understanding that they have equal opportunities and rights.