Founder and CEO of Fox & Sheep
FFM-Team: Verena, you are often cited as a prime example of a successful female founder, mother, and wife of an equally successful founder. How do you see yourself in this role? Do questions about the balance between family and work annoy you? Do people also ask your husband these questions?
Verena: These questions don’t annoy me at all. I think it’s very important to talk about it! Otherwise it’s difficult to convey to young women that the founder scene and family life are compatible. What I see is a lot of caution surrounding this issue: women first gain work experience, put some money aside, and then decide either to start a family or to found a company. Combining both is more the exception than the rule. For me it’s important to convey the idea that you can organize yourself more effectively in your own company by setting up the right conditions and creating more flexibility.
As for my husband: No, he’s not asked that question. He is the bigger feminist of the two of us, and yet there are full-page profiles of him in the press where our children are not mentioned at all. It’s a pity that he can’t act as more of a role model, showing that even as a man it is possible to found a company while looking after your family at the same time.
FFM-Team: Do you think your husband is an exception?
Verena: No, it’s becoming increasingly normal. And women can only be freed from the balancing act between family and work life if there are more male role models and if this is discussed more broadly. Every man who does more at home lessens a woman’s burden of responsibilities.
FFM-Team: The study shows that mothers work just under six hours less than female founders with no children. Do you think that startups founded by mothers suffer because of this?
Verena: No. My children, for example, are away from home this week, which means that I’m working until 10 p.m. every day instead of the usual 6 p.m. But did I get any more work done? No. I wasn’t as efficient with an open ended day as I usually am. Women with children are incredibly efficient because they manage their day consistently and always know where their priorities lie. So I don’t think that’s a competitive disadvantage. Quite the opposite: a certain distance and a fresh outlook on things are a valuable asset for any startup.
FFM-Team: Do you think that there is also a need for structural change concerning politics and business?
Verena: Things definitely need to change here, and there are two things that I would like to suggest. First of all, in the political sphere. Giving parental benefits both to parents who decide to stay at home and those who go back to work would be an important step. If you go back to work, you should be able to use those benefits to pay for childcare at home. This means that women could get back to work sooner and at the same time have their child looked after at home for the first year. My second suggestion concerns companies. If a woman in our company comes back to us from parental leave after less than one year, we will pay her full-time salary unconditionally for a year – even if she works less during this period. This way I hope that women will come back sooner and work more than just part-time. They are more motivated because they have seen what it is like to continue receiving their full salary, and also know that their child is still being cared for properly.