Interview with Boxcryptor Founder Andrea Pfundmeier About the Advantages and Promotion of Diversity
Companies with employees that come from different backgrounds are more successful than others. Several studies showed that and Andrea Pfundmeier and Robert Freudenreich embraced this for their company Secomba. The keyword is diversity. More different perspectives and points of view during the development of a product lead to better results.
In this interview, Andrea Pfundmeier talks about how she leads a diverse team, why she visits schools to promote entrepreneurship, and what is her point of view on the topic of compatibility of family and work.
At Secomba you have a female employee quota of 45%. Are you proud of that?
(Andrea laughs) Yes, of course. It is always a challenge for tech companies to find female employees. And I am not only talking about female programmers. Even in Marketing and Sales technical interests and knowledge are important, because everybody needs to understand our product to communicate it. In our blog, for example, it can become very technical when we discuss the importance of encryption and other IT-topics. You have to find women who are excited about these topics, and we are very happy that we did.
But it has always been important to us to have a diverse team. We wanted to avoid the scenario of having 30 men working for us and then, the first woman walks into the office. For that first woman, integrating into the team would probably be hard. Additionally, I don’t want to work in a team only consisting of man, either. Therefore, having a good balance between male and female employees has always been a priority.
Andrea Pfundmeier founded her company together with Robert Freudenreich and together they brought the encryption software Boxcryptor to market. She is a well-connected entrepreneur who actively campaigns for progress in digitalization. Additionally, she is active in several mentoring and volunteering programs that aim to inspire female school kids and students, to become founders themselves.
Did you take measures to get to that balanced number? In other words, how did you avoid having 30 male employees in a male dominated field of work?
At recruiting, we always keep our eyes open when women apply. If we have the choice between several applicants, we choose the one who makes our team more diverse. However, gender is not the only criterion. We are very lucky that we always had a good mixture of different applicants. For that reason, we now have a great team that works together in a friendly and effective way. Our flat hierarchies support that as well.
You are very active in networks and organizations that enable communication between founders and entrepreneurs. Is networking something you would recommend to someone who is interested in starting her or his own business?
Definitely. I think it is very important to talk to other founders and entrepreneurs one on one, especially with those in your direct surrounding. Our company is in Augsburg, and you hear many stories about founders in Munich or Berlin. But their stories, success and problems often do not really apply to us. For that reason, we try to be in touch with other companies and startups in the region, who have similar experiences. Of course, you should not spend 50% of your workday on networking, but it is an important part of the job that can help you in many ways and situations.
Where do you get inspiration for your role as a team leader or advice in difficult situations?
I get a lot of support from the above-mentioned network of local businesses. In some circles I can openly discuss difficult situations and also hear about the experiences of other founders. Also, I am in the lucky situation to have a co-founder with whom I can discuss all issues, and the other way around. However, often, we just try out things and see how it works out.
You are working on becoming a role model for school kids and students. How do you do that and how can you fill that role?
Being a role model means being visible. There is no use in seeing myself as a role model, when nobody knows me. For that reason, I often visit schools and talk to the kids there. They like hearing success stories and some get the idea: I could do that myself. But I always try to be honest and to talk about the not so positive stuff in my job as well. I want them to have a realistic image of what I do. I don’t only want them to see me as a role model, but also as a human being that makes mistakes and that has to work hard to get where I want to be. I hope to achieve that the next generations identify more with the role of the entrepreneur.
What do you expect from the next generations, from schools and universities, and from training institutions when it comes to IT and digitalization?
I wish that curriculums would improve in this respect. But I am realistic and I know that such changes need time. I hope that in the near future, teachers become more aware of the topic of digitalization and new media. I hope that they find creative ways to integrate that into their curriculum. It is extremely important that young people do not only use programs, apps, and software, but that they start understanding what kind of technical setup is behind those programs. That they learn, how the internet works, what it means to use a free app, and what happens to your data when they do so. You do not need a big budget to enhance sensitivity in these areas. One just has to talk about it and put the topic on their agenda.
Teachers are responsible for that, but experts in the IT sector as well. They should start being more active in schools and promoting their topic. I started out by contacting my friends who are teachers, and I contacted my old school. Until now, no school declined my offer to come by and discuss IT and entrepreneurship. Of course, this is just a small contribution, but it makes a difference for the kids that visit the seminar. Once, we met a woman on a job fair who decided to study computer science because of one of my talks. It sparked her interest in the field, and in some years, she might be working for us. That was a great moment and an achievement for me.
People face different challenges in different phases of their lives. Sometimes the wish for a child is taking up much space in their personal lives, others have problems finding child care. Later in life, a parent could become dependent of care.
What measures do you take in the area of compatibility of family and work at Secomba, and how do you cater to the personal needs of your employees?
At the moment, our company is young, as are most of our employees. To start a family or to find good care for their kids, when they come back to work, are priorities for many of our employees right now. We try to support them by offering very flexible working hours. When one team member has to bring his or her kid to school at 8, he or she can start working at 8.30 AM. Someone else has to pick up the kid from childcare at 3 PM and wants to start working at 7 AM in the morning, which is no problem for us as well. For that reason, we don’t have meetings too early or too late. When employees face new or difficult situations, we try to give them space to deal with it. We always allow to reduce and increase working hours again, if someone has to take care of the kids. We really want to support that. I myself was on parental leave last year and my co-founder Robert this year. We try to be a good role model in this respect.
How are your experiences with parental leaves of employees?
Honestly, very positive. We think that everyone should be able to spend time with their family in this first, exciting and important time. We noticed that parental leaves do not pose problems for us. First, as mean as it sounds, everyone is replaceable. When someone takes a parental leave for one or two years, the company does not suffer. We were always able to find new team members and stand-ins. The return after a leave never was a problem as well. In cases where team members reduced working hours for a couple of months, we noticed that the team was almost as productive as before without working extra time. For that reason, we do not understand companies who see parental leaves of mothers and fathers as a problem.
You shared your parental leave 50:50 with your husband, which is not yet as normal as it should be, in Germany. How did your friends and peers react?
Many were surprised that Dad stayed home for seven months. The reactions were positive, but we always had to laugh at the reactions of some men. They said how great that is, but that they could not afford to do that in their job. I mean, what kind of super important jobs must they all have! I am the manager and CEO of a company and I was able to stay at home for six months. And everything worked out great.
On the other hand, some men said that they were actually scared to stay at home for such a long time with a little toddler. Of course, you have to leave your comfort zone when you take care of a baby. And of course, it is easier to go to work every day from eight to five, to stay in your work-routine and have time to drink your coffee, warm and without interruptions. I see parental leave as a challenge that forms your personality. For that reason, more fathers should do it.
Do you have advice for people who think of starting a business that already have kids? Do you think it is a good idea?
For me, starting a business was the best decision, and in my case, compatibility of family and work as a founder is no problem at all. Compared to people who are employed, you are very flexible as a founder. Many companies have very strict rules about working hours. When you have short-notice appointments with customers, it is difficult to say I have to stay at home, my kid is ill. Additionally, things like home office are no option in many industries. For people in such sectors it is much harder to take care of kids and have a good work-life-balance. As an entrepreneur, you can often make that possible. Of course, I sometimes have things on my desk that cannot wait as well. But I would advice everyone who is interested in starting an own business to just do it. Sometimes you might have to ask for help but all in all it is definitely manageable.