“Equality for women should be a given”

Marianne Heiss, a member of the supervisory board at AUDI AG, discusses the challenges faced by dual-career couples, gender equality in the workplace, and how to deal with unconscious biases.

12/09/2019 Reading Time: 4 min

Mrs. Heiss, you and your husband are both executives at different companies. What do you see as being the greatest challenges for dual-career couples?
Marianne Heiß:
I see the challenges at three different levels: private, societal, and work-related.  Within a partnership, it’s important to maintain a sense of unity and support for each other. At the political level, we need structural changes to ensure that comprehensive child care is available for children of all ages. And, in the workplace, men and women need to have equal opportunities.

How do you maintain the right balance as a dual-career couple with time-consuming careers?

I feel that the meaning of life is to live in a way that is self-determined. Quality, depth, feeling, and intensity are very important to me. Professional fulfillment is only one of many significant factors. My husband and I have to coordinate a great deal to find enough time for family, friends, exercise, and cultural experiences.

“Practically no one is entirely free of bias. The important thing is to constantly examine your own biases and subject them to a reality check.”

Marianne Heiss, Audi AG Supervisory Board

In 2011, you wrote the book “Yes she can”. It explains why having women in executive positions is essential to a company’s long-term success. What has changed thus far in terms of equal opportunities for leadership roles?
Women — especially Chancellor Angela Merkel — have shown that they are capable of taking on great responsibility and leadership roles. In the corporate arena, we are finding more and more women in top management positions. This has accelerated societal change and had a lasting effect in politics, economics, and corporations. At the same time, quotas for women and programs such as the gender-balance initiative “Chefsache” have made an important impact. At this point, many corporations see diversity as part of their company culture. This is a significant improvement since 2011 — no more than that, but also no less.

In your opinion, what still needs to happen for gender equality to become something we truly practice and experience in daily life?
We can’t rest on our laurels yet. We need to keep pushing for equality to truly become a matter of course. Men and women both need to ensure that they not only commit to diversity, but also practice it consistently in daily life — at all levels, and without bias.

When a position is filled, the decision needs to be based on the best and most suitable qualifications, not on the person’s gender.

Marianne Heiss, Audi AG Supervisory Board

Speaking of unconscious biases in the workplace: they are still one of the reasons that women are less likely to pursue a career. What do you personally do to counteract these types of biases?
When a position is filled, the decision needs to be based on the best and most suitable qualifications and not on the person’s gender. Being a woman should never be a disadvantage — something that I, as a woman, pay particular attention to. In general, it’s important to constantly examine your own biases and subject them to a reality check. When compartmentalized thinking leads to an incorrect decision, I think it is important to correct the decision.

You have now been a member of the supervisory board at AUDI AG for a little over a year. Which goals are important to you in this role?

In the last 23 years, during which I gained international experience at BBDO, I was able to get a good overview of the automotive industry, in particular. As a member of the supervisory board, I am concentrating on the following main issues: What will the automotive challenges of the future be? How can the necessary transition be organized? What contribution can I make in my role in the supervisory board to actively support this transition? These are the questions I would like to answer.

Marianne Heiß

Marianne Heiß

Marianne Heiss was born in Krems on the Donau (Austria) in 1972. She completed her degree in business administration with emphasis in corporate accounting and controlling, as well as management, personnel, and organizational development at the University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt. After becoming a certified auditor and tax advisor, she took on a role at the Dorint Hotels in Hameln as business office manager. In March 1996, she joined the BBDO, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. There, she took on various executive roles and has been CEO of BBDO Germany since March of 2019.

She has been a member of the supervisory board for the Volkswagen Corporation since May 2018. Currently, around 30 percent of all supervisory board members in DAX companies are women.

Heiss’ life is still centered in Vienna, and she regularly travels to the Austrian capital city. Alongside her career, she is active as an author on the subject of diversity and, among other things, wrote a column about the advertising industry for the German business newspaper Handelsblatt.

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