I pick up the Digital Female Leadership Award story where I last left off in early August, after publishing a blog post in which I shared my thoughts and feelings about asking my network for help and votes for the Audience Award. Back then, I was also wondering if these women shared my insecurities, which left me pondering: who are these women anyway?
I was so interested, I just had to look into it.
So the following week, I sat at my desk in Reston, Virginia, a French press full of coffee by my side, and started to hover over their beautiful faces before clicking on their names to find out more.
It wasn’t long before I realized that most of the content these women submitted was in German. In fact, I later estimated that approximately 90% of the submission were in Deutsch, from women living in the DACH region; the rest in English, from about two dozen women mostly in the US, Canada, the UK, France and South Africa.
While I was curious to find out how these women answered the same questions I had a few weeks earlier, and while I furthermore had time to investigate, I also estimated that copying and pasting some 400 content pages manually in Google Translate was gonna take, well, forever, and most likely give me carpal tunnel syndrome.
Luckily, I found a more civilized approach: at the bottom of each nomination page was a link to social media accounts provided by each nominee. I opted on a more familiar format and headed to their LinkedIn profile.
As I started down the alphabet, organized by first name, I had many initial observations:
A – That’s a lot of Annas!
C – I’m the only Caroline, that’s so unusual… Ahh, they spell it without the “e” here, got it!
H – Cool, she is going to Bits & Pretzels too!
M – Look at this young woman! Her LinkedIn profile is so creative and different. I like it!
R – Wow, all these women are beautiful, inside and out!
S – Wait, I know her!
Z – What an impressive roster of women…
As I repeatedly clicked on browser tabs between the DFLA site and LinkedIn, I found entrepreneurs, founders, women at large corporations like Siemens, Deutsche Telecom, SAP, consultants at Deloitte, IBM, PWC, Fujitsu, KPMG and Accenture, women in media, communications and marketing leadership positions, agency women, investors, technologists, creative women, business women, lawyers, CEOs, bloggers, project managers, and more. All gathered under one digital roof with the same goal: to promote the visibility of women and their career paths in the digital world.
I was blown away.
I was so interested to find out more about these women that it wasn’t long before I said fuck it, I am going to link in with every single one of these women. They will probably wonder who this Canadian-American girl asking them for a connection is, so I’ll add a short message.
After 7 hours spent over the next 2 days, I completed this task: I had requested to connect with some 350 strangers.
And all the while, responses started coming in…
I was expecting that, at best, the women would simply accept my invitation. What actually happened was a complete surprise: they started writing me back, also with congratulatory messages.
And just like that, conversations began, across the Atlantic.
Women from Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Zurich, London, Paris.
And of course, Munich… In fact, I estimated there were approximately 60 nominees from Munich.
Even more astounding, so many of them warmly wrote: “Let me know when you are in Germany!”, welcoming me to further connect should I visit their homeland again.
At the time, I was already planning to be in Munich for Bits & Pretzels (and Oktoberfest, duh!) at the end of September, but I didn’t think that as planned, this visit would be long enough to explore these new connections.
I knew it was time to cross the Atlantic, again. I needed to meet these women. Now. I needed to be in Munich.
In my responses, I declared: “I’ll be in Munich all of September, would you like to meet me for a coffee?”, believing I would figure out a way to accelerate and lengthen my 10th visit to the Bavarian capital.
In a surprising turn of events, I boarded a flight from IAD to MUC at the end of August, reacquainted myself with my favorite AirBnB, and set out to reconnect with familiar individuals and meet as many new ones as possible.
My goal: 30 blind dates in 30 days.
I succeeded: Laetitia Hörnler, Anna-Lena Müller, Rieke Harmsen, Florian Hohenauer (via Gudrun Herrmann), Judith Gampe, Amanda Birkenholz, Cristina Hartmann, Isabell Franck, Melanie and Andreas Stütz, Lisa Glassner and her colleagues, Eva Lettenmeier (via Reike Harmsen), Birgit Gehring, Deepa Gautam-Nigge, Daniela Mellen (via Sarah Armstrong-Smith), Jutta Frisch, Helen Orgis, Britta Daffner, Maren Martschenko, Gudrun Herrmann, Vera Neidl, Anne Witt (via Vera Neidl), Carolin Rottlaender, Nina Golüke (via Carolin Rottlaender), Elena Rechter, Laura Lazar, Anna Meyfarth, Simone Niedenzu, Angela Lehmann, Sabine Hagen, Franziska Divis, Cindy Scharlock, Petra Michaely & Denise Heising.
And this is not counting the ones I am forgetting, because it happens, forgive me.
In retrospect, it’s remarkable that so many of them took me up on my offer, took time away from their jobs, their families and their obligations to spend a few hours with me, a complete stranger, from another world, in English. Insane. Unanticipated. Humbling.
They welcomed me in their town, at their favorite coffee shops and restaurants; in their offices, showing me around; in their homes even, sharing their lives. They opened up their hearts and minds so that we could engage in meaningful conversations and exchanges. And while no two conversations were alike, because every single one of these humans brought their own uniqueness to the date, the themes were delightfully consistent. I rejoiced in dialogue about culture, heritage, business, motherhood, family, diversity, coaching, career, entrepreneurship, networking, money, innovation, social good, technology, mentoring, leadership, automotive, humanity, mobility, digital transformation, globalization, consulting, passion, purpose, fun, branding, connections, triathlon, skiing, inspiration, boldness, determination, disruption and emotions.
They introduced me to other humans, men and women. They offered to help in both my client and job search; in my discovery and integration into their culture. They sent me on interviews; invited me to events; they invited me to speak, to speak my words, to use my voice. They trusted me.
Together, WE believed in the power of human connection to inspire each other.
Needless to say that my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds are now full of German content I still can’t understand. But every time I hit that translate button or cut and paste in that Google Translate, I am reminded of the take-aways I cherish after now spending almost 3 months between summer, fall and now winter in this country I am so fond of, this city I love.
When I show up as a vulnerable and authentic human being, my connection to others is magnified. Being uncomfortable actually augments my impact, my ability to inspire others and activate the change I want to see. Despite our diversity, we are all more alike than different. Women. Men. Humans. With stories and dreams. That when shared, enhance the experience of being human. Far beyond digital… Far beyond just women…
In. Real. Life.
I won’t be taking the stage to accept an award on Saturday; I have already received it: my real life is forever changed because of this experience. I am extremely grateful for it. Thankful for these gifts from once strangers, now many turned friends. I’ve made some significant connections here I know will last a lifetime.
In the end, I am super mega appreciative of GDW and DFLA for inspiring and enabling this experience in my life and in all of the women’s lives they touch, however it shows up. I am humbled by this community’s generosity. Danke schön.
And finalists, I’ll be the one cheering the loudest for you on Saturday! Expect some whistling, hooting and hollering from that Canadian-American girl 🙂 It will be a privilege to sit alongside the other nominees and guests. See you then, beautiful.
P.S. Shout out also to the people I met outside the GDW/DFLA network and to my former colleagues and clients now also turned friends, supporters, confidants. You all make me feel special, and at home.