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Reinvented During the Crisis: The Spitzenfrauen BW Careers Portal for female leadership

Steinbeis series of online seminars on women and careers judged a total success

The disruptive impact of the coronavirus pandemic was a painful experience for many companies last year. There were exceptions, however. Spitzenfrauen BW, which is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), shows that a crisis can also be a chance if you’re willing to seize the opportunity. In 2020, a team at the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University reinvented the career portal managed by the center by staging a series of webinars on women and careers. The “virtual wise-up break” became an opportunity to get more digital, younger, and more successful.

Exchanging views, networking, ideas, inspiration – the main focus of the Spitzenfrauen BW community has always been to promote women’s careers at companies in Baden-Wuerttemberg, and its numerous face-to-face events were always seen as very special occasions. The idea was to meet up regularly with women from Baden-Wuerttemberg who have already climbed or are currently quickly climbing the career ladder in order to offer professional training and get to know innovative companies from all parts of the state. Of course that all came to an abrupt end in the spring of 2020 with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany and socializing restrictions. So would the virus also mean the end of the project? For Steinbeis entrepreneurs Professor Dr. Elke Theobald and Professor Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich, that was entirely out of the question. They both always felt passionate about the advancement of women career, even before they joined forces and set up the Spitzenfrauen BW project together in 2010. All they needed to do during the coronavirus pandemic was offer something equivalent.

Promoting Women’s Interests Goes 100% Online

It was fortunate that the foundations of a digital system were already in place in the form of the Spitzenfrauen-bw.de female careers portal. The website not only provides details of around 120 leading women in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, all positive role models, it is also home to an online community of roughly 1,500 mainly female members. The idea that arose during the pandemic was to hold regular virtual meetings to provide women with particularly important support during the crisis. They should also be given food for thought, hear professional input, and learn the tools of the trade of career planning. Would all this be possible in a purely virtual setting? “Well, as we know now, after almost one and a half years: yes! It is possible and promoting women’s interests can also be done 100% online,” say the project managers, Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich and Prof. Dr. Elke Theobald, with conviction.

“Wise-up breaks” every Wednesday

The Spitzenfrauen BW project team scored a bull’s-eye with its free webinar series on women and careers. The new format was already a success during the first lockdown. When it premiered, it was followed by around 100 women. Since then, there has been a wise-up break every Wednesday at noon, each lasting a refreshing three-quarters of an hour. The sessions are kept brief to take the needs of the target group and the purely virtual setting into account; working online requires even greater focus on the essentials. In terms of the topics covered, the project team tries to offer plenty of variety. The topics range from advice, such as how to market yourself, to current trends such as online networking via LinkedIn, and even developments of a societal nature. For example, the 2020 finale was dedicated to “generation Greta.” It is important that the participants take something away from each webinar – be it concrete tips, techniques and recommended strategies for their careers, new food for thought, ideas and inspiration, or simply plenty of positive energy.

Continuing the success story

Over the course of the past year the weekly number of participants has leveled off at around 70 – including highly experienced career women, up-and-coming managers, and a variety of self-employed women. Not everyone can find time to integrate the webinar into their daily work routine, so to cover off all bases the seminars are also recorded.

Many participants are now regulars, so they often spend their Wednesday lunch breaks with Spitzenfrauen BW. The positive uptake has been a huge success for the project team, especially given the number of new women who have become aware of the portal because of the online format. For example, much more use is now being made of the mentoring program. Many women used their time in the pandemic to reassess personal priorities and a number of them sought professional advice from the project mentors.

Twenty-four webinars were conducted last year. Although the project was the product of necessity, the success story will now be continued in 2021 with a series of speakers and an interesting variety of current topics.

The Spitzenfrauen BW project is financed by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Housing through funds from the European Social Fund and the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Further information: www.spitzenfrauen-bw.de/karrierewissen/webseminare



Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Innovation Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)

Prof. Dr. Elke Theobald (author)
Steinbeis Innovation Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)

Dorothee Riegner (author)
Steinbeis Innovation Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)