Leonie's masked maneuver

By Carrielle Somers

It was 8:15 and still cold outside, when I first saw Leonie smoking in a huddle with the rest of the inductees. A business student fresh out of the university, she had a loose bunch of papers under her arm and was hopping from one foot to the other in the wind.

When we got to chatting, Leonie wasn’t afraid to share that her job was a means to an end. She was starting her own company on the side and wanted to learn how to work in a commercial environment first. “The university arranged for us to learn from start-up entrepreneurs last year and the experience was awesome” She explained. “I learned the fundamentals of starting your own business and their experiences were realistic and achievable”.

“Do you feel being a woman might hold you back?” I provoked her suspiciously. “Why should it? If I own my own business, I should be able to do what I love so long as there’s a market for it. So gender can’t matter”. Admiring her confidence, I wondered about how many women entrepreneurs Leonie got to learn from last year.

Men are more likely to be entrepreneurs than women. In a recent study run by the Journal of Women’s Entrepreneurship and Education 1526 nascent entrepreneurs were studied to understand gender and culture implications on entrepreneurship motives and barriers. With substantial differences between men and women nascent entrepreneurs, women displayed lower entrepreneurial intentions. The men in the study appear more influenced by motives and women by barriers with exceptions in China (Harun & Mark, 2014). While the study projected an improving trend, two factors still hold women entrepreneurs back today – cultural socialization of young people and the lack of women role models.

In the course of her time with us, I was envious about how diversely rich Leonie’s life was already at 22. She had a colourful group of friends; her health and food consumption was a greater lifestyle choice than the clothes she wore; and freedom at work meant curiosity and the ability to progress quickly.

“I want to be able to make decisions on my own or to learn where I might decide for myself and where I’d need the assistance of others. It makes me feel closer to the company’s purpose somehow”. “What happens when you can’t make a decision on your own?” I probed. The question didn’t seem to faze her. “I might decide to make it anyway. I may pretend I am in fact the decision maker – sort of like wearing a mask.” I was taken aback and unsure to what context this situation might apply.

It didn’t take long to hit me when an article in the German Journal of HRM featuring age diversity emerged. Age diversity management simply suggests that organizational systems manage people of different ages. However it also includes treating employees of different age groups equally and fairly with regard to both work outcomes and the process by which decisions are made, such that age disappears as a differentiator. Thus, age diversity management is not equal to treating all employees in the same way, but requires that differentiation between employees is based on criteria other than age, such as performance, effort, or potential (Bieling, Stock & Dorozalla, 2015).

Leonie had developed a mechanism to make decisions freely when administering change amongst the multitude of colleagues that were at 15 – 20 years older than herself and resistant to it. She had identified early on that maneuvering through traditional decision-making mechanisms were slowing her down, which she then equated to the company’s stagnation. At first sight, it appeared tremendously efficient or as Leonie would’ve put it – simply awesome. However Leonie was looking to lead her own company some day and avoiding decision-making bodies be they older or none the wiser, were detrimental to her company’s success in the long haul.

Leonie was going to have to learn to influence diverse teams without avoiding decisions with their consensus or council. “What if you were leading a team of men between the age group of 45 – 50 and they all happen to be stubborn and their specialism isn’t your strength? What could you do?”. She was quiet for a while. “I’d have to listen to them”.

Younger women leaders entering the workplace have an advantage of being a part of a diverse population with lower barriers to gender parity but a large part of their learnings as leaders is taking with them a generation less familiar with these advantages closer towards a new way of working.

“What’s your favourite quote, Leonie?”. “NO means Next Opportunity” she smiled.


Harun, Ş., & Mark, P. (2014). Nascent Entrepreneurs: Gender, Culture, and Perceptions. Journal of Women’s Entrepreneurship and Education, (3-4), 1-21.

Bieling, G., Stock, R. M., & Dorozalla, F. (2015). Coping with demographic change in job markets: How age diversity management contributes to organisational performance. German Journal of Human Resource Management: Zeitschrift für Personalforschung, 29(1), 5-30.

Carrielle Somers is a marketer, speaker and author for The LEAD Network. She is an evangelist for women’s advancement and a key proponent in Metro AG’s women’s network. Prior to Metro AG, Carrielle held several roles in marketing and technology enablement including Director, Marketing Programmes at CoreMedia and Manager, Go-To-Marketing at MTS Allstream. She has also held volunteer roles at the Vanier Incarceration Centre for Women, Toronto and the Integration Program for Asylum-Seekers in North Germany. Carrielle graduated with an MBA from the Open University in Strategy and a Masters of Commerce from the University of Pune.

Gender Parity Musings in the Workplace is a three part series of water cooler narrative and gender research on the daily struggles that women face seeking opportunities to develop and succeed. These stories of junior to mid-level women offer leaders an understanding of what to consider when attracting, retaining and advancing inclusion in the workplace. The LEAD Network’s vision is a diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation.