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“Stick wholeheartedly to your path”

March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. It dates back to the time before First World War, the time of fighting for suffrage for women and the empowerment of female workers. The United Nations later declared the day as United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace. Margret Suckale, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE, talks in an interview about her views on the subject.

The motto for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change”. You yourself have contributed to change at BASF as you were the first woman to be appointed a member of the Board of Executive Directors. Is it even necessary to be bold to implement change in this day and age?
Margret Suckale: I think the motto refers to the unequal conditions under which many women around the world still live and work today. A great deal has already been achieved – the proportion of women in higher education in OECD countries is slightly higher than 50 percent. Nevertheless, we still have to do more to encourage girls to pursue their interests in science, whether at school or later at university. Greater enthusiasm among women for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) strengthens the innovative power of business and science. Through the “Offensive Bildung” initiative and the “Wissensfabrik”, we remain committed to this topic. And we can create the right conditions for women and men to better reconcile work and family life. That helps BASF stand out as an attractive employer.

What concrete steps is BASF undertaking in the area of equal opportunities for women?
The topic of “women in leadership” for example, is not an end in itself for BASF but a prerequisite for our success. In 2015, we set ourselves a global goal of increasing the proportion of women in management positions: By 2021, the proportion of women in our management team should be more than 22 percent. We are confident that we will be able to reach this goal. The project “Executive Diversity” is making a major contribution in this respect: Together with our diversity experts, the operating divisions have developed solutions to increase the proportion of women in management positions worldwide. We managed to do this without a quota by looking at every single unit together with the responsible colleagues: What does the business environment look like? What are the specific regional circumstances? Which trends do we want to prepare for? The more diverse we are, the better we can meet the needs of our customers. It has long been recognized that women are increasingly gaining purchasing power and now take up to 80 percent of the purchasing decisions in the consumer goods sector.

Does BASF provide the framework for a good work/life balance?
The framework conditions are, of course, not determined by the employer alone. But where we have an influence, we have already achieved a lot. Look at childcare – at our largest site in Ludwigshafen we offer 250 childcare places. LuKids is the largest company nursery in Germany. That is a something to be very proud of. We also provide support to parents at other sites. Mobile working and flexible working hours can help both men and women balance the demands of work and family life. But we can do even better when it comes to attitudes about being physically present – where possible and sensible, the focus should be on work results and not on being in the office. But we also know that not every workplace lends itself to flexible working. Incidentally, everyone can contribute to making the company more family friendly. This starts with scheduling meetings and ends with an inclusive management culture. However, we must also be honest and make it clear that it is sometimes necessary to delegate childcare and homemaking.

What personal experiences can you share with other women at BASF?
I have met many impressive women at BASF. They all live their lives very differently: Many are in full-time or close to full-time employment and have found a good solution to balance work and family life. Whether and how their partner supports them is crucial to their success. In this respect, paternity leave has also led to childcare becoming a joint task. It is also acceptable if someone decides to stay off work for a long time. But in my personal opinion, this is often at the expense of personal independence. My basic conviction is: You should not let others dictate how you live your life. But once you have chosen your path, you should stick to it wholeheartedly. That is something that applies equally to men and women.

Birgit Hellmann
Global Sustainability Communications