How to Be a Wingwoman

13 Jul, 2021
by Valerie Mocker (transcribed by Natascha Zeljko)
© Martin Kraft

Valerie Mocker, named one of Europe’s 40 under 40 leaders, became the youngest Director of the global innovation fund Nesta before founding Wingwomen and the Rise Academy. She teaches young professionals across the world how to rise, craft a career where they can make a difference, and lead once they get to the top

1. The Myth of the Solitary Ascent 

We are never successful alone, but always through the support of others. All those stories about founders or managers who supposedly fought their way to the top all by themselves are myths. And that leads us to the core of the Wingwomen principle: It's okay to accept help from people – to look for a Wingwoman or Wingman so that you can strengthen each other. Which is a key difference from mentoring, by the way. With a wingwoman, you can build a mutual exchange: It's not a one-way street. When I explain how Wingwomen works, I always compare it to an immune system for everyday life that protects us in times of crisis. Like an immune system where different functions intertwine, Wingwomen is also about an interplay of different strengths and forms of expertise. This brings us to the next point. Who are the ideal wingwomen?

2. The Empowerment Trio

We need different kinds of wingwomen. Here are three examples: Energy, Power and Experience. The Energy Wingwoman acts as a kind of feelgood dispenser. For me, that's Lena Rogl. After every conversation, we both come out stronger, more confident and optimistic. We remember what we can do – because every now and then, unfortunately, you tend to forget that and doubt yourself (more on that later). Next are the so-called Power Wingwomen. Those who have authority and influence and are willing to share those assets, opening doors and weaving connections. Unfortunately, it is precisely in power spaces, such as top leadership positions and supervisory boards, that one is often faced with a tendency to compartmentalize. People think to themselves: There is exactly one place for a woman here, and I got it, I have to protect it – instead of helping other women to rise, showing them how power works and how to negotiate for it. A role model of mine is Dame Stephanie Shirley, my own Power Wingwoman, a legendary tech entrepreneur based in the UK. She came to England as a Jewish refugee and built one of the first billion-dollar software companies. What a life achievement! And number three, there's the Experience Wingwoman. In my case, it's Brigitte Zypries. We had already met at several events before she heard me speak at a panel at the German Federal Ministry of Economics. She approached me after the discussion, saying that what I was doing and stood for was great – but I needed to fine-tune my pitch and my speech. She would be happy to help me with that. I got to benefit from the enormous experience she brings to the table. An absolute stroke of luck. We don't always have to know our wingwomen personally: They can also inspire and share their knowledge with us from afar. As a founder, for example, I took courses with the American digital entrepreneur Marie Forleo to learn how to build an even better Internet business.

3. The Biggest Misconception

Everything revolves around these questions: What do you want to achieve in life, who do you want to be in this world? There are potential and many ideas inside all of us. And to tap into them and bring about real change, it is not at all helpful to separate our work from our personality – in other words, to distinguish between our professional and private selves. On the contrary, a lot of our drive, fire and passion is lost that way. And that's why the working world must change, there must be more room for humanity and honesty. In our Training & Coaching programs, we perceive that everyone, truly everyone, even women and men in senior positions, struggle with the fear: "What if I am not enough?" The first step is to admit this feeling and to talk about it. This should become the norm in any job.

4. Our Power Strategy: Kickass & Kind 

How often I used to hear the words: Ms. Mocker, there's no room here for young female hotshots like you. What you need in these situations is a power strategy. Mine is called "kickass and kind". If you want to achieve anything, you have to be courageous and ambitious without waiting for permission – and still be kind. To yourself, your teams and people in general. There's this beautiful image that I've come to use. What should you put in your backpack every day to go out into the world and make a difference? Three things need to go in there: One is courage. And it's okay if you're afraid – being courageous means doing it anyway. Number two: kindness. Towards yourself and the other members of your team, whom you should treat as people with feelings so that they perform at their best. And number three: power savviness. By which I mean that we need to invest in ourselves, in order to learn how power and career advancement work.

5. Male or Female? Simply Human!

Thought experiment: Let's find one thing we need more of and one we need less of. What could we definitely use more of? The awareness of our own power. To finally get rid of this discomfort whenever the word pops up. If we want to make things happen, it's not enough to be the busy little bee that works the hardest. To rise, we must understand and desire power. Power means the ability to make decisions, control financial means, and thereby exert more influence and implement your ideas. You shouldn't be ashamed of wanting to climb up and reach inside power spaces either. It doesn't make you a power-hungry bitch. Women in particular are afraid of being seen that way. Look at it another way: Do you want to make a positive difference in this world? Then you need power and resources. 

Now, what do we need less of? In female empowerment spaces, I think we overemphasize the differences between men and women, between female and male behaviors. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I think it often becomes counterproductive. Once more for the back: We don't need to discuss over and over how strong we all are, and then go out there clad in armor. We need to be able to face our insecurities and fears, talk about them, and let them go. Men do too. Elbowing people out of the room and making them feel small is not the manly thing to do, it's yesterday's code of conduct. Instead, we should talk about what unites us and develop a common vision for the future. When more of us learn to live and lead as Wingwomen and Wingmen, we will accomplish so much. And we will show each other something incredibly important: That we are not alone.

Curaze

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