Digitalista: “We want to learn from men”

A new women’s network was recently established in Austria’s digital industry and is aiming to increase the number of women in management positions. The association’s chairwoman Elisabeth Oberndorfer told futurezone why Digitalista doesn’t want anything from politicians, and why men can be a model for women.

The association is headquartered in Vienna and was started by nine young women. Their chairwoman is Elisabeth Oberndorfer, who is currently working as deputy editor-in-chief of Werbeplanung.at and as a freelance journalist. Digitalista`s kick-off event was held last week and was attended by around 50 women from the online, media and creative agency industries.

"Women often tell me that they don`t know enough about something to give an interview or hold a seminar about it. I never hear that from men," Oberndorfer said, explaining why she decided to establish the association, "At the same time, I noticed that I, too, was constantly selling myself short." She also said that the digital industry has a very large number of women, but that the top positions are still reserved for men. "Maybe because we aren`t active enough in asserting our right to them. We often get in our own way and are our own worst enemy – we don`t believe in ourselves enough," Oberndorfer said. Digitalista was created because the nine founding members believe that there are great opportunities for women in the digital industry.

Target group
"We address all digital workers in the broadest sense, including marketing mangers, developers and web designers, and anyone who is interested in digital professions and would like to get started," Oberndorfer explained. According to the chairwoman, the initiators had no idea how great the need for such a network was until the network was officially launched. "Much greater than we expected. Even though our generation is emancipated, we constantly slip back into old patterns."

This is why one of the key goals of Digitalista is to boost the confidence of women in the digital industry. "We want to create a platform for exchange and networking, a place where women can express their concerns," explained Oberndorfer.


Concrete measures
The association wants to promote the further education of its members with regular events and show "how they can advance their careers in a targeted manner." Industry-specific issues will be addressed, and the association also wants to get successful businesswomen to show how women can break through the "glass ceiling." "And we want to learn from men," Oberndorfer said. She said that she also gets career advice from her male counterparts. "Because men are often more ambitious, and don`t let themselves be distracted by hurdles that crop up."

Austrian "old boy`s network"
Digitalista`s chairwoman feels that women still have a particularly difficult time in industrial and traditional fields in Austria. The good news is that women are very welcome in the digital industry, and that they even have an easier time here than in many other areas. "We are in an online boom, the market is still young, there are many jobs, and qualified people are in short supply," Oberndorfer said. Thanks to this, the initiative has realistic chances of making a real change.

But unlike in other countries, Austria also has some very specific problems. "Top jobs are generally not awarded based on qualifications, but on the basis of a person`s connections and political ties," Oberndorfer criticized. This makes it even harder for well trained women. The number of women in startups in Austria is also relatively low – and this was another reason for the young women to establish the network. There is a much lower number of female entrepreneurs in Austria than in Silicon Valley, though the market there is of course much larger. "But there are also many more initiatives there that promote women," Oberndorfer added.

The initiative does not want any political support, however. "They should invest their resources in other issues. I don`t think that the business world necessarily needs politicians to change the conditions we are addressing," the network initiator said. It is a matter of attitudes and increasing awareness.

Fighting clichés
The reactions to the newly established women`s network have been 99 percent positive, from women and from men. "There has of course also been criticism that we are overgeneralizing, and that we are creating a problem where there isn`t one, especially from men," admitted Oberndorfer, who can also understand the skepticism to a certain extent. "But I think you have to walk a mile in a woman`s shoes to understand that we didn`t pull the reasons for founding Digitalista out of thin air."

According to Oberndorfer, men also often criticize the initiative for "discriminating against men." "Our response to that is that every man is free to establish his own network." And the chairwoman stresses that Digitalista is in no way an initiative against men, but an initiative for women. "We want to promote cooperation, and are glad that many of our male colleagues offered us help in getting started," Oberndorfer said. The Digitalista founders also talked about this issue in a blog entry.

The ultimate question is: What would Digitalista see as success, what does the initiative want to achieve? "More women in management, 50 percent of Austrian startups being founded by women, and panels with many women," Oberndorfer said. "I am certain that there are enough women in this country who can talk about digital issues."

Digitalista will be holding its next event on May 15, on the topic of digital storytelling. The network is active on Twitter and on Facebook. Anyone who is interested in joining can find out all they need to know on the Digitalista web site.