We Stand Up for Each Other

Dr. Xenia Beyrich-Graf, Senior Vice President of Chemical Synthesis Research at BASF, Explains How Her Company Promotes the Talent of Female Executives—and Why Mentoring Plays an Important Role in This

When it comes to tal­ent devel­op­ment, BASF is a leader. The world’s largest chem­i­cal com­pa­ny by sales is par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about pro­mot­ing female employ­ees. With its 30/30 project ini­ti­at­ed in 2020, the Ger­man multi­na­tion­al com­pa­ny has com­mit­ted to increas­ing the num­ber of female man­agers world­wide to 30% by 2030. In a com­pa­ny with 110,302 employ­ees in more than 80 coun­tries, this is a big under­tak­ing. As senior vice pres­i­dent of chem­i­cal syn­the­sis research at BASF, Dr. Xenia Beyrich-Graf is help­ing BASF to reach its 30/30 tar­get. An exec­u­tive and mem­ber of the divi­sion-spe­cif­ic women’s net­work “Women in Research,” Dr. Beyrich-Graf has pro­mot­ed equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for more than ten years. At BASF, men­tor­ing pro­grams play an essen­tial role in achiev­ing this goal. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the BASF Diver­si­ty and Inclu­sion team, the com­pa­ny also sup­ports Glob­al Tal­ent Mentoring’s pur­suit of excel­lence in STEMM.
We are thrilled that BASF experts in tech­nol­o­gy and biol­o­gy have been sup­port­ing our female STEMM tal­ents as men­tors since the start of men­tor­ing in April of 2021. So what does cus­tom-made tal­ent devel­op­ment for women at BASF look like in prac­tice? Which peo­ple and mea­sures helped Dr. Xenia Beyrich-Graf pur­sue her own career in STEMM? The doc­tor of chem­istry gave Glob­al Tal­ent Men­tor­ing researcher Elke Krüs­mann excit­ing insights into her every­day life and her wealth of experience.
After your doc­tor­ate in chem­istry and sub­se­quent research work as a post­doc­tor­al researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, you very quick­ly took on man­age­r­i­al respon­si­bil­i­ties in the pri­vate sec­tor. Did you have men­tors or oth­er role mod­els at uni­ver­si­ty or at the begin­ning of your career who sup­port­ed you with their expertise?
I had been in my job as a process devel­op­ment chemist for two years when I was pro­mot­ed as a pilot plant man­ag­er respon­si­ble for an orga­ni­za­tion of 50 employ­ees. I had nei­ther expe­ri­ence in lead­ing a larg­er orga­ni­za­tion nor did I know much about run­ning a pilot plant. I did not have an indi­vid­ual men­tor, but instead I learned from my col­leagues and cowork­ers. Addi­tion­al­ly, I joined a “learn­ing net­work,” a self-orga­nized small group of col­leagues from oth­er units in the com­pa­ny that sup­ports each oth­er with peer coach­ing in a trust­ing environment. 
What did you learn from these men­tors or role mod­els? What kind of sup­port was par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able to you in your own career?
My col­leagues and cowork­ers taught me the basics of the job: orga­ni­za­tion­al prac­tices, lead­er­ship rules, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. My “learn­ing net­work” sup­port­ed me in deal­ing with dif­fi­cult lead­er­ship sit­u­a­tions and pro­vid­ed prac­ti­cal time man­age­ment advice. 
Recent­ly, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment decid­ed to intro­duce bind­ing require­ments to bring more women onto the boards of pub­licly trad­ed com­pa­nies. What is your posi­tion on the women’s quota?
For much of my career, I was obliv­i­ous to the gen­der top­ic until I real­ized that I was the only woman in many man­age­ment teams. Progress has been too slow in the past! Even though we have many capa­ble women in the orga­ni­za­tion, they have not been con­sid­ered for pro­mo­tion because they were not vis­i­ble or, worse, they pre­ferred not to apply in the first place, because the male-dom­i­nat­ed envi­ron­ment was not attrac­tive for females. A fixed quo­ta will help dri­ve this change faster. There­fore, I sup­port a quota. 
By 2030, BASF wants to increase the pro­por­tion of women in lead­er­ship posi­tions to 30% world­wide. At the end of 2019, the pro­por­tion of female man­agers stood at 23%. Which mea­sures is BASF tak­ing to achieve this target?
First­ly, the tar­get has been bro­ken down to all hier­ar­chy lev­els and is being mon­i­tored reg­u­lar­ly. To dri­ve the change, we intro­duced uncon­scious bias train­ing to achieve more inclu­sive lead­er­ship and bet­ter deci­sion-mak­ing. We offer tai­lor-made coach­ing and men­tor­ing pro­grams for our female tal­ents. We sup­port flex­i­ble work­ing mod­els and have cre­at­ed part-time lead­er­ship posi­tions. Under the umbrel­la of Women@BASF, we have sev­er­al women’s net­works, such as Women in Research and Women in Pro­duc­tion. Last but not least: BASF runs the largest child-care facil­i­ty for under-3-year-olds in Germany. 
How has the 30/30 project been received by female colleagues?
This tar­get has been very well received by all of us. And I have to add that we are now also see­ing faster progress in BASF. We have many more women appoint­ed to lead­er­ship and exec­u­tive posi­tions, and some parts of the orga­ni­za­tion have already achieved their 30/30 targets. 
We need to con­vince young women that choos­ing a career in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy opens many oppor­tu­ni­ties for self-devel­op­ment and for chang­ing the world for the better—which is a great moti­va­tor for women!
Indi­vid­ual men­tor­ing pro­grams also play a role in the imple­men­ta­tion of the 30/30 project. Would you please explain in a lit­tle more detail what this looks like in practice?
For exam­ple, the Ment­ForMe pro­gram is open to all employ­ees, who can par­tic­i­pate either as a men­tor or a mentee. Our human resources depart­ment match­es and sup­ports each men­tor­ing pair, and we encour­age women to par­tic­i­pate in this pro­gram. In the research depart­ments, we offer “learn­ing net­works” for women. Based on my pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence at the begin­ning of my career, I ini­ti­at­ed this pro­gram eight years ago. 
With­in BASF, women can net­work on divi­sion-spe­cif­ic plat­forms, such as the Women in Research or Women in Dig­i­tal­iza­tion net­works, where female employ­ees can share ideas and expe­ri­ences. What is your expe­ri­ence with these net­works exclu­sive­ly for women?
Our women net­works at BASF tar­get the sup­port and devel­op­ment of female tal­ents, but our infor­ma­tion and net­work­ing events are open to all col­leagues. How­ev­er, you are right: Our net­works have been made up of most­ly women and, over the years, cre­at­ed a kind of sis­ter­hood. We stand up for each oth­er, let our net­work know when there are inter­est­ing job vacan­cies, or share career advice. Being part of a big net­work encour­ages more women to real­ize their own ambitions. 
In a glob­al analy­sis of 2,400 com­pa­nies con­duct­ed by Cred­it Suisse, orga­ni­za­tions with at least one female board mem­ber yield­ed high­er returns on equi­ty and high­er net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board. Diverse teams are more suc­cess­ful and smarter than homoge­nous teams. Based on your own expe­ri­ence, what is the secret of a diverse team?
The best diverse teams I have worked in were very inter­na­tion­al, pro­fes­sion­al­ly diverse, and had a high share of women. The work­ing atmos­phere was bet­ter and less com­pet­i­tive than in tra­di­tion­al teams. We were still very effec­tive, how­ev­er, because we ben­e­fit­ted from our col­lec­tive broad expe­ri­ence, shared the same val­ues, and were com­mit­ted to achiev­ing our over­all target. 
When it comes to ques­tions of equal­i­ty, which oth­er coun­tries could serve as role mod­els for Ger­many? What ideas and mod­els do you think are par­tic­u­lar­ly useful?
There are many good ele­ments in oth­er coun­tries that Ger­many could adopt to increase gen­der equal­i­ty. We still lag behind our neigh­bor­ing coun­tries in Scan­di­navia when it comes to equal­ly shar­ing the parental tasks. In many Nordic coun­tries, the parental leave must be shared equal­ly between moth­er and father. High-rank­ing politi­cians like Swedish min­is­ters and the prime min­is­ter of Ice­land set the exam­ple by tak­ing six months parental leave. 
Clos­ing the gen­der gap in STEMM and using dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to edu­cate and sup­port STEMM exchange prac­tices for young peo­ple in Europe and around the globe is one of our goals at Glob­al Tal­ent Men­tor­ing. What do you think about this approach?
It’s excel­lent. This is the right thing to do. We need to con­vince young women that choos­ing a career in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy opens many oppor­tu­ni­ties for self-devel­op­ment and for chang­ing the world for the better—which is a great moti­va­tor for women! 

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