How do you reconcile children and a career as a female executive? Why do strong women in digital business bring such great benefits to the company and what cultural differences exist between Germany and Japan, for example, when it comes to working mothers and efficient digital work processes?
Patricia Kastner, President of Contentserv, answered these and other questions on the topic of “Career Development of Women in Digital Business & Marketing” in an interview with the renowned Japanese web magazine for digital marketers and executives, MarkeZine, during her visit to the Product Experience Summit in Japan.
In addition to her personal background, Patricia Kastner shares private experiences, helpful tips and encourages mothers to take on professional challenges – especially in times of a shortage of specialists in the new digital professions.
MarkeZine: Thank you very much for taking the time today to talk to us about this exciting topic. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
Patricia Kastner: My name is Patricia Kastner. As President of the software company Contentserv, I am responsible for Marketing and Business Solutions/Development. Contentserv is a company with 400 employees in 20 offices worldwide. We are also represented in Tokyo, Japan, and Shanghai, China. I founded Contentserv 20 years ago while I was still studying Business Administration. I built up the company to where it’s at today through a great deal of dedication and effort. Americans, in particular, were always stunned to find out that until recently the company had grown purely from its cash flow rather than from venture capital. This was possible only because effective marketing was always the engine of the company. With a good 200 developers, we are strongly technically positioned as a software company. Moreover, we are thoroughly marketing oriented, compared to other software companies.
MarkeZine: You have been working in the digital business for so long, all intending to increase the productivity of companies and at the same time contributing to women’s career development. How did this come about?
Patricia Kastner: As already mentioned, I started my business during my studies. My father – himself an entrepreneur and an unconventional man – was convinced that his children at the age of 18 were old enough to provide for themselves financially. To finance my studies and my apartment, I started creating websites. At that time, I founded a small internet agency – among other things I had developed the website of the Bavarian State Government and had provided consulting services to many clients in this area. With this, I experienced that the processes for content maintenance for websites as well as for print catalogs were not well supported by common software.
Without further delay, I developed a software solution especially for this purpose together with my former business partner – and today Director Global Presales at Contentserv – Alexander Wörl: Contentserv. The company Contentserv emerged from this at the beginning of 2000.
Contentserv is a software for marketing processes of brand manufacturers (e.g. industrial companies or fashion companies) and retailers. This means that the Contentserv database stores all types of content that our clients need for their marketing and sales pitch. Normally we connect to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system of companies, import the master data into our system and our customers then update it with all the product information they need, for example in the e-shop, to enable their customers to shop in a secure environment: Texts, videos, images, technical features, prices – in other words, all the information you need to market your products. The software and its numerous connectors then transfer this content as automatically as possible to the various channels such as the website, online shop, newsletter, print catalogs and much more. If anything changes in the product data in the Contentserv system, the channels, such as the shop system and website, are automatically updated. This certainly brings a lot of efficiency and productivity for the marketing department as well as cost savings, especially for data maintenance and the creation of numerous marketing channels. It also saves on translation costs because you have to translate only once. External agency costs are also eliminated, as most media can be automatically updated from the Contentserv system, so websites and catalogs no longer have to be created separately and manually.
I enjoy my work very much and I’m inspired every day by how we can create great competitive advantages for our customers and meet these companies at equal footing. That is why I love my job. The problem that I face is just that I work too much rather than too little.
MarkeZine: I have heard that you can balance your work as a manager and bringing up children. What is your motivation for such hard work? Do you have any role models?
Patricia Kastner: It just happened. I founded the company during my studies and had my first child at the age of 29. During my pregnancy, I had doubts whether I would be able to get it all together – but a customer from the pharmaceutical sector had just had her twins and was already back at her workplace after six weeks. So, I was sure: If she can do this with her twins, then I will manage it with only one child. This gave me a lot of courage.
The first two weeks with my daughter Nena were so wonderful that I realized I want to have more children. Now I have four girls aged between 2 to 12 and it is really beautiful. To be honest, I am still wondering if a fifth child might fit in – but the next few years will show. I just let it come to me.
So, I never decided to choose between a job or children. It was always clear to me that I didn’t want to go without either. I believe that this is no longer a question for women today, as they can combine both. In my opinion, there are still far too few practical examples that give courage.
I believe everyone must find her way to do it. And I think this is perfectly possible with today’s options, such as work from home and child care facilities and, above all, with the strength that can be drawn from both areas. As far as I know, there is no classic role model for this. At least I haven’t found a suitable one yet – I am just me, and my children and my job are uniquely demanding and lovable.
MarkeZine: In Japan, working mothers sometimes have a guilty conscience when they finish work earlier than their colleagues. Some people also consider them “not fully committed to the business”. Have you ever had such experiences? If so, how have you dealt with the situation? Where there any other obstacles to overcome?
Patricia Kastner: I have to answer this question from several perspectives. I think I wouldn’t have been working more without my children. But I believe you can learn a lot from children. Because having children makes you realize that perfection at all levels is a luxury you can neither afford in your job nor in raising children. Rather, you learn to concentrate more on the essentials and to set the right focus.
This is something that I have also observed in our female employees with children. They are extremely focused. They come to work and simply look forward to being able to do something special in their profession – independent of their private life. This opens completely different working dimensions than with other employees who may work two or more hours longer but do not have this focus and concentration.
In my opinion, this focus on making the right use of your time is something you only get to know massively through your children. If you are interrupted 30 times while trying to work at home, you soon learn to focus. I think it’s a learning that few men experience. That’s why most women are very committed to the business. And for them, it’s not about quantity but quality. From my experience, I would say I love to work with working mothers. I don’t see motherhood as a negative factor and would never assume that mothers can’t do their job properly – quite the contrary. I think it’s important not to strive for total perfection. And this is probably one of the hardest lessons in life: Always trying to be perfect and to please everyone and at the same time meeting a certain quality standard can be a huge challenge when you have two demanding jobs to fulfill, namely that of a mother and your chosen profession.
How do I handle this in my position? I have had very good experiences with au-pairs. We have two loving Mexican nannies who help us manage our everyday life together. They take the children to school, prepare breakfast and dinner and allow me and my husband to also have some time on our own. After 12 years I can say that I’d really recommend this. Most au-pairs have just finished their studies or need a break. They want to come to a foreign country, learn the language and be part of a family. South American women are incredibly child-friendly in terms of their culture and the beauty of it is that my children also learn other languages on the side. So, they grow up trilingual, German as their mother tongue, English because we mostly speak English with the nannies and Spanish in their daily contact with them. It is a huge advantage that my five-year-old daughter speaks three languages fluently. And: I am now going to a Spanish course to understand my 5-year-old daughter Pia.
MarkeZine: It is said that German workers have the shortest working hours in industrialized countries. Besides, German workers would rate modern technologies very highly in terms of efficiency and increased productivity. In Japan, we are gradually introducing technologies into the work process, but this alone does not yet lead to the desired increase in terms of efficiency. How do you compare the situation in the two countries?
Patricia Kastner: Well, it’s of course not so easy for me to compare the two countries: Germany vs. Japan. Since I am such a fan of Japan, I see it the other way around. I believe that the Japanese culture has so much discipline and respect for the new, but also for tradition, that in the long run Japan certainly has better prospects when it comes to productivity and technology. I think you would have to invest more in language skills – starting already in Kindergarten. German is quite close to English so it’s easier for us to learn the language. Especially with all the new media, digital processes and innovative technologies coming from the US, this holds enormous advantages.
I think this would be the most important thing – invest in breaking the language barriers. If you compare these two points, however, you must admit that the discipline of Japan, in particular, has great advantages over German culture. I believe that in Germany the issue of the welfare state is quite excessive. Sometimes it seems like Rome is on the verge of decline and as a result productivity in large companies is no longer given. There are so many laws, policies and rules to follow that you can hardly work productively anymore. That’s why I would say that other countries, including Japan, are much better positioned.
I love working with my Japanese team, they are so respectful in daily life, always committed and in the end even more successful and efficient than our European colleagues.
MarkeZine: What is the benefit for companies to promote diversity and women in leadership positions – in terms of marketing and overall business development?
Patricia Kastner: I think that women offer a huge added value for companies because they simply approach complex issues differently and think long-term. In my opinion, they can listen better and take on complex tasks with more patience and more sustainability. Women can better mediate between different interests. In my opinion, the idea of integration is much more pronounced among women, their management style is completely different and characterized by the participation of all employees. Some large companies are now run by women. For example, SAP and HP both have a female executive board. I think that’s a clear sign that women are bringing in fresh and different perspectives. Ultimately, the point is that we don’t all think the same in teams but use different skills and opportunities in the best possible way. That’s why women are an indispensable addition to any business.
I can also share this experience in marketing and business development. Here it is important to think processes through deeply and to deal with new technologies in a multi-layered way. You need a lot of perseverance but also creativity and flexibility. That’s why women are very strongly represented in this area – in Europe as well as in the USA. At the marketing management level, unfortunately, things look a little different. This level is still very strongly dominated by men.
It’s similar in business development. All leadership topics or areas that are strongly oriented to the customer on-site, where it is necessary to push things harder, are still predominantly a classic male domain. At Contentserv, on the other hand, we have many women in sales by comparison – women have proven themselves very well in Sales and business development all over the world, which seems rather unusual for other companies. We even had a female CTO for 5 years, which was fantastic because she welded the development teams together and maximized productivity. So, for me, finding women in these roles is a tremendous added value. Unfortunately, this is still far too rarely the case. Too many people can be knocked off the career path by the desire to have children. Hopefully, this will change in the future – at least that’s what I wish for my daughters.
MarkeZine: Last question: What do we need for more diversity and equal opportunities for women in digital business? What is your message to Japanese managers and young marketers?
Patricia Kastner: I think it is very important to enable women not only to get into marketing but also into technical functions in marketing – and finally management positions. And it is important to encourage girls and to promote their self-confidence. It starts at an early age, at school, at university and later at work. Of course, management is also asked to trust women more, because they can achieve goals just as well as men – often even better but they don’t sell their goals and targets in the same manner as their male colleagues and therefore don’t get the same attention.
This simply requires a little courage from both sides. This is a challenge for all of us – especially in the new digital professions, the shortage of skilled workers is our worst growth obstacle worldwide. That is why it is even more important to encourage women to take up digital management positions.
With all these issues, there is no reason why women should not be able to do this – quite the opposite! It’s rewarding for the company when women and men work closely together in such positions because it’s simply a matter of achieving successful results.
Therefore, once again: Encourage women to enter management and, as a woman, face this challenge courageously. There is no reason why you should not. Let us tackle it together – let’s be awesome women in digital business!