• Startup Guide
  • 08 — 03 — 2024
  • Veronika Belova
  • Science Park Graz
International Women’s Day: Interview with our COO Sabrina Petutschnig
8 min read

What do equity and inclusion mean to you?

For me equity is about creating and ensuring equal opportunities, resources, and treatments for every individual in any situation regardless of their (visible) differences – may it be in business or private life. Inclusion, furthermore, should even embrace diversity in all its forms, and having environments where every individual feels seen, respected, and valued. 

Ensuring such environments should be the bare minimum, and not a necessity to discuss. Unfortunately, it’s already 2024🚨and still, after millions of keynote speeches, media reports and PR activities about how diversity matters, there is still a long way to go, this is why supporting the process to a colorful, respectful, and equal society is something I do from the bottom of my heart. I personally will not stop ensuring that environments that I can create are such places, but also won’t stop speaking up whenever I spot discrimination around me. 

I truly believe that equity and inclusion work hand in hand and are equally required to build a society that is not only diverse but strives to eliminate systemic barriers. Embracing these principles in all situations, is the only way to enhance talents and enable everyone to thrive and reach their full potential – because differences allow us to release the full potential of the beautiful planet we live on. 

I personally will not stop... speaking up whenever I spot discrimination around me. 

How do you think can management avoid unconscious bias?

At first, I’d say it is crucial to understand that we have all been in this world for our lifetime, during which we grew up differently, made our personal experiences and have been in specific situations which make us all biased in one way or another way. Realizing this is a crucial step towards spotting one’s own biased thoughts and/or behaviors. I tend to regularly check my own thoughts and behaviors by asking myself “Why exactly do I think like this? Where exactly does my feeling about certain situation come from? Would I act/react differently if the person in question would be another one?”

This very much goes for all situations in my life, but also affects a lot of decisions I make in a management position. If there is a decision to be made for one team member, I need to ensure that I would decide in the same way for any other team member in the same situation and this sometimes also means that I need to challenge myself or let someone else challenge me. I am grateful to be surrounded by a very diverse group of people in my life and am always eager to learn about their perspectives and thoughts. This sometimes means hours of heated discussions, but also always leaving with a broadened mindset and a better understanding for different needs and perceptions. 

I fully appreciate the mutual understanding that challenging each other and asking uncomfortable questions is crucial in decision making processes.

As a specific example we can think about recruiting processes. Clearly know-how that is required for the vacant position must be a main factor for decision making. As soon as you discover the slightest bias, you need to react and correct yourself immediately – which, for example, I do by clearing names, pictures and any personal data, such as the place of birth, and mixing all applications in order to have a list of CVs, looking at educational and business experiences without knowing the person behind the curriculum, and therefore fully focusing on the fit for the position. After creating the shortlist of potential candidates, these can be linked to the person again, as of course only personal interaction with them will allow you to get a feeling about the social skills and fit within the current team. 

Here at Science Park Graz, I am truly glad to be part of a 50:50 male/female management team with our Managing Director Martin Mössler, which always recruits together and yes, also has heated discussions that might need to be postponed to the next day. Even though these situations will happen and might not be too fun, I fully appreciate the mutual understanding that challenging each other and asking uncomfortable questions is crucial in decision making processes. This includes repeatedly asking “why” until discovering your own true decision base as well as the other person’s. 

In parallel we both appreciate the honest and challenging feedback, even if, as said, not always enjoyable in every situation. Martin and I both know that taking each other’s opinions seriously and finding solutions together will lead us to unbiased answers. 

How do you see yourself in supporting diversity and inclusion?

As a very privileged person that had the honor of being born in a peaceful environment with loving parents, and a social system that always allowed me access to medical and educational services, it is important to know that my voice might be heard when others won’t, and I will always do my best to make use of this.

Having started to work at the young age of 15, being a young blonde female, allowed me to understand that women will come across situations in business life that male colleagues might not. Especially at that young age, I initially considered it normal, and I would have never complained about any misbehavior from colleagues or even managers. Looking back has made me realize that I’ve simply developed a rather thick skin very fast that allowed me to let discriminating behavior bounce off in the first place. I would definitely lie though, if I would say that this has not done anything to me.

I realized how much more effort I needed to put in to be taken seriously and to be heard. I realized that no matter how much time, passion, ambition and effort I put into getting better in what I do on a daily base – which meant working 12 hour shifts during the day and studying during nights and any free day – will not stop certain people telling me that I was “only hired because the hiring manager finds me pretty”, or that I “cannot say -according to my experience – because I am that young.” Yes, in my field of experience I am certain that I can – but no matter how many decades I’ll be in business, how many academic educations I will successfully graduate in, there will always be people not even taking the moment to find out about relevant competences but will judge me based on how I appear to them. Luckily, those people were never the majority and I had great mentors and supporters on my side. Which meant I chose to focus on their opinion and feedback to grow and learn while. Did one or the other affront still affect me? Yes, absolutely. 

I’ve simply developed a rather thick skin very fast that allowed me to let discriminating behavior bounce off in the first place.

Having made, and sometime fought, my way through over 15 years of business and studies and having arrived in a management position allows me to have influence on my surroundings, I try to do my best every day by eliminating such negative situations for anyone around me – may it be a female, a male, a diverse colleague or friend, or an animal. I am honored to be working with such amazing talents, who have incredible drive and ambition.

Specifically thinking of women around me – I will always point out if a colleague says “sorry” without having caused the issue, but just because we girls have learned to say so. I will always try to strengthen their belief in themselves – after their accomplishments I will always ask them if they are proud of themselves and will honestly pitch them why they should be. I will share with them what helped me, such as a simple tip from a coach about 10 years ago, who told me that whenever I get asked where I should have the competence from to do this or that, I should ask back what specifically makes them question my competence. This clears valid, expertise-related doubts and eliminates irrelevant doubts quickly. Also, when coming to a conference and seeing a fully male panel on stage, I will always raise the topic and ask why. If the answer is that no female expert on this topic can be found, I will always gladly offer to connect them to a female expert.

All mentioned examples are little things that do not require a lot of time resources. But they still matter. I want to encourage people around me with all I can. Seeing whenever this bears fruits is a very rewarding situation that will always warm my heart. 

I realized how much more effort I needed to put in to be taken seriously and to be heard.

What is your advice to the management of companies? 

  • Question yourself and your thoughts. 
  • Let others challenge you and your thoughts. 
  • Leave your bubble regularly. 
  • When spotting discriminating, unfair behavior: speak up. 
  • Not only speak up but listen. Listen, listen, listen, and appreciate the fact that different perspectives shared with you allow your own mindset to grow. 

And here are a few thoughts from our CEO Martin Mössler on this topic:

To me, equity and inclusion means giving everybody an opportunity to fulfill their full qualities, capabilities and talents, and it is the key to a better society. We often hinder inclusion either consciously or unconsciously. Even if we consciously do everything “right”, there is still the unconscious bias that we need to account for.

I think that we should always be aware of who we are (our background, experiences and culture) and should strive to uplift and empower people, as we would like to feel, if we stood at the opposite side. To put it simply, male should try to think like female, and vice versa.  

We should appreciate the qualities of all people and allow them, no matter which gender or background they have, to fulfill their full potential and to use all the qualities and talents that they have. Data shows that companies with diverse teams are more successful, and consequently their managers as well. So, for me, striving for diversity and assuring inclusion in the team is a path to success. This is what management should aim at. 


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