“The voices of young women matter, they need to be heard because there is no future and there is no present without them”
On the 24th of October, the Girls20 summit was held. Girls20 is a female support network that aims to place young women from the age of 18-23 at the center of decision-making processes. Ever since 2009, young women from 20 different countries have met annually to seek solutions for gender inequality and to advocate the issue towards the G20 leader. Women in Innovation and Leadership had the opportunity to speak to the delegate of Germany, Jennifer Pfister, who is a student at Leiden University College and also one of the founding members of WIL. In the interview, she talks about how she became a Girls20 delegate, how WIL impacted her presence at the summit, and how female support networks contribute to gender equality.
What was your Role at WIL and how did it impact you?
I became the first program manager WIL ever had which was an absolutely incredible eye-opening transforming experience because I had all the freedom of the world. Being involved with the topic about female empowerment, gender equality, really paved the way to become a Girls20 delegate because that was definitely the time and space where I became invested in women’s participation and also my journey as an entrepreneur. I am building an app right now with an international team and I realized that when you want to be an entrepreneur in the tech industry it is really male dominated. So, it all ties together what I have been doing. It is really a read thread that led up to my position as the Girls20 delegate for Germany and specifically focusing on women’s economic participation in terms of digital access and entrepreneurship.
Was WIL the place where you first encountered the issue of gender equality and equity?
It was obvious to me already before. I think, otherwise, I would not have felt the urgency to get involved with WIL. But there is a big difference between knowing the facts and then interacting with real human beings who share their real accounts and their real experiences. Let me be more concrete: when I was a member of the first WIL board, we made sure we had a lot of exchange with professional women. By having this exchange and this exposure to professional women and being able to talk to them about their experiences I learned how gender-based discrimination in the workplace is real because I was still lacking the work experience. I wasn’t aware of the scope and I just think it is really different when businesswomen tell you that as a woman it is much harder to get capital funding or as women in the stem fields you are almost often alone and a minority. Of course, I knew the facts, I knew the numbers somewhat but it is very different if you learn from people who experienced it first-hand and when you later become someone who experiences it first-hand yourself. So exponential learning is key and I think WIL was an incredible platform for that. It is the place where I learned to reach for the stars. WIL succeeding, to us, was so eye-opening and it was really realizing the power we young women have. If we were able to build WIL, there is much else we can do.
How did you become a Girls20 delegate?
There is a funny background story: My best friend was a WIL member as well and very engaged from day one of WIL and she knew about Girls20. She told me and Sara, who is the founder of WIL, about the Girls20 summit and we were all super passionate about it. I applied to go to Tokyo last year but I didn’t get in, but Sara got in. It was a very key moment for me because for the first time in my life I was really happy for someone even though I didn’t get it. It was learning to cheer each other up. That is also one of the most important things I learned in WIL: us as young women cheering each other up and celebrating each other’s successes. This year I felt this urgency to become a Girls20 delegate because I knew this is my last shot. I did not have another chance because Girls20 is for young women from the age 18-23 and this year I turned 23, so I knew it was now or never. Somehow, I manifested it and I knew that I had grown so much in a year. For example, in that year I suddenly became an entrepreneur, I won contests, I was in California, I knew I could do it. For the first time in my life, I have never applied to anything where I was so sure and where I could feel I got this. I perfectly remember the day when I submitted the application. It was the Friday before UC Berkeley, where I was studying, shut down where COVID started. On top of that I had to submit essays, I had to do a video, I had to answer a bunch of questions and also do interviews.
How did WIL impact your presence at the summit?
The collaborative spirit. What I mean is that that is how WIL started: as a group of young women. And what I learned through WIL was listening, cheering for one another but most importantly that collaborative spirit. We are here to grow together. We are here to uplift one another. That is a humbling feeling, once you realize this is bigger than me, this is us coming together because we want to see a change in society. After all, we want to learn and we want to become our best selves. And this is something that I have experienced consciously for the first time at WIL and this helped me in Girls20. Girls20 was pretty similar in that sense but having had this experience helped me to take a little step back and to give others more of the floor since I know that I can be loud and full of ideas and want to express myself. But with Girls20 I tried to give others the floor and learn from others.
Why do you think the Girls20 Summit is important and relevant?
There are so many different answers. I feel I could talk about it for hours but I think the number one which encompasses all of it is: representation matters and our voices matter. The voices of young women matter, they need to be heard because there is no future and there is no present without them. Young women in so many different ways are disproportionally affected by all the negative problems we have in the world. Be it the climate crisis or be it poverty. Poverty is sexist and especially young women are often in most of the countries in the world affected by it and the data shows it. Women are among the most vulnerable populations on earth - and of course, you have to take an intersectional lens - young women are disproportionally affected by all the crises. Women in general are an essential part of everything. Not just in the economy but societies in the world would not run without women. I think it is at the end of the day also a question of justice whether we give everyone the same opportunities to thrive, to access and to live a healthy and fulfilling life, but this is something that I wish for anyone: men, women, every living being deserves a life of dignity - but the reality is that young women are underrepresented and also face many more challenges. To say something about the voices that are being heard then we know that in leadership it is almost always old, privileged white men who are making decisions that have consequences for millions. Look at the boards in companies, look at top politicians in any country and of course, we are seeing change, but still, if there is one group that is most often ignored, it is young women, and that is why we need platforms like Girls20 that bring in our perspectives.
How do you see the role of female support networks in achieving gender equality?
If we want to achieve gender equality, we need to go through different channels. Of course, we need system change but we also need to reimagine the rules of the game. We need to remove the barriers to access to empower individuals. However, I think it would be a big mistake to place all the responsibility on the individual. For example, say we need to educate all the women so we achieve gender equality. That would assume the problem lies with the individual. Of course, in many contexts that is part of the solution but I think the bigger part is system change and removing barriers for access. This was also a big part of the communique of Girls20 that I pushed for since it already starts with aggregated data. Collecting data on women is important because we live in a world that was designed by men. Regarding this, I can recommend the book called "Invisible Women" which talks about the gender data gap. We need to understand the problem better: recognize the barriers for access and then remove those barriers for access. Here we need to show strong political will because at the end of the day this is a question of power. That makes it a little bit challenging but, to come back to the role of female support networks: I think they are definitely crucial because being part of a community, where I have access to role models where I have so many supporters who encouraged me to do more and to dream bigger gave me the chance to become who I am now. I think that is what communities do provide, this support system, and we need all of this
of course; Female representation, diverse boards, leadership, having more women in politics and entrepreneurship, and so on. Diversify these positions and I think the change will come naturally.
Written by Hanna Dittmar